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Now Playing: Strouse, Schwartz & Schwartz; Broadway 1949

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SSS - Strouse, Schwartz, and Schwartz – Kritzerland
S.T.A.G.E. Concert From 2001

Recordings of the annual Southland Theatre Artists Goodwill Event (S.T.A.G.E.) benefit concerts have always been something of a mixed blessing in my opinion, and in the case of the most recently released, a concert saluting three very different composers, the sense of the two-disc as being both a grand addition to one's CD shelf and a sort of curiosity continue.

In the case of this new disc, who would have thought of placing three composers from three such distinctly different eras alongside one another? Yes, there are overlapping dates in their shows, but Arthur Schwartz is truly a master of music from the first half of the twentieth century while Stephen Schwartz is, without question, a composer/lyricist working in late twentieth century mode. Interestingly, Charles Strouse's Bye Bye Birdie acts as a sort of bridge between the two, but on this new disc, which opens with two numbers from the latter Schwartz' Pippin only to be followed by Strouse's retro "There's Never Been Anything Like Us" and then, two Schwartz-Dietz collaborations, is a bit jarring.

Having given that caveat, I will say that there is much to be enjoyed/savored on this new two disc, 27 track recording. The joys start with the aforementioned opening cut from Pippin - Billy Porter, who ironically languished in L.A./>/> (where the concerts are mounted) delivers a terrific "Magic to Do." On the second disc in this set, Andrea Martin's patter and overall delivery of "No Time At All" from the same show most likely will have listeners rolling on the first listen (and perhaps even subsequently).

Other songs from this Schwartz include a couple of rarities, including two from The Magic Show ("Lion Tamer" delivered with gusto by David Burnham and Betty Garrett's thoroughly amusing "Charmin's Lament"), and a couple of standards, like the ubiquitous "Meadowlark" from The Baker's Wife.

The Strouse selections span an equally diverse selection of his work. It's sort of nice to have both Bonnie Franklin and Penny Fuller delivering songs that they originated in Applause. Franklin/>/>'s a bit brash in the show's title song, but it's somehow appropriate. Time seems to have only deepened Fuller's "One Halloween." Although I imagine no one ever really expected that they'd need a second recording of "Middle Age Blues" from Bring Back Birdie, Carole Cook's patter with the song (which is preceded by a snippet of "Tomorrow" from Annie) makes the number work marvelously. Another tune from Annie, "I Don't Need Anything But You," is given new life when sung by husband and wife Jill Eikenberry and Michael Tucker as is "The Telephone Hour" which starts the second disc on a decidedly gay note (Hugo and Tim are getting pinned).

As for numbers from the Arthur Schwartz, how can one not love hearing Polly Bergen sing the lush "Make the Man Love Me" from A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, and Pamela Myers' "By Myself" is equally delightful.

While it's still strange to hear this latter number when it follows Robert Cuccioli's energetic "Morning Glow" from Pippin, I imagine that these two discs will find their way into my disc player with some frequency.

The Broadway Musicals of 1949 – Bayview Records

Another concert, recorded live, also has just been released. The Broadway By The Year series, created, produced, and hosted by Scott Siegel, has become one of my favorites in the city and I eagerly look forward to each recording of these one-night only events. Not just because they serve as mementos of the concerts, but also because they often bring to disc songs that have never been recorded.

In the case of the 1949 disc, there are four such numbers included.  Two come from a revue, Along Fifth Avenue, which had music and lyrics by Milton Pascal and Richard Stutz. Cady Huffman delivers a innocently sultry ode to love and romance, "Call It Apple Fritters" and Lennie Watts is equally beguiling in a faux Latin number from this show, "Santo Dinero." (The strength of these two numbers and a third that's on '1949,' "Skyscraper Blues," actually makes me wonder what the entire score might have been like.)

As for the other two "new" songs on '1949,' you'll find Scott Coulter is smashing as he delivers the ballad "It Will Be Alright" which comes from Touch and Go, a show that had music by Jay Gorman and lyrics by Jean and Walter Kerr. There's also Noah Racey and Nancy Lemenager delivering "No Time For Nothin' But You" from the revue, All For Love.

1949 had its share of "big" shows - South Pacific, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes – and you'll find that the former show is represented on five tracks and that three tracks are devoted to the latter. In the case of South Pacific, the 1949 disc turns into something of a cast album with Karen Ziemba delivering two of the Nellie Forbush numbers ("A Cockeyed Optimist" and "A Wonderful Guy" as well as "You've Got To Be Carefully Taught") while Martin Vidnovic performs both of the Emile de Becque numbers – "This Nearly Was Mine" and "Some Enchanted Evening." These two as well as "Optimist" and "Guy" were all performed without the aid of amplification in concert and the visceral thrill of hearing Ziemba and Vidnovic delivering this quartet of tunes "unplugged" comes through beautifully on disc.

While the company delivered "It's Great To Be Alive" and Watts/>' "The Big Movie Show In The Sky" are enjoyable, they most likely won't send you to your CD shelf for the original cast of Texas Li'l Darling. Conversely, Huffman and Watts' "A Little Fish in a Big Pond" makes a good case for relistening to Irving Berlin's Miss Liberty and Marla Schaffel delivers "Mr. Monotony" – a song cut from that show – with blues-y aplomb.

Two other shows are represented on the 1949 disc – Marc Blitzstein's Regina/>/> ("What Will It Be?" performed by Schaffel) and Kurt Weill and Maxwell Anderson's Lost in the Stars (Vidnovic delivers the title track off-mike and Robert Westernberg provides a gently moving "A Little Gray House").

South Pacific in concert from Carnegie Hall – Decca Broadway

It's interesting to have this new recording alongside the five tracks from the "Broadway Musicals" disc and to compare and contrast Reba McEntire's down-home vocals as Nellie to Ziemba's delivery. Similarly, the differences between Brian Stokes Mitchell's rendering of the Pinza-originated songs and Vidnovic's, though subtle, are intriguing. 

This disc, though, is not about comparing these four fine performers. It's really about having the chance to hear this extraordinary score played by the 45-piece Orchestra of St. Luke's and the opportunity to relish the terrific company that was assembled for the Carnegie Hall concert. Because, alongside McEntire and Mitchell, you will find performers like Lillias White, Jason Danieley, and Alec Baldwin – all of whom are in top form.

Miscellaneous - Bear in MInd

Laura Michelle Kelly (Fiddler on the Roof on Broadway and Mary Poppins in the West End/>) has released "The Storm Inside" – a solo album that combines various pop songs with original compositions. Overall, this enjoyable disc brings to mind the stylings of Kate Bush. For musical theater fans, the disc is notable for Kelly's radical take on "Losing My Mind" from Follies. Her interpretation won't be for everyone, but for this listener, it's a nice, and appropriate change from the torch song tradition.


Another Sondheim song, "Marry Me a Little" (cut from Company originally) turns up on the Artista/Legacy re-release of Barry Manilow's "Tryin' To Get The Feeling." Here, the song gets an infusion of Manilow's early-70s pop vibe. It's not a required listening, by any means, but most likely, important for completists. 

 


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From This Author Andy Propst

Andy Propst is founder of AmericanTheaterWeb.com (ATW), a nationally recognized theatrical news and production database. In addition to his writing for and editing of ATW, (read more...)