OST-The Pirates of the Penzance

When I first got this, Kevin Kline was on cable on a pretty solid basis, most notably the Cole Porter Biopic De-Lovely.  When I was picking out records for the month, this trend continued but with the movie based on the Broadway production this soundtrack is from.  So it kind of went full circle.  Plus bring a fan of Gilbert and Sullivan in general made this purchase inevitable, especially with the low price of $1.20 with discount for a double record.

The Pirates of the Penzance, was G&S’s fifth collaboration and actually the first of their productions to open in the US (it opened in New York in 1879).  This was done to combat the lack of international copyright laws in the US. With their previous works such as HMS Pinafore, over 150 production companies staged unauthorized performances in America with many liberties to the text and no money in the pockets of the creators.  After a three month run (that initially remedied the fore mentioned problem), the production was opened in London in 1880 and ran for 383 performances, garnishing praise from both critics and audiences. Filled with the patter and counterpoint vocals common in G&S’s work along with a playful parody of the works of Verdi, Gounard, Mozart, and Donizetti, Pirates remains one of the pairs most popular works today.

Though there have been many productions over the years, the most notable was staged in 1980 by Joe Papp and the New York Shakespeare in the Park organization.  After 10 previews and 35 performances, the production was moved to Broadway  were it ran 20 previews and 787, becoming a massive success. The performance featured more swashbuckling (which makes me cringe to think what prior versions were like), more musical comedy, enhanced instrumentation and arrangements, and a restoration of the original G&S ending. The production was nominated for seven Tony’s, winning three including one for Best Revival and a Best Director nod for Wilford Leach. It is this Broadway production for which this album is based. It has also served as the musical basis for most productions since.

Based on the success on Broadway, a movie version of this production was made with most of the principals in place.  This was released in 1983 but was not as successful as its stage counterpart.  Maybe perhaps as America was not ready to accept movie-musicals again but also in part because a good amount theater owners boycotted the release due to the fact that it was also released to a direct home market thru subscription tv at the same time.  What ever reason you want to believe, the movie was a box office bomb.  However, growing up in the mid-80’s, I do vividly recall HBO playing the crap out of this as well as making a big deal about it.  This and a half naked Brooke Shields were my early memories of HBO (reinforced because Rex Smith looked very similar to the actor in Blue Lagoon).  Anyway, back to this narrative, I tried watching it as a 10 year old on TV at the time but could not as ultimately I found it too silly. (I also found Blue Lagoon to be boring despite a half naked Brooke Shields).

Well,  I watched again for the first time last month and again, I found it was still rather silly.  But then again, wast G&S production isn’t?  I was impressed this go around by both the music and the actors and found it to be an enjoyable movie.

The star of both the Broadway production and the movie, was undoubtedly Kevin Kline who played the Pirate King.  This was one of his early roles but the Tony he won for Best Actor in a Musical was his second.  As he would later win an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor in A Fish Called Wanda, he is only short an Emmy and a Grammy to complete the EGOT.  Also, Kline did what Judge Reinhold could not, land Pheobe Cates.  The pair has been married since 1989.  But back to something relevant, Kline’s performance shows a strong comedic timing and great vocal performance.

When the movie played on HBO, the station made a big deal over the performance of Linda Ronstadt, who at the time was a major singing star.  Given her penchant for collaborating with many different styles of artists.  Ronstadt, who played the female lead of Mabel, was nominated for a Tony for her role and generally gave a great performance in the production from at least what I have heard.

The only role that really changed radically thru the Papp productions was that of Little Ruth.  Ruth was played by Patricia Routledge in the Shakespeare in the Park version.  She was later played by Sweeney Todd murderess/ Murder She Wrote sleuth Angela Lansbury in the movie version.  However, for the Broadway run, the role went to Estelle Parsons.

After seeing performances from all of the above (well more like hearing), my favorite tends to lean towards Parsons, although both Lansbury and Routledge gave fine performances. It does prove however, the G&S were able to do something that Hollywood can not do today: provide great roles for older actresses.

The most popular song in the production as well as perhaps the most popular song in all of G&S’s catalog is the “Modern Major General”song.  It has been widely covered, parodied, lampooned, and praised as it showcases the rapid fire patter execution that is the work of the duo.  For the Papp production, the role of the Major General was played by George Rose.

