BWW CD Reviews: COWARDY CUSTARD (Original Cast Recording) is Trying and Agitating

BWW CD Reviews: COWARDY CUSTARD (Original Cast Recording) is Trying and AgitatingAbout nine months before Noël Coward left this earth, an autobiographical revue that told the story of his life premiered at the Mermaid Theatre in London on July 10, 1972 as part of the 1972 City of London Festival. The production, directed by Wendy Toye and starring Patricia Routledge, Derek Waring, Elaine Delamr, Una Stubbs, Geoffrey Burridge, among others, ran for 405 performances. The show featured songs and scenes that spanned Noël Coward's career, including material from the 20s to the 60s. The original cast recorded a comprehensive 2 disc LP that was released by RCA in 1972, and now Masterworks Broadway has reissued the album for the digital age. Featuring 106 minutes of material spread across 2 CDs, I found the listening experience entirely trying and agitating.

Fans of the material and of Noël Coward as songwriter and lyricist have been clamoring for this release since Masterworks Broadway first announced it this past summer. Certainly, I couldn't help but get caught up in the excitement myself. I grew up watching Keeping Up Appearances reruns on Houston's PBS channel, so the idea of Patricia Routlegde on a cast album was more than enough to have me anticipating the recording's release. Unfortunately, her solo, "I Went to a Marvellous Party" grated against my eardrums like cruelly sharpened nails across a chalkboard.

Moreover, in the LP's original liner notes, Benny Green stated that Noël Coward's "musical work falls between the rickety stools of the respectably classical and the outrageously commercial" and that "the best Coward songs will prove as durable as the best Coward plays." I completely disagree with this assessment. I'm not sure that anything contained on this album has or will ever surpass the handful of Noël Coward plays that are still regularly produced, most notably PRIVATE LIVES and BLITHE SPIRIT.

Compared to his competition, Noël Coward's work is simply excruciating. He rarely approaches the charm and wit of Cole Porter and lacks the memorable zeal and zest of compositions written by the Gerswhins. Amidst the dreck, there are a few shining moments. Most of which are spoken dialogue that beautifully captures a feeling or idea like the evocative "The Magic of an Empty Theatre." Additionally, the comical warning "Mrs. Worthington" and the witty, uptempo, and Latin-infused "Nina" are the shining stars of the albums' musical tracks.

The Baby Boomers and members of "The Great Generation" who have been eagerly anticipating this album will no doubt love everything that this condensed retrospective of Noël Coward's career has to offer. For those of us who didn't grow up on his brand of writing, there just is not much to keep us entertained or interested. John Burrows lazy Musical Direction lacks definition and refinement. Pitches and phrases to be sung too casually, making many of the songs painful as some performers screech and refuse to blend with the other voices. For me, there is very little to enjoy about this album.

The reissue of COWARDY CUSTARD (Original Cast Recording) was released digitally on September 17, 2013. Physical copies are only available from September 17 through October 14, 2013. Through October 14, 2013 both the digital and limited physical copies can be purchased exclusively from Masterworks Broadway's online store. Starting October 15, 2013, the digital copies of the album will be available everywhere digital music is sold.

For information about other theatrical recording releases, click here.

Image courtesy of Broadway Masterworks.

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