Sunday, December 29, 2013

Tapping into "Broadway in a Box"

Maybe it was a little unfair of me to include William Warfield's performance of "Ol' Man River" from the 1966 Music Theater of Lincoln Center revival of Show Boat in Friday's selections (though he was only 46, the voice showed heavy signs of wear), but I couldn't resist. However, here he is 15 years earlier, in the 1951 film version.

by Ken

In Friday night's preview I explained how I found myself pondering Sony's Broadway in a Box, a 25-CD anthology of 25 Broadway musicals in either Original Broadway Cast recordings (18), later Broadway revivals (4), or Music Theater of Lincoln Center revivals (3) drawn from the combined archives of RCA and Columbia Records, the two most active producers of such recordings, both now under the Sony Music umbrella. And I explained how I realized that among the participants in those 25 efforts I had noticed two five-peaters and even one six-peater. (If you haven't had a crack at this, or you just want to see the contents of the set again, they're listed in the Friday post.)

Then we heard six classic Broadway numbers, among which, I said, both of our five-peaters and our six-peater were represented at least once. I thought we would start by hearing those six songs again -- in the same order, but this time properly identified:

The Sound of Music: "The Lonely Goatherd"

Mary Martin and company ; Original Broadway Cast recording, Frederick Dvonch, musical director. Columbia, recorded Nov. 22, 1959

Show Boat: "Ol' Man River"

William Warfield; Music Theater of Lincoln Center revival, Franz Allers, musical director. RCA, recorded July 24, 1966

Company: "It's the little things you do together"

Elaine Stritch and company; Original Broadway Cast recording, Harold Hastings, musical director. Columbia, recorded May 3, 1970

South Pacific: "Some Enchanted Evening"

Ezio Pinza; Original Broadway Cast recording, Salvatore Dell'Isola, musical director. Columbia, recorded Apr. 18-19, 1949

Gypsy: "Everything's coming up roses"

Ethel Merman; Original Broadway Cast recording, Milton Rosenstock, musical director. Columbia, recorded May 24, 1959

West Side Story: "Officer Krupke"

Eddie Roll, Grover Dale, Hank Brunjes, Tony Mordente, and David Winters; Original Broadway Cast recording, Max Goberman, musical director. Columbia, recorded Sept. 29, 1957

As you no doubt figured out, one of our five-peaters is in fact represented twice, while the other five-peater and the six-peater are represented three times.


One of our five-peaters is embarrassingly obvious: Richard Rodgers, the composer of Oklahoma! (1943), Carousel (1945), South Pacific (1949), The King and I (1951), and The Sound of Music (1959). And our six-peater is of course the lyricist of these five shows, Oscar Hammerstein II, who also wrote the lyrics for Show Boat (1927), with his previous partner, composer Lorenz Hart Jerome Kern [thanks, Vitarai!].

Our other five-peater shouldn't have been that hard to pick out. It's Stephen Sondheim, the lyricist of West Side Story (wtih composer Leonard Bernstein, 1957) and Gypsy (with composer Jule Styne, 1959) and the composer-lyricist of Company (his first solo outing, 1970), Sweeney Todd (1979), and Into the Woods (1987).


. . . given the sampling of his work that turns up in Broadway in a Box.

My favorite of the shows for which Sondheim provided lyrics only is still A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, but since that OBC recording was made by Capitol, it' wasn't available to Sony. Nevertheless, West Side Story and Gypsy give some feeling of his versatility, especially set alongside Company, his first music-and-lyrics show, and Sweeney Todd and Into the Woods.

I confess that I'm not a great Sondheim fan, and the fact that I was never much taken with Sweeney Todd or Into the Woods also explains why I really don't know these shows well, so they require renewed exploration for me, and I'm going to put them off and just hit some high notes in the other three shows.

WEST SIDE STORY -- with composer Leonard Bernstein (1957)

Original Broadway Cast recording, Max Goberman, musical director. Columbia, recorded Sept. 29, 1957

I have my problems with West Side Story, having to do with what always seems to me a too-easy sentimentality, but it's hard to deny the stature, not to mention popularity and durability, of the score.

I like the "specialty" numbers best, and would happily have included "America" or "I Feel Pretty," but we've already heard "Officer Krupke" (I'm not likely to miss an opportunity to toss it in), so I think we'll stick here with the doomed romance of the ethnically divided latter-day Romeo and Juliet, Tony and Maria.

In the case of "Somewhere," since this is a Sondheim rather than Bernstein tribute, I'm ashamed to say I've ripped out the guts of the ballet in which the duet is nestled.


Larry Kert (Tony)


Carol Lawrence (Maria), Larry Kert (Tony)


Carol Lawrence (Maria), Larry Kert (Tony)

GYPSY -- with composer Jule Styne (1959)

Original Broadway Cast recording, Milton Rosenstock, musical director. Columbia, recorded May 24, 1959

Gypsy seemed so indelibly associated with Ethel Merman, who created the role of the ultimate show-business mother, that it's surprising how successful a vehicle it's been for a series of women with strong personalities. The Sony annotator ventures that "Gypsy stand out arguably as one of the two most perfect musicals ever created (the other being Guys and Dolls). I like both shows, but "arguably the two most perfect musicals ever created"? That's a pretty strange argument that I wouldn't have much interest in arguing.

Of my nominees, one, is included in Broadway in a Box, My Fair Lady, while the other is what is for me the most regrettable omission, Annie Get Your Gun, especially since Sony could have included RCA's eminently serviceable 1966 Music Theater of Lincoln Center recording with Merman, unarguably a more mature Annie than she was when she created the role 20 years earlier, but still Merman.

"Let me entertain you"

Act I: Jacqueline Mayro (Baby June), Karen Moore (Baby Louise), Ethel Merman (Mama Rose)

Act II: Sandra Church (Louise)

"You'll never get away from me"

Ethel Merman (Rose), Jack Klugman (Herbie)

"Together wherever we go"

Ethel Merman (Rose), Sandra Church (Louise), Jack Klugman (Herbie)

COMPANY (1970)

Original Broadway Cast recording, Harold Hastings, musical director. Columbia, recorded May 3, 1970

I was pleasantly surprised at how well Company seemed to hold up in the recently televised New York Philharmonic semi-staged concert performance, because I've always been fond of Sondheim's first outing as a full-fledged music man, telling the story of the eternally Peter Pan-ish Bobby whose continued inability to find "the" woman (among the many) is such a mystery and irritant to all his assortedly married friends.

The show doesn't explore the likeliest explanation, but never mind -- it gave Sondheim opportunities to explore what he could do with a large ensemble cast (except for Bobby, of course) deployed in a winning assortment of combinations already breaking out of the Broadway box.

I know we've already heard Elaine Stritch in "It's the little things you do together," and for that matter we've already heard her sing the show's biggest stopper, "The Ladies Who Lunch," twice, one day in 2010 posts (one and two). But I don't see how we can skip it.

"You could drive a person crazy"

Donna McKechnie (Kathy), Susan Browning (April), and Pamela Myers (Marta)

"Side by Side by Side"; "What would we do without you?"

Dean Jones (Bobby) and company

"Here's to the ladies who lunch"

Elaine Stritch (Joanne)



  1. Lorenz Hart was lyricist with Richard Rodgers, not Oscar Hammerstein II. Music for "Showboat" was written by Jerome Kern with lyrics by Oscar Hamerstein II and P.G. Woodhouse.

    1. Oh good heavens! Thanks, V! This is what happens when you're trying to keep too many trains of thought going in your head!