Of course the main plot device centers around the main protagonist, Young Frederick who finds that he is still a slave to duty to the pirates as he was born on the last day of February in a leap year and thus, going by birthdays as per his agreement, is 5 years old and not 21 as he believed.  There was a teacher at my middle school who had the same affliction (although not contractually bound to pirates or such).  She used to tell students that she was 8 years old.  Honestly even at my age back then, I found it annoying. It should also be noted that the role of Frederick, who is the central character was played by Rex Smith, who did an excellent job. He was also the first actor to portray Marvel Comic book hero, Daredevil and I am speculating he was neither the best or the worst at it.

Also of note, the music to the song “With Cat Like Tread” was used for the American song, “Hail, Hail The Gangs All Here” in 1917.  It was subsequently borrowed by Glasgow Celtic fans for their cheers.  The original melody by Sullivan was meant to parody Verdi’s “Anvil Chorus”.

The Papp production also added two songs from other G&S works; “Sorry Her Lot” from Pinafore, and “My Eyes Are Fully Open” from Ruddigore.  It is the latter that has become one of my favorites as it again highlights the rapid fire delivery as well as the vocal interplay that G&S made famous.  The lyrics have been slightly modified to fit the subject of Pirates, but in general, the verse that was suited for Mad Margaret seems a bit strange for Ruth.  However, you fans of  meta-reference should note that Ruth mentions that this is from Ruddigore. And yes, that is Vincent Price in the video below.

In general, I find plot and story wise, that the endings of G&S work are quite silly and Pirates does not detour much from this route.  To find that suddenly, the pirates are all actually noblemen and thus resolved seems kind of weak. Plus I am not sure how stopping pirates by reverence to the Queen would play for a US audience. Music-wise, however, I have the opposite opinion as I feel G&S finales really wrap up the production.  This finale references the big numbers including “General” and “Poor Wandering One”.  It should be noted that for Papp’s version, he restored the original G&S ending as well as returned the “General’s Song” to the finale.

Man, that is a lot of writing.  Well for samples. I decided to go with the “Matter Patter” as well as the Finale.

Top rated album for sure.  Really good job by all involved.  Man, this post turned into more of a book. Expect short posts the rest of this week.

 

VA-This is Broadway’s Best

At a dollar for this double record, I might as just of have walked out without paying for it.  Besides all the really great Broadway songs from some of the greatest Broadway productions by some of the most talented people to grace the stage, this record also includes a detailed booklet of some of the more popular Broadway productions as well as a cover with illustrations from the famous New York cartoonist, Al Hirschfeld.

 

Hirschfeld’s Web Page

Hirschfeld, born in St Louis in 1903, moved to New York with his family and studied art.  He became a commissioned cartoonist for The New York Times and as a self described “Characterist”, he drew countless portrayals of artists, performers, politicians, and other celebrities for just about every publication there was at the time.  

His unique use of pure black lines against white backgrounds made his work iconic.  Hirschfeld passed on in New York in 2003, just months shy of his 100th birthday.

This record, as suggested above, is a collection of iconic Broadway tunes from top productions such as Gypsy, My Fair Lady, South Pacific, Finian’s RainbowShow Boat, Kiss Me Kate, West Side Story, Pal Joey, and The Sound Of Music among others.  Performers include Carol Channing, Julie Andrews, Rex Harrison, Ethel Merman, Carol Lawrence, Mary Martin, the list goes on and on.  What more can I saw?  Iconic performers giving performances from iconic productions.  The booklet is also real neat as it has a bunch of pictures. It was released by Columbia Records in 1961.

For a sample, I was pulled in show many directions.  I could have listed the whole album. However, I decided to go with three samples.  First off , from On The Town, here is the signature song, “New York New York”.  Written by Adolphus Green and Betty Comdon in 1944 with music by Leonard Berstein, the original version which ran 462 performances differed from the movie version, which cut all but three of Bernstein’s song. Comdon had a role in the Broadway play along with Green who is here on this track with John Reardon and Cris Alexander.  Also different from the movie is the exclamation that New York is a H-E- double hockey sticks of a town. I realize this is a side note, but I would love to have been a fly on the wall for the filming of the movie version of this musical, just to see a perfectionist Gene Kelly swear and berate Frank Sinatra for missing cues.

