Flops on CD: D to H
Reviews by John Kenrick
(Copyright 2000, Revised 2003)
Click on the links below to reach a specific review.
- Darling of the Day
- Dear World
- A Doll's Life
- Drat the Cat
- The Gay Life
- The Girl Who Came to Supper
- The Golden Apple
- Goodtime Charley
- Her First Roman
- High Society
Darling of the Day - RCA Victor
This fictional story of a British painter who trades identities with his dead valet to escape the pressures of fame disappeared after two months on Broadway. This score offers composer Jule Styne and lyricist E.Y. "Yip" Harburg at their best fresh, fun and wonderfully entertaining. Critics gave this witty confection a mixed reception, proving that they suffered from mass idiocy in the wake of that season's Hair.
Vincent Price was no great shakes as a singer, but he does no harm to the delightful "I've Got a Rainbow Working for Me" and "Sunset Tree." Most of the glory belongs to Patricia Routledge, who later won fame as Hyacinth on the British sitcom Keeping Up Appearances. She received a well-deserved Tony playing Alice Chalice, a widow who marries the masquerading artist and is overwhelmed when she finally learns his true identity. She enchants with "Let's See What Happens" and "That Something Extra Special," and cuts loose with the shameless barroom showstopper "Not On Your Nellie." Another winner teams cynical art dealer Peter Woodthorpe and greedy collector Brenda Forbes in the hilarious "Panache" Harburg had a rhyming field day in this paean to the art of flim-flam.
A 1998 concert production by the York Theatre company proved that this show is a forgotten gem, with a fine script that matches the exquisite score. Until someone has the sense to bring this show back to life, we can relish this excellent CD.
Dear World - Sony
This show was so poorly received that I eventually bought the remaindered LP for a mere 99 cents. It was love at first hearing, and Dear World has remained my favorite Jerry Herman score ever since. From the opening satirical waltz "Spring of Next Year," every song is a joy to the ear. Angela Lansbury dazzles as Aurelia, a madwoman who must save Paris from the clutches of greedy businessmen plotting to raze the whole city in search of oil. She makes the most of "Each Tomorrow Morning," "Kiss Her Now" and the powerful "I Don't Want to Know." Jane Connell and Carmen Matthews join Angela for the dazzling "Tea Party" sequence, three wild musical fantasies coming together in an explosion of fun. Pamela Hall sings the touching "I've Never Said I Loved You," and sewer worker Milo O'Shea joins the madwomen for a nostalgic paean to the "Garbage" of a gentler age.
The book is too ponderous for even this score to overcome, and several attempts to rewrite it have gotten nowhere. No matter Dear World's cast album offers solid pleasure, and belongs in every musical buff's collection.
A Doll's Life - Bay Cities
A musical sequel to Ibsen's A Doll's House? One has to wonder why. The wondrous Betty Comden and Adolph Green teamed with composer Larry Grossman to turn out an almost operatic score, but the book droned on about the unfairness of life and an overly-elaborate Hal Prince production only made matters worse. Small wonder the show died a quick death. All that was left was a singularly ugly logo that lingered for months on the marquee of the Mark Hellinger Theatre and this first-rate cast recording. Betsy Joslyn is a vibrant Nora, and George Hearn is solid as her husband Torvald (and two other characters vying for Nora's affections). Edmund Lyndeck's sensuous bass is nicely showcased here, and the supporting cast includes Peter Gallagher, Barbara Lang and Patti Cohenour. The orchestrations by Bill Byers, as well as the performances and technical aspects of the recording, are flawless. What a pity the score does not give them more to work with.
Yes, this score has its admirers, but damned if I can tell you why. Several cast members play multiple roles, making the action very hard to follow, and the minimal album notes don't clarify much. (No surprise; it was just as confusing on stage.) Unless you find the idea of a sequel to A Doll's House irresistible, you would do well to seek your pleasures elsewhere.
Doonesbury - MCA
Cartoonist Garry Trudeau took a year off from his beloved comic strip to write the fine book and lyrics for this one, but composer Elizabeth Swados was not in her element. The show ran a little over three months, after which Trudeau delighted his fans by resuming the comic strip. All the original Doonesbury characters are here. The score has two standouts a charming love song for Mike Doonesbury called "Just One Night," and a zany spoof of the Reagan Era called "It's the Right Time to Be Rich." I enjoyed this show, but the topical book would probably not play well today. Fans of the strip will appreciate this recording. However, those who do not know Duke from Zonker may prefer other titles.
