Monday, October 13, 2008


These are actual street names in Texas and they actually do follow one another in this sequence that you see here, believe it or not! Funny! Sometimes very real places and streets are so "unreal" seeming.

On this day when there is the release of the new four CD ultimate Sondheim album, John and I will be going into the recording studio today for the first time in six months to record eight songs and two overtures. The overtures will be from "The Runaway heart" and "Broadway Angels" and the songs will be mostly from our newest effort "The Broadway Angels". This we hope is going to be a really funny and wonderful show. John and I nickname this show "Nunsense with brains." Of course, it's a wild crazy fantasy-- even a bit more fantastical than "The Damn Yankees" But musical theatre was designed to be fun-- so you might as well have that grand and wonderful fun while you can. I grew with Dominican Sisters. They were a VERY BIG part of my life and most of the good sisters in this show are based and even named in honor of these amazing and sometimes a bit crazy ladies. I hope my patron saint Saint Michael, the Archangel has a great sense of humor as does his great friend Gabriel. But I am certain after dealing with mortal man after all of these centuries, they must have obtained a sense of humor rather than go completely insane. The songs include "Very Best Miracle," "I'm Gonna Pray," and my favorite "Tell 'Em A Whopper", Tell Him a Lie."

Sondheim's new album has resulted in the handsome four-CD box set, "Stephen Sondheim: The Story So Far." With Sondheim serving as co-executive producer and the accomplished team of Didier C. Deutsch and Darcy M. Proper as compilation producers, this is an intriguing collection covering the first 55 years of the composer's career. Consider the fourth disc of the set. It begins with what seems to be a radio transcription of a duo-piano version of "I Must Be Dreaming," from the 1949 college show All That Glitters, a track that I don't suppose many of us have ever heard. One song later, we go into four numbers from a 1954 backer's audition of the early musical Saturday Night (which went unproduced until 1997). We have indeed heard these songs by now, with two complete recordings of the show on our record shelf. Here, though, we get a bright young cast singing the songs back when they were written. Jack Cassidy was a young, strong-voiced singer with one major role to his credit — as the romantic waiter who got to sing the title song in Wish You Were Here — and the promise of a major career ahead if he didn't mess it up, which he did. But listen to him sing "Class." The excitement is palpable, as they say: This is a bright new show tune by a bright new songwriter with a bright new Broadway star, nothing but talent ahead. Arte Johnson, who only made it to Broadway (and briefly) some 43 years later but found fame on TV's "Laugh-In," scores laugh after laugh with "Love's a Bond." One can't tell what he was doing, but he certainly has the crowd in stitches (and not from the lyric).
Then comes the "At the Movies" sequence, and it is quite something. Alice Ghostley, who made a splash singing Sheldon Harnick's "Boston Beguine" in New Faces of 1952, hysterically delivers all Sondheim's lines about Vilma Banky's hanky panky and Conrad Nagel. (Unlike Cassidy and Johnson, Ghostley is not singled out in the song listings but that is unmistakably her.) Listening not to the song but to the audience at the backer's audition, though, you might pick up a hint as to why Saturday Night did not get produced in the era of The King and I and The Pajama Game; the laughter is vociferous but cliquish, oddly recalling the reaction to the '50s work of Franklin Shepard in Sondheim's Merrily We Roll Along. ("Write more, work hard, leave your name with the girl.") Along comes the composer singing "Truly Content," his nifty "glamorous mooovie star" song for the pre-Apple Tree version of Jules Feiffer's "Passionella." (If she was a movie star, Ella would be truly content like Fay Wray or George Brent.) Incidental music for two Arthur Laurents plays is included, as well as five tracks from Alain Resnais' 1974 film "Stavisky," which contains some of Sondheim's most ravishing music in his Little Night Music-Debussy-Ravel mood. If you don't have the full soundtrack of "Stavisky," seek it out. That's only half of what comes on the fascinating fourth CD of the set. Which brings us to the other side of the coin. If "The Story So Far" exists to highlight the Sony BMG catalogue of Sondheim music, they understandably need to include said holdings in the box. But consider Chita Rivera's "America," Larry Kert and Carol Lawrence's "Tonight," Ethel Merman's "Everything's Coming Up Roses," Elaine Stritch's "The Ladies Who Lunch," Angela Lansbury and Len Cariou's "A Little Priest," Mandy Patinkin's "Finishing the Hat," and Bernadette Peters' "Children Will Listen." All are present, along with another 16 selections from Sondheim's popular original cast albums.
So think good thoughts about us today. And today is also the feast of Our Lady of Fatima. Today was the grand and glorious "Miracle of the Sun" for three poor Portuguese children. What an amazing miracle as the sun itself seemed to dance in the sky and then for brief seconds looked even to be falling. So Dear Lady in Heaven, watch over our recording session today if you will!

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