I also went with Bye-Bye Birdie’s “Kids”, mostly as a tribute to the Simpsons who both parodies the song as well as the actor who sung it, Paul Lynde. He is joined by Marijane Maricle on vocals.

Finally, just because I like the song, here is Carol Haney with “Hernando’s Hideaway” from The Pajama Game.

Great album.  Great cover.  Great packaging. Top Rated.

OST- Wildcat

I had seen this record over and over during the years and I am not sure why I finally bit on it this January.  I mean besides the obvious tie in to oil and gas, why now? And why at $4.  On a related note, the HGO’s season closed out for me on Saturday with a performance of Mozart’s Abduction from the Seragilo. Overall it was a very good performance (most notably the singer who played Osmin) but it came to close on the heels of the last opera I saw.  So it was a bit of an adjustment to go from epic German opera with fire, swords, and magic helmets to a Viennese Rom-Com.  Interestingly enough, at the time of the original production, the Ottoman Empire and the Turks were to European entertainment what the Australians were to the US in the 1980’s.

Back to this record, this marks Lucille Ball’s first and only foray into Broadway, at the ripe age of 48.  With the book by Richard Nash, music by Cy Coleman, and lyrics by Carolyn Leigh, this was largely a Ball driven vehicle.  Nash had originally envisioned his lead, “Wildy” Wildcat Jackson to be in her 20’s.  But when Ball showed interest in staring as well as financing the production, the rewrite took place.  It opened on Broadway and ran 171 performances due to lukewarm reviews and the illness of Ball.  The crowds clearly came to see her and when when fell ill, the production had to be suspended.  When she was able to return, the musician’s union demanded payment for the time spent idle and as a result, the production was permanently shelved.

Broadway Database for Wildcat

The story was set in 1912 at the border town of Centavo City.  Wildy and her sister try to take advantage of the recent discovery of oil, navigating a world normally reserved for rough  men.  Along the way she meets Joe Dynamite and the two fall in love in the Broadway sense of the word.  By that I mean, at first, he rejects her but after some musical numbers and some exposition to the story, Joe realized he loves her as well and by the time the final curtain falls, Wildy gets her man as well as a gusher from her well.  The musical also stars Edith King, Paula Stewart, Clifford David, Keith Andes, and Swen Swenson.

The songs are ok.  The big number that seemed to have a life after the production was “Hey Look Me Over”.  I am not sure if it was my set up but Ball’s vocals on the first side seem to be a bit muffled.  Besides that, the music is ok and there are some decent numbers in the show.

For a sample, I went with “El Sombrero”, sung by Ball and the various people at a fiesta.  I also went with “Corduroy Road” which is sung at the erection of the derrick, which in some ways is much different today and and others, not so much so.

Eh.  It was a bit pricey, but decent enough record.  Satisfactory.

OST- The Music Man

dscn5286-800x773This was $3.00.  It is not a stretch to say that this musical is perhaps the greatest of the last century.  At the very least, it would be in the top five.meredith_willson_1967

Meredith Willson wrote the music, lyrics, and book for this effort, his first musical.  Before this, he had worked in Hollywood, composing scores for movies, radio, and television.  He started adapting a story based on his Iowan boyhood for Broadway after being rejected for television and movies.a33cc024e00c9393de3fabbe4befc3c2

A smashing success in 1957, The Music Man ran for 1,375 performances and won five Tony awards.  This album also was a hit, winning a Grammy while remaining on the album charts for 245 weeks. In 1962, a film adaptation was made.  Numerous revivals and smaller productions have gone on thru the years and continue today. Wilson’s second musicals, The Unsinkable Molly Brown, was a modest success.  He made two more musicals with limited success.  Wilson would die in 1984 of heart failure.  He was 82.

Broadway Database info on The Music Man

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One of the things I found amazing about this musical is the background of its star, Robert Preston.  I was a bit shocked to find out that Preston had no background in vaudeville.  He had started acting after high school and to this point, had mainly been in a B-level actor in westerns.  Granted, he is no Gene Kelly, but he does manage to do a good job of both singing and dancing in his role of Harold Hill.  In one such anedote, it was his acting skills that helped him get the job.  Most singers trying out for the role had trouble with “Ya Got Trouble”whereas Preston nailed the song with little difficulty.  1101580721_400

For his efforts, he won a Tony for a role.  Furthermore, Wilson insisted he revisit his role for the movie version as Jack Warner wanted Frank Sinatra. I just can’t see Ol’ Blue Eyes doing the role justice.  Preston would die in 1987 of lung cancer.  He was 68. The clip below is pretty bad quality but I think it is one of the best in the movie version and it also illustrates Preston’s abilities in both song and dance. Granted, you don’t have to be a great dancer to perform the routine but you do need some level of skill.