Drat the Cat - Varese Sarabande
This show died a quick death in 1965. A pirated cast recording and Barbra Streisand's hit single of "He Touched Me" kept Drat's reputation alive. In 1997, producer Bruce Kimmel turned out this studio recording with an amazing all-star cast, and I'm sad to report that its impossible to say what all the fuss was about this is clearly the score of a bomb. Susan Egan plays the debutante cat burglar, and Jason Graae is the hapless cop she continually outsmarts until love brings them together. The supporting cast includes Judy Kaye, Gregory Jbara, Lee Wilkof, Jonathan Freeman, Bryan Batt, Robert Nichols and Elaine Stritch. If these people cannot breathe life into the material, no one can.
The Milton Schafer-Ira Levin songs are a serious disappointment. Restored to its original gender, "She Touched Me" is easily the best number. The ensemble has additional fun with the catchy march "Today Is a Day for a Band To Play." But overall this stuff simply does not work. It could be that my expectations were too high, or that a solid staging would reveal the still-hidden magic in this much-loved flop.
Flahooley - Original Bway Cast
Few Broadway flop musicals are as bizarre or as fascinating as Flahooley! Many feel this failed in 1951 because critics and audiences could not accept a biting satire of American big business. I think it is simpler than that. For all its ambitions, Flahooley never really came together. The plot is a tad confusing. A toy inventor wishes every child on earth could have his latest invention, a laughing doll he calls Flahooley. Aside from spreading pleasure, this would make the inventor rich enough to marry his girlfriend. A genie grants the inventor's wish, but gives so many Flahooley dolls away that it ruins the toy company. In the end, various lovers pair off and the genie decides to make a career of giving things away.
Sammy Fain provided some fine melodies, but I find the usually ingenious E.Y. Harburg's lyrics uneven here. Although the satirical numbers fall flat, the love songs "Here's to Your Illusions" and "He's Only Wonderful" are delicious. Barbara Cook sounds great in her Broadway debut, blending nicely with co-star baritone Jerome Courtland. The spirited supporting cast includes one of the strangest vocalists of the 1950s, the legendary Yma Sumac. With bizarre multi-octave trills that made her a camp celebrity, this was her only Broadway outing, and frankly, her presence here makes no sense. (Personal note: Sumac eventually ran a bird shop in the undergound arcade below Rockefeller Center. I remember seeing her there in the 1970s, flamboyantly dressed, singing to her caged songbirds and decorating the shop windows with her out-of-print LPs.) Cook fans and rabid collectors will want to have this. Otherwise, you'll wonder why people once paid through the nose for used copies of this recording.
The Gay Life - Angel
Don't let the title fool you this musical is heterosexual to the core. That's why the authors re-named it The High Life for future licensing purposes. It involves an innocent girl who wins the heart of a wealthy playboy. (Did someone say Gigi?) The glorious score makes this recording a major favorite with serious collectors. When you have Barbara Cook singing such underrated Arthur Schwartz-Howard Dietz gems as "Magic Moment," "Something You Never Had Before" and "The Label on the Bottle," what more can musical buffs ask for? It may well be Cook's most impressive cast album performance. Co-star Walter Chiari is often blamed for this show's failure, but he sounds pleasant enough here. MGM comic Jules Munshin has several good moments, including "The Bloom is Off the Rose," and there are fine ensemble numbers but the humor is mostly lame.
Done in by a so-so book, The Gay Life makes for fine listening and is a must-have for Cook fans. Lavish production requirements might be too much for most theater groups, but an exceptional cast could still make this one tick.
The Girl Who Came to Supper - Sony
Critics felt that Noel Coward's last musical was a little too similar to My Fair Lady like that's a bad thing? This musical version of The Prince & the Showgirl offers tons of sophisticated pleasure. Jose Ferrer's Prince is clearly a Coward impersonation, but that works beautifully. He is just right in the cynical "My Family Tree" and "How Do You Do, Middle Age?" Long before her stint as TV's Mrs. Brady, Florence Henderson is wonderful as the American showgirl hobnobbing with European royalty and her solo "Coconut Girl" medley is a brilliant tour-de-force. Roderick Cook is a hoot as a British court official teaching etiquette in "Sir or Ma'am," and Tessie O'Shea steals everything with her wonderful "London Is" music hall song cycle. The ensemble has some nifty numbers, including the "Coronation Chorale."
Coward fans will enjoy this cast recording. There is also a super DRG release of Coward performing the entire score on an audition demo if you like the score, it is well worth getting both recordings.
