BWW CD Reviews: COWARDY CUSTARD (Original Cast Recording) is 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.
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Image courtesy of Broadway Masterworks.