I also came across this video of a flashmob doing the same act that I thought was ok. I really liked it when I first saw it. Now, a little less so.

As far as the musical goes, it is a lesson in syncopation, juxtaposition, and onomatopoeia. For an example of this, I would look no further than the opening number.

The songs are infectiously catchy and have become classics.  As stated before, the songs have been covered and parodied extensively.  Most notably in The Simpsons and The Family Guy.

For samples, I went with the perhaps one of the more popular numbers, the above mentioned “Ya Got Trouble”.  I also went with “Pick A Little Talk A Little/ Good Night Ladies” because it is a good example of the components I spoke of in the a couple of paragraphs prior.  I originally wanted to use “Piano Lessons” which features a great duet between Barbara Cook, who originated the role of Marion Paroo, and Pert Kelton, who performed the role of Mrs Paroo on both Broadway and on the screen.  Alas, it skipped and I was too lazy to go upstairs to clean it.f1649944a6e3719ae648ad2890c59b49

Top Rated album for sure.

OST- Flahooley

DSCN5118 (1017x1024)This was a upper end purchase of $5.00.  A friend of mine asked me why I had not posted any Yma Sumac.  Mainly because her stuff falls in the range of collectibles and not typically under $5.00. So when I found this, I jumped on it, despite knowing little about the production it came from.MTE5NDg0MDU1NDI1NDg0MzAz (1)

Yma Sumac (1922-2008), was a Peruvian queen of exotica music.  Known for her five octave voice, she appeared on radio and made records in Argentina before moving to New York City in 1946 where she performed with her husband.  She also made numerous records as well as concert appearances around the world. She started in a handful of movies, including Secret of the Incas, the film the inspired the Indiana Jones series.  Her work has also been featured in advertising as well as in movies, such as one I always like referencing, The Big Lebowski.  The song below was used in the trampoline scene at Jackie Treehorns.

A better bio on Sumac from her Website

There is a rumor that Sumac is actually one Amy Camus, a housewife from New Jersey.  I do not believe this as I feel there would be more conclusive evidence on the net at this point.

An article with a link to another article on the subject of Amy Camus

Which leads us to this production, Flahooley by E.Y. Harburg and Fred Saidy with music by Sammy Fain.  Harburg, who wrote several US standards as well as the songs for The Wizard of Oz, had recently found himself on the wrong end of House Un-American Activities Committee and as a result, blacklisted in Hollywood, despite not being a Communist.  Not a stranger to political satire as his work, Finian’s Rainbow shows, he wrote this play based on Joe McCarthy and the Communist witch hunt.  Adjustments were made and several references were toned down, but still, from what I am told, the play was still very relevant to the current political climate.

flaho

Entry on the Broadway  Database

As far as what I can piece together, the story focuses on a toy factory.  One inventor is about to reveal a talking doll to the company’s board of directors (in early scripts, the dolls said “Dirty Red” when turned around until Harburg toned that part down). A delegation of Saudis interrupt and ask the toy maker for help repairing their genie lamp.  It would seem if I am reading this right, that Saudi Arabia has run out of oil and need the genie to return to bring back prosperity.

Flahooley The CEO is charmed by the Arabian princess and gives the task to the inventor, who hopes to use the genie to become rich enough to marry his sweetheart.  However, the genie, who is unclear on capitalism, starts to give the talking dolls away, causing panic and a witch hunt.  I am not sure how it resolves. I do believe puppets and marionettes were used pretty extensively, however.

Flahooley premiered on Broadway on May 14, 1951 and closed a few months later after 40 performances.  Even though some parts were watered down, the theater going public at the time was not ready for anti-communist satire as both the Cold War and McCarthyism were in full swing. It should be noted that the original production marked the Broadway debut of Barbara Cook, best known for originating the role of Marion Peroo in The Music Man.  A revival production was done in the US in 1998.  Two productions were also done in London, one in 1997 and one in 2012 as seen below.