The Golden Apple - RCA Victor
Showbuffs have long raved about this 1954 flop, which reset the story of Homer's Iliad in small town America. The hard to find cast LP was prized, and some sources have long insisted the score was a masterpiece. Finally re-mastered for CD in 1997, it proved to be an acquired taste that this listener has not yet managed to acquire. Most of the numbers by Jerome Morros and John Latouche are either too brief or downright obtuse despite the unusual use of narration to give the album some cohesion. The main attraction for me is the cast. Kaye Ballard's sensuous "Lazy Afternoon" and Bibi Osterwald's raucous "Goona-Goona" are standouts. Personal favorites Stephen Douglass, Priscilla Gillette, Jack Whiting and Portia Nelson are all superb. I suspect this material would make more sense onstage than it does on disc.
Goldilocks - Sony Broadway
When New York Times critic Walter Kerr decided to write and direct a musical, theater veterans were thrilled -- especially when the show crashed and burned. The book, which Kerr co-authored with his playwright wife Jean, did not succeed in telling the tale of a stage actress who unwillingly falls in love with the unscrupulous producer who lures her into work in silent film.
You can't blame the show's failure of this often delightful score. In his only Broadway effort, orchestral composer Leroy Anderson (of "Syncopated Clock" fame ) turned out a string of delicious melodies, with polished lyrics by the Kerrs and Joan Ford. Elaine Stritch gives her usual crackerjack performance in the lead, abetted by Don Ameche as her unlikely love interest. Russell Nype and Pat Stanley were so effective as the comic ing nues that both walked off with Tonys, and the solid supporting cast includes such favorites as Nathaniel Frey and Margaret Hamilton (who is heard here talking, not singing).
Goldilocks is not exactly a lost classic. It is all to easy to hear the show run out of gas as it rolls along, but serious collectors will get a kick out of this recording. The delicious "Pussy Foot" is a personal favorite, and Stritch fans will not want to miss her renditions of "Give the Little Lady" and "I Never Know When." If the cast appeals, grab a copy.
Goodtime Charley - RCA Victor
A Joan of Arc musical that focuses on the Dauphin? Not a likely idea, but Joel Grey and Ann Reinking were so good that they almost pulled it off. Harsh reviews kept audiences away, ending the run after barely three months. Luckily, that was long enough to get this superb recording done. Without the libretto (which the critics hated), the cast and score offer cartloads of surprising fun.
Composer Larry Grossman and lyricist Hal Hackady provided a well crafted score. In the opening one of the best plot exposition numbers I have ever heard the statues on a cathedral wall come to life, explaining the "History" behind the story to come. Grey is endearing as Charley, and Reinking gives the best vocal performance of her career. Their stinging "You Still Have a Long Way to Go" is matched by two fine supporting cast duets the prayerful "Merci, Bon Dieu" and the wicked "Confessional." This recording is certainly worth hearing, and it would be fascinating to see if the show works without its extraordinary original stars.
Her First Roman - Lockett-Palmer Recordings
After a tumultuous tryout, this 1968 adaptation of Bernard Shaw's Caesar and Cleopatra ran less than three weeks. But composer Ervin Drake never gave up on the project, and twenty-five years later he saw original stars Richard Kiley and Leslie Uggams reunite to record the score. Both were still in excellent voice, and the recording leaves me wondering why the critics were hard on this often charming score. It is no My Fair Lady, but the cast audibly has a blast. Kiley's "Song to the Sphinx" and "In Vino Veritas" are first-rate, and Uggams is charming in "Many Young Men From Now" and "The Wrong Man." Priscilla Lopez camps it up as a handmaiden and Ron Raines shines as Caesar's assistant. Ensemble numbers like "I Fell In With Evil Companions" and "What Are We Doing In Egypt" are witty and melodic. (There is a dramatic low-point when a singing Cleopatra discovers the body of her murdered servant and, after a quick wail, resumes singing!)
I don't know how this show would fare on stage, but its CD is a very pleasant way to while away a listening hour.
High Society - DRG
High Society was a bit flat onstage but it is positively joyous on this cast recording. Such a talented cast singing classic Cole Porter songs can't help but blow show buffs away. Susan Birkenhead did a fine job adjusting some of the lyrics to the twists of the revised plot, and the new "Once Upon a Time" fits in nicely with the Porter originals. Popping this one into the CD player is an audio equivalent to opening a bottle of good champagne.
Melissa Errico is perfect as spoiled heiress Tracey Lord, royally belting "Ridin' High" and overall confirming her status as one of Broadway's brightest talents. Daniel McDonald is delicious in "Little One" and "True Love" what a pity that no one wrote this talented hunk a hit before his untimely death! Randy Graff and Stephen Bogardus are (of course) great as the snoopy reporters, but the recording like the show belongs to John McMartin as the tipsy uncle and Anna Kendrick as the wisecracking little sister. Both are responsible for some of the best comic moments on any cast recording of the 1990s.
So strong that it will probably inspire a few productions, this recording is a treat. And what the heck -- a good community theatre group could probably have a blast with this material.