Annie Get Your Gun is based on the true story of Annie Oakley and how she met her husband, Frank Butler. It was to have been written by Rodgers and Hammerstein, but they chose to produce it instead, allowing Irving Berlin to write his finest score ever. Never has a musical contained as many standards as Annie Get Your Gun; "There's No Business Like Show Business," "I Got Lost in His Arms," and "Moonshine Lullaby" to name a few. In 1996, Annie Get Your Gun turned 50 and in honor of the occasion, John Yap released a brand new complete recording of the score.
To star in this recording, Judy Kaye from Ragtime was hired to record the title role, a role she sounds as if she were born to play. Ethel Merman may be indelibly attached to the role forever, but Judy certainly does it justice and makes you nearly forget about Miss Merman. Opposite her, as her love interest, Frank Butler, is none other than Barry Bostwick. While theater fans will know him from his many stage appearances, most folks will know him from either, The Rocky Horror Picture Show or TV's Spin City. Though, not my first choice for the role, he does quite an excellent job. His voice is not quite as strong as say, Ron Raines or Davis Gaines, who would probably be more appropriate for the role, but it has a certain vulnerability to it that adds a nice touch to the role. As a result, it is believable that he could fall for Annie very easily. It is thrilling to have these two Broadway vets together on one recording in such a rousing score.
This CD uses the 1966 Lincoln Center version which cut the secondary love
story between Charlie and Dolly, played respectively by David Green and Teri
Ralston. As a bonus though, both get to sing Charlie and Dolly's duets,
"I'll Share it All With You" and "Who Do You Love, I Hope?" In place of
these tunes, Irving Berlin added the duet "An Old Fashioned Wedding" for
Frank and Annie to sing. It resembles the song "You're Just in Love"
from the Ethel Merman vehicle, Call Me Madam, in its use of
counterpoint. There is a generous amount of dialogue to help set up each
song so the listener can easily follow the storyline. This CD makes me
even more anxious for the forthcoming revival that is to star Bernadette Peters.
Christopher Lee is the King in the first complete recording of The King and I. The King in question is, of course, the King of Siam who hires an English tutor, Anna Leonowens, to teach the Royal children and wives, but gets more than he bargained for. She turns out to be a strong-willed woman who does not understand his way of old fashioned thinking and does everything in her power to make him see her point of view.
Mr. Lee is an ideal choice for the role, but don't expect a Yul Brenner imitation. His readings of some of the lines are more lethargic and less frantic than Yul's and he sounds more powerful and sure of himself as a result. While the role of the King was never a role that needed a strong singer, Mr. Lee does quite nicely with the music. Valerie Masterson is not exactly my first choice for the role of Mrs. Anna, but she does some fine work here and is worth hearing. She is a much better choice than Julie Andrews (on an earlier release of this musical) and manages to sound even more English than Miss Andrews who is too old to be playing Anna at this stage in her career. At times Miss Andrews' voice sounded labored, as if she were struggling to sing. Though the role was written for Gertrude Lawrence, who wasn't a great singer, Donna Murphy is my personal choice in this role though Miss Masterson more than holds her own in comparison. Tinuke Olafimihan, as Tuptim, and Jason Howard, as Lun Tha, are perfectly matched for each other, although I believe he sounds a bit too old for the role of Lun Tha.
Overall this CD is much better cast than the bizarre Julie Andrews'
recording which used the movie orchestrations while this new CD features
the original theater orchestrations. The main attraction of this recording
is that it includes for the first time, "The Small House of Uncle Thomas."
While listening, I couldn't help but be surprised everytime I got to this
track as it is a pleasant surprise. Never has a recording of The King and I
featured this song before and I am thankful we have it. It is performed
very well and is a treat to hear. Likewise, as on Annie Get Your
Gun, this CD also has an abundant amount of dialogue to get the
listener involved in the action without being intrusive. I have always
loved this score more than any other Rodgers and Hammerstein's score
because it managed to sound Asian without being boring or shocking to
the listener by using actual Asian music which would be harsh to our
ears. I also loved the conflict between the 2 lead characters, east
versus west. Both are strong and trying to change the other, so much so,
that one could no longer live as a result. The King, realizing the world is
changing around him and he, himself, cannot adapt to the change.