 

Getting back to Sumac, she landed the role of the Arabian princess and has three songs on the album.  They were all written by her husband, Moises Vivanco and all pretty much demonstrate her beautiful range.  As far as the rest of the album goes, it is ok.  There are some decent songs including ” Who Says There Ain’t No Santa Claus” and “Springtime Cometh”.

For a sample, I went with the opening number which was a pretty good poke at McCarthy’s stooges, “You Too Can Be A Puppet”. As far as Sumac’s songs go, after some thought and listening, I settled on “Najala’s Lament”.  I felt this best showed her range both high and low although I almost went with “Birds”.ymaaa

Despite the three songs by Sumac, this is really meh for me.  It seems like a lot to pick at for three Sumac tunes. Perhaps if I paid a dollar for this, my opinion would be different.

 

Stan Fisher- Hi-Fi Harmonica Over Broadway

DSCN5065 (1005x1024)This was a 25 cent record augmented by an additional 20% off, bringing the final cost to 20 cents.  I should have posted this last month when I was pushing out the show tunes.  Well, better late than never.s-l225

Not much is known about Stan Fisher other than what I learned on the back cover.  I am not sure where in the US he is from but as a child he found a rusty harmonica which the liner notes states he soon mastered. His parents in turn bought him a new one and young Stan worked from amatuer contests up to paying gigs.  He was discovered by Garry Moore, who was working on Broadway with Jimmy Durante,  Moore got Fisher a gig on radio in Baltimore.  From there, Fisher eventually played across the US and Canada. s-l1600

WWII put the brakes on Fisher’s career as with many people.  Funny how that does not happen anymore. Then again, playing harmonica ain’t the same as crooning.  Anyway, Fisher joined the Aviation Cadets , earned his wings, and was commissioned First Lieutenant.  He flew 35 combat missions over Germany, crashing four times.  He also was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Air Medal with three oak leaf clusters, the E.T.O ribbon with two battle stars and the Presidential Unit Citation.

Other than that, I have no idea.  He has several albums floating around the Ebay ranks. He performed with David Rose, writer and performer of “The Stripper”.  He was an accomplished tennis player, winning the Florida Racquet Club doubles championship even though I am sure his partner Bobby Riggs had something to do with it.  Finally, according to TV host Jack Carter, he may have worn a toupee.  DSCN5066 (1021x1024)

As far the album, it is straight harp playing Broadway tunes.  This album was released on Design Records, a subsidiary of Pickwick.  I am guessing this came out in 1958.  Shows tunes used on this album come from Flower Drum Song, My Fair Lady, South Pacific, and Oklahoma.   It is an okay album.  Very R & H heavy and you know I like that.  Harpfinder_engl_1_Blues_aktiv

For a sample, I went with “Oklahoma” which takes advantage of the harmonica’s sound. 20141001MWHharmonicaMag06-5

I hate saying this as the album is what it says it is, but this is really meh.  I mean it delivers what the cover promised but it just does not have enough bite for my tastes. However, it was only 20 cents.  Well, I already wrote meh so meh it is.

The Supremes- Sing Rodgers & Hart

DSCN4847 (800x783)This was $3.00.  I should have scheduled this week better as I have two show tune albums back to back.  I kind of went heavy on the Broadway albums this month.  I do not know why.  The tendency is to keep going with a theme when I am picking out records for the month.rodgers-hart-portrait-1

Although Richard Rodgers is best known for his work with Oscar Hammerstein, his initial work with lyricist Lorenz Hart is still pretty prolific.  The duo, who met in 1919 at Colombia University, penned over 500 songs and 28 musicals. Many of their songs have become standards.74275088

Whereas Hammerstein’s lyrics were optimistic, warm (sometime on the edge of corniness), and had a broader appeal, Hart’s work was more sophisticated , clever, and more of a New York slant.  Pal Joey was the duo’s crown achievement.  Hart suffered from both depression and alcoholism (because nothing fixes the blues like a depressant) which led to the duo’s split in 1943.  Hart died of pneumonia shortly there after at the age of 48.  Among their other achievements was their work on the 1937 play, I’d Rather Be Right, which starred the King of Broadway, George M Cohen as FDR.  James Cagney showcased it in the Cohen biopic (which is mostly fabrication), Yankee Doodle Dandy.  According to somewhere, Cohan had requested Cagney for the role.

