Saturday, June 23, 2007

"It's A Bird...It's A Plane..." & Other Fav Cast Recordings

I was crestfallen last week. Due to family obligations, I could not attend New York City’s York Theatre Company’s production of the 1966 musical “It’s A Bird…It’s A Plane…It’s Superman.” The first in their MUFTI series (MUFTI is defined as “in street clothes, without the usual trappings”), the Charles Strouse-Lee Adams Broadway flop ran for five performances this past weekend. Why was I so despondent? Because I count the original cast recording as one of my Top Ten favorites of all time. “It’s A Bird…” ran for a meager 129 performances when it opened on Broadway in the mid-1960’s, but the cast recording is fun, breezy, and tuneful.

Is it one of the best scores ever written? Hardly. But for some reason the score resonates with me and I play selections from the musical as often as I can on my radio program. This got me thinking—what are my favorite cast recordings? If I was on a desert island--just me and my iPod—what ten Broadway CDs would be loaded onto the device? As I leafed through the hundreds of CDs (and LPs) in my collection I realized that I would not include many of the “classics.” Shows, to name a few, such as “Kiss Me Kate,” “My Fair Lady,” “Guys and Dolls,” and “South Pacific”—gems, absolute perfection—did not make the cut. They contain some of the most memorable songs in Broadway musical history, and I enjoy listening to these cast recordings as well as sharing the music with my discerning audience, but most of my choices border on the unfamiliar to the average musical theater fan.

Reviewing my list, trying to determine the ‘why,’ I came up with some generalizations:

  1. I like quirky
  2. I connected with the show by seeing it live
  3. I’m a sucker for ‘feel good’ scores
  4. I gravitate towards bouncy, light-hearted
  5. None of the above

So, here’s my Top Ten, in alphabetical order:

Anything Goes – the 1987 revival cast recording with Patti Lupone, at her best, and Howard McGillin. Outstanding Cole Porter songs given a real sassy arrangement. I remember getting goose bumps when I saw the show at Lincoln Center and relive the moment every time I play the CD.

Babes in Arms – the 1999 Encores! production of the Rodgers and Hart triumph. Every song a masterpiece delivered with syncopated precision by the Coffee Club Orchestra.

Good News – I have the 1995 studio cast recording that added songs from the 1947 movie version as well as other nuggets from composer Ray Henderson. First-rate, toe-tapping, infectious score with one of my all-time favorite numbers, “The Varsity Drag.”

Grease – the original cast recording, not all the bastardized versions since then. My first Broadway show that I saw without my parents. One of the funniest and most entertaining musicals ever, beautifully preserved on the cast recording.

It’s A Bird…It’s A Plane…It’s Superman – see above.

Oh, Brother! – monumental Broadway bomb (only three performances), based on Shakespeare’s “Comedy of Errors” and set in the Middle East. But a real spirited and frolicsome score by a cast that included Harry Groener and Judy Kaye.

Promises, Promises – the second musical I ever saw (after “Fiddler”)—the national tour in Washington, D.C. in December 1971 (why is it I can remember theater related dates, but can’t remember my wedding anniversary?). The only musical penned by popmeisters Burt Bacharach and Hal David. The cast recording perfectly captures 1960’s musical sensibilities as well as a sumptuous score.

She Loves Me – pure magic with the incomparable Barbara Cook. One glorious number after another by Sheldon Harnick and Jerry Bock. Oh, did I mention Barbara Cook?

Sweeney Todd – this comes under #5. A haunting, yet playful, score by Stephen Sondheim that works well in all transfigurations. I prefer the original cast recording with the legendary Angela Lansbury and Len Cariou.

Tommy – one of my favorite rock albums (by The Who), turned into a sensational Broadway musical. The cast recording loses none of the power and energy from the live show.

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