Flops on CD: Additional Titles
Reviews by John Kenrick
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Forty years before The Producers came to New York, Mel Brooks penned the libretto for this tale of a foreign engineering professor who coaches a college football to unexpected victory. Despite a score by the composers of Bye Bye Birdie and the stellar presence of Ray Bolger in the leading role, this show never quite came together. Highlights include the sweet ballad "Once Upon a Time" and a rip-roaring ode to "Physical Fitness" -- but I don't think anyone would be wise to attempt a new production.
Most listeners will be amazed to hear what a lovely soprano voice movie star Maureen O'Hara brought to her Broadway musical debut -- and even more amazed that she would waste her gifts on such a witless, leaden score. The plot, a blatant King & I rip-off set in India, only made matters worse. Nicely remastered, but only worth owning as an oddity.
Henry, Sweet Henry
Don Ameche was a stalwart in many Hollywood musicals, but his stage tuners were all disasters. He took the title role of a musician stalked by teenage fans in this musicalization of the film comedy The World of Henry Orient, and had the benefits of a strong supporting cast, fine choreography by young Michael Bennett and a basically enjoyable score by Bob Merrill. But Henry had the bad luck to open just days after Hair had exploded Off-Broadway -- and the critics were not in the mood for a genial musical comedy, particularly one with an uneven book. The score has fun moments, particularly when Alice Payten cuts loose as the hateful Kafritz. Not exactly a lost treasure, but not a clunker either.
How Now Dow Jones
This Wall Street spoof suffered from a weak libretto, but the score (with music by screen composer Elmer Bernstein) has some very enjoyable numbers. Standouts include the hilarious "Shakespeare Lied," Brenda Vacarro's (yup, she sings) rendition of the opening chorus "A-B-C," and Tony Roberts leading a chorus of matrons in the catchy "Step to the Rear" -- which became a minor hit. A guilty pleasure -- but don't worry, you'll get over it.
Yes, even Rodgers and Hammerstein had a flop -- this was their only joint effort that failed to return its investment. Cleaning up John Steinbeck's colorful novel Cannery Row was an ill-advised idea, and casting Metropolitan Opera diva Helen Traubel as a skid row whorehouse madam was ridiculous. She sings beautifully -- too beautifully! The fine cast shows off some attractive songs (this is R&H, after all) to good advantage, but even the casual listener will notice that this score lacks the power one expects from R&H. My favorites include "The Man I Used to Be" and "All at Once You Love Her." Serious collectors will want this one, but I can't say it is an essential disc.