This record, released by Motown in 1967, showcases the strength of Rodgers and Hart’s catalog.  With liner notes by Gene Kelly, this album includes a lot of the bigger numbers including “The Lady is a Tramp”, “Lover”, “Mountain Greenery”, “My Heart Stood Still”, “Falling in Love with Love”, and “Blue Moon”.  DSCN4848 (800x780)

The previous owner of this record did not care for this record much as the word “Stinks!” is written on the back.  Several titles are also scratched out.  I think this is unfair as I think that it is an excellent record.  The previous owner singled out “Lover”, “My Romance”, “My Heart Stood Still”, and “Falling in Love with Love” as the highlights.  supremes-the-51c6f2ab741a7

For a sample, I went with one of the scratched out numbers “This Can’t Be Love” from the Boys From Syracuse.

Satisfactory record.

VA- They Stopped The Show

DSCN4833 (800x784)This beauty was 80 cents.  It had a lot of the show tunes I like.  It had decent performers as well.  Some of you may ask why show tunes?  I do not know.  That was the pop music at the time.  Also, I am kind of amazed that this was the stage that the world’s top actors/ actresses shined on before being overtaken by film. Plus, they had to be versatile with not only acting but singing and dancing as well.  They also had to do it night after night instead of a one time film performance.x2010.11.941

This record, released in on Decca Records, is a collection of popular Broadway tunes, sung by (according to the record) the original cast.  All the big names of the period are here.  There are three Rodgers and Hammerstein tunes.  Also included are Cole Porter, Frank Loesser, Kurt Weill, and E.Y. Harburg.  DSCN4834 (800x775)

The performers are also well represented here with John Raitt, Betty Garrett, Mary Martin, Ray Bolger, Gertrude Lawrence, Walter Huston, and Dooley Wilson (from Casablanca fame). Overall it is a fine record.P-Broadway_Zoom

For sample runner up, I was really impressed by John Raitt (Bonnie’s father) and his version of the “Soliloquy” from R&H’s Carousel.  I thought it was a fine version from the original Billy Bigalow.  I decided not to post it as a sample, though as I come across cast albums for this on a semi-frequent basis.

For a sample, I decided to go with “Swing” from Wonderful Town (music by Leonard Bernstein and lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green).  It opened in 1953 and ran for 559 performances with several revivals.314996_orig

The musical tells the story of two sisters from Ohio who try to make it as a writer and actress in Greenwich Village New York.  The sisters in the original production were played by Edie Adams and Rosalind Russell. This would mark Russell’s return to Broadway as well as lead to her film role Auntie Mame.

I am embarrassed to admit but I used to think Russell was a poor man’s Ethel Merman.  However, I have come around and really appreciate Russell for the great performer that she was.  Here she is performing the number “Swing”.

Top Rated Record for me.

Nancy Walker- I Can Cook Too

DSCN4822 (800x786)This was $4.00.  I have been holding on to this for more than a year now.  Not sure why I bought something on the strength of being from Rhoda’s mother. 69f5e4c4011c53fce7e4d05a65475fab

Nancy Walker, born in Philly in 1922 to a vaudeville family, became a star of the stage on Broadway with some work in film as well. Television roles followed, most famously the above mentioned re-occuring role on Rhoda.rhoda

Finally, she may also be remembered for her lifelong advocacy of the absorbing spilled liquids.  Walker died of lung cancer in 1992.  Nancy_Walker_Rosie_Bounty_ad_1977

This album, released in 1956, is a collection of popular Broadway songs of Walker’s era including roles performed by Walker on Broadway.  On such role was Hildy from On The Town, which Walker originated (“I Can Cook Too”). Composers include George and Ira Gershwin, Leonard Bernstein, Betty  Comden, Adolph Green, David Craig, and David Parker among others.  Walker is backed only by a piano so the album itself is pretty sparse.   Overall, it is a good illustration of what musical theater in the US was before Rodgers, Hart, Hammerstein, Sondheim, and Wilson.cover-78s_Look-Ma

I should put a disclaimer out that I do not support the song I am posting.  It is a number from Hugh Martin’s Look Ma, I’m Dancing.  Martin, best known for his scoring of the MGM movie Meet Me In St Louis, wrote the lyrics and the music. The show ran  for roughly 7 months in 1948.  Walker was the star.  From what I can piece together, it is about a millionaire and a former vaudevillian who pay a Russian ballet company to perform so they can dance in the act.  I am not sure what causes all the Texas hate or how it resolves but there it is, “I’m Tired of Texas”, a pretty derogatory statement especially at the end of the song.DSCN4823 (800x774)

Just for that alone, this album is getting meh from me.  Also, i paid a bit too much for it as well.

