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.

Oscar Levant- Levant Plays Gershwin/ Rhapsody In Blue

dscn6184This was one dollar.  I got it because of “Rhapsody In Blue”‘s connection with United Airlines.united-airlines

I scheduled this post to correspond with my trip to Amsterdam two weeks ago.  Being from Houston, I tend to fly United quite a bit as IAH is a major hub.  This trip’s flights were ok I guess.  I watched movies pretty much through both flights.  Of the movies I saw, I really liked the Chet Baker story (more on that next month).  The Miles Davis movie was ok.  Did not like the Hank Williams movie at all.  From the non music movies, I really liked The Lobster.  Anyway, the pre flight safety video, a highly produced feature was interesting, taking the “Rhapsody” theme and setting it to different musical styles of the world, including Scottish, Chinese,Peruvian, Hawaiian, and Chicago blues among others. Pretty interesting, musically.

I was wrong about what I thought were the origins of United’s usage of this song.  Based on the CEO message from the front of the In Flight magazines some time ago, I thought the song’s licensing was done by Jeff Smisek in an act of extravagant management spending after the United/Continental merger.  I had this image of him in a hot tub smoking stogies listening to this song for some reason.  Anyway, this is wrong.  The licensing was done back in 1976 for $500K, way before the merger. Never really liked Smisek much.  I did not like Larry either but many ex-Continental employees tell me he was alright.  Hard to say much about Oscar at this time.  It should be noted that I draw my opinion of the CEO’s based on their In Flight blurbs.

Gershwin
Gershwin

But regardless, here is this album, featuring actor/ pianist Oscar Levant, tackling the works of George Gershwin backed by orchestral arrangements.  “Rhapsody In Blue” features Levant backed by Eugene Ormandy conducting the Philadelphia Orchestra.  On “Concerto In F For Piano and Orchestra”, Levant is helped by Andre Kostelanetz conducting the Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra of New York.  A third track, “An American In Paris” is done by the New York Philharmonic conducted by Artur Rodzinski.dscn6185

For a sample, I am going with “Rhapsody” as this was the dominate theme of the post.quote-roses-are-red-violets-are-blue-i-m-schizophrenic-and-so-am-i-oscar-levant-17-35-68

As far as the album goes, meh.

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.

Jack Jones- Curtain Time


DSCN4835 (800x789) (2)This was $1.00.  I like Jack Jones.  Also, since I was going with a sub theme this month of show tunes, I felt this was a good album to round it out.  MI0001412566

Jack Jones, born in Hollywood in 1938 to actor parents, was a straight pop/ standards singer who won two Grammy’s.  Known as a singer’s singer, his career choice became clear when a high school friend, Nancy, got her father, Frank, to sing at a school auditorium (that is Sinatra if you can’t read between the lines). He got his break in 1959 when he put out a record for Capitol Records.  From there, he was signed by Kapp, while he was still working his day job as a gas station attendant.  According to his web page bio, he was cleaning a customer’s window when he heard one of his songs on the radio.

He put out almost twenty records for Kapp, most of which standards with some forays into pop, country and big band swing. He would later put a slew of albums out for RCA and then MGM.  He also made numerous appearances on TV, stage, and film.  Most notably, he sung the theme to TV’s Love Boat. He also made several appearances.

As of late, Jones has been recording sporadically,  performing musical theater on stage, and performs concerts, most notably in Las Vegas where he is still popular.  He also starred as a singer in the movie American Hustle.

Jack Jones Web Page

This album was his 22nd album I believe.  It is nothing but show tunes.  It features work from Rodgers, Hart, Hammerstein, Gershwin, Porter, and Loesser among others.  It is a pretty good collection.  Jones has a smooth Las Vegas style delivery.  Highlights include “Luck Be A Lady”, “A Lot Of Living To Do”, “People Will Say We’re In Love”, and “People”.DSCN4836 (800x784)

For a sample, I went with the Cole Porter tune, “I Love Paris”.jjones_lg

Satisfactory.

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.

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.