Christopher Lee is the King in the first complete recording of The
King and I. The King in question is, of course, the King of Siam who
hires an English tutor, Anna Leonowens, to teach the Royal children and
wives, but gets more than he bargained for. She turns out to be a
strong-willed woman who does not understand his way of old fashioned
thinking and does everything in her power to make him see her point
Next year will be South Pacific's 50th anniversary and just in time for that occasion we have this highly entertaining recording. South Pacific is based on James A. Michener's novel, Tales of the South Pacific and takes place during World War II. Rodgers & Hammerstein managed to boil down the sprawling novel into a 2 and a half-hour musical and in the process produced a musical that was so good on its own that it even won a Pulitzer Prize. Their version of the story centered on 2 love stories that revolved around racial prejudice. Nellie Forbush, a nurse stationed in the south Pacific, falls in love with a French planter, Emile De Becque, and upon learning he was once married to and had children with a Polynesian woman, decides she cannot stay with him as a result of the racial prejudice she was exposed to back home. The second love story involved Lieutenant Joseph Cable who is sent on a special mission to the same area and is introduced to a Polynesian girl, Liat, and cannot marry her either because he was also raised the same way.
This CD is the best of JAY's Masterworks editions, so far. From the very first note of the overture to the finale where Emile and Nellie are reunited, there are many joys to be had on this CD aside from the obvious fact that it is complete. This could almost be considered a "cast recording" if it weren't for the fact that the 4 leads had played these roles in 4 different productions. Paige O'Hara played the role of Nellie Forbush down under and has to be one of the finest Nellies recorded. She even has a mid-western accent that is quite charming; as a result she sounds very little like Belle, the role she is most famous for. She is most effective in the final scene of Act 1 where she cannot deal with the fact that Emile has children by a Polynesian woman. She is simply heartbreaking, going from being giddy from the champagne to upset about her feelings for the children in a few seconds. Emile De Becque is portrayed by Justino Diaz who had the opportunity to play the role in the NYCO production back in 1986. He exhibits a strong baritone voice and is a perfect compliment to Paige O'Hara. Pat Suzuki makes a fine Blood Mary, (the character, not the drink!) even though her voice isn't as supple as it once was. Juanita Hall from the original Broadway production and Muriel Smith from the original London cast, both have fuller voices, but that doesn't detract from Ms. Suzuki's interpretation that is a joy to listen to and grows on one with more listenings. As "Lootellan" (as Bloody Mary calls him) Cable is Sean McDermott who played the role on tour with the Pace Company. This is one of the finest casts ever assembled for a studio recording. One would hope that it would be the springboard for a 50th anniversary production next year featuring this cast.
While I enjoyed all 3 of these recordings, nothing can replace the original Broadway cast recordings of these shows. There is nothing like hearing the original stars in the roles that they created. These CDs make a nice supplement to these original recordings, especially if you want to experience these shows as they were written without any cuts. Either way, you can't miss with any of these.
Soundbytes: RCA Victor is no longer in discussions about recording High Society. Apparently the producers are now talking to Broadway Angel, so stay tuned. Due to bad word of mouth though, I wouldn't hold my breath for a recording.
Next week I declare Flaherty and Ahrens' week! Not only do they have the most highly anticipated cast recording of the decade due on April 28, Ragtime, but their first ever animated musical makes its debut on videocassette. Anastasia will be available in both widescreen and pan and scan versions. I believe it is the first animated musical to be released this way. I, for one, can't wait to get my hands on both of these.
Join me next week when I will be reviewing Ragtime, The Irish and How They Got That Way and Judy Kaye's new solo album.
Till next time, happy listening!