New York Shakespeare Festival Cast- Three Penny Opera

DSCN4664 (800x787)A friend of mine who used to work at Half Price Books knew this was a good record and recommended it to me.  Before hearing this, my only point of reference on Brecht’s Three Penny Opera was a cast recording from the 50’s featuring Kurt Weil’s wife Lotta Leyna who also performed in the original. 2884123_1399136425

Threepenny Opera, written by Bertolt Brecht with music by Kurt Weill, is a play with music and part of Brecht’s “epic theater”.  Adapted from John Gay’s 18th century Beggar’s Opera, Brecht tells the story of Macheath, one of the 20th century’s earliest anti-heroes, through a socialist perspective of capitalism.  Performed in Germany in 1928, it has been translated and performed throughout the world and is one of Brecht’s most popular works.DSCN4666 (800x795)

 

The first US production was in 1933 at the Empire Theater on Broadway.  Running two weeks at 12 performances, it was a disappointment.  Neither Weill or Brecht were involved in rehearsals. An off-Broadway version in 1955, translated by Marc Blitzstein and staring Weill’s widow Lotta Lenya as Low Dive Jenny, was a massive success, running 6-1/2 years and 2707 shows.  At the time, it beat out Oklahoma for consecutive performance of a musical. The album mentioned in the first paragraph was taken from this run.  In contrast, this album was taken from the next major US production, 1976’s New York Shakespeare Festival’ adaption, translated by Ralph Manheimm and John Willet.  It has been described as a “milestone in American Theater”. Some critics,however,  including Lenya were less enthused with the final result.  The production ran for 9 months and 307 performances.

Perhaps the most famous song from the play is the opening “Die Moritat” or simply “Mack the Knife”.  Oddly enough, this song was written as an after thought on the fly when the actor playing Macheath, Harald Paulsen, demanded an introductory song for his character.  It has become a jazz/pop  standard in the US thanks in part to Louis Armstrong and Bobby Darin.   When Armstrong recorded his version, Lotta Lenya was present in the studio.  Armstrong added her name to the song when  listing floozies in Macheath’s stable.  It should be noted though that traditionally, the song sounds more like the version below, which is done by Roger Daltery of the Who.

Webpage on all things Threepenny Opera

The second most famous song from the production would be “Seeraberjenny” or “Pirate Jenny”.  It is a revenge fantasy song sung by Low Dive Jenny in which she plots the overthrow of the customers who look down on her.  Lenya performed excellent versions of this song both in German and in English.  My favorite version of this song, however, was down by Nina Simone.

This album’s production made a star out of Raul Julia, who played Macheath.  It also starred Ellen Greene, of Little Shop of Horrors fame. Below is a clip of Julia in a 1989 movie adaptation that sticks closer to the Blitzstein version.  I should have noted this but this is also where the Daltrey clip comes from.

The translation on this album is the real star in my mind.  Whereas Blitzstein softened up the text for 1950’s America, this version is more gritty and more true to Brecht’s original vision. It also has mild profanity.  I know that is cheap thrills but I like it.  My favorite song on the album has to be “Jealousy Duet”, which is shown below in the 1950’s version as a point of comparison.  Note that this features Future Golden Girl, Bea Arthur.

For samples, I went with what I felt showcased the difference between the two translations.  First off is “The Cannon Song” also known as “The Army Song”.  It is a song between Macheath and his old army buddy Tiger Brown, who is now chief of police. I greatly prefer this version to the one shown above.  Also as a sample, I went with “Jealousy Duet” which is my favorite song on the album.  It is sung by Polly and Lucy outside Macheath’s cell. Again, compare the MP3 to the video clip above and tell me otherwise.  Please note that this MP3 does have mild profanity.  Finally, I went with “Ballad of Gracious Living” to showcase Julia’s talent.DSCN4665 (800x797)

This is a top rated album. I should give credit to the other performers on the MP3’s.  Tiger Brown is played by David Sabin.  Polly is played by Caroline Kava.  Lucy is played by Blair Brown.