|About this Recording
8.120890 - LOESSER, F.: Where's Charley? (Original London Cast) (1958) / Hans Christian Andersen (1952)
I often wonder if there are two Frank Loessers floating out there in musical comedy heaven and having a good chuckle over the fact that we think they’re the same guy.
How could anyone believe that the sassy, classy dude who could bring us the world of Nathan Detroit and Sky Masterson in Guys and Dolls could also lead us through the childlike fantasies of Denmark’s beloved Hans Christian Andersen?
And how dare you try to tell me that the same man who captured the essence of Mad Men’s Manhattan on a laughing jag in How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying could also take us inside the delicate world of Oxford University and a bunch of timid Victorian lovers.
Sure, it would be easier if we had two composers to discuss now (Loesser the Greater and Loesser the Loesser), but it just wouldn’t be right.
Because although sometimes Frank Henry Loesser would lead with his chin and the rest of the time he’d lead with his heart, he was – sorry, guys! – the same fella.
Even the hard-boiled Guys and Dolls has Sky admitting he loves it when ‘the street lamp light fills the gutter with gold,’ and How To Succeed has the hero conceding that his beloved has ‘the slam, bang tang reminiscent of gin and vermouth.’ (Okay, he’s singing it to a mirror, but nobody’s perfect.)
This time out, we’re listening to Loesser the Lighter, a man who knew who to charm with the best of them and weave dreams we’d all be happy to follow forever.
The first show on display is the first one he ever brought to Broadway … kind of.
You see, the musical is Where’s Charley? and it’s a song and dance version of the popular old farce, Charley’s Aunt.
To Loesser, it was an excuse to fill a score full of undergraduate highjinx, lovely young ladies and ballads as fresh as England in the spring. Listen to the unabashed joy of My Darling, My Darling and you’ll hear a man who truly believed in the power of love.
But that doesn’t mean he couldn’t peek inside a jealous lover’s mind with a wonderful hypothetical number called The Woman In His Room.
Do you want a bit of collegiate razz-a-matazz? Nothing neater than The New Ashmolean Marching Society And Student Conservatory Band.
And if you want to settle down for a piece of pure, 100% traditional, musical comedy charm, then you better try Once In Love With Amy.
But here’s the slight problem. All the vocalists you’ll here on this recording are from a London original cast recording made in 1958.
Why? The recording industry in America was a contentious place in the 1940s, with everyone grappling for power.
And poor everyone, but the original Charley’s Aunt opened on 11 October 1948, right in the middle of the so-called ‘Petrillo Ban’, in which the head of the musicians’ union, James Petrillo battled with the record companies over a better deal for his players and no full original Broadway cast recording was ever made.
That was a particular shame for all involved. Because although Where’s Charley? has entered into history as a hit, with 792 performances, it opened to appalling reviews.
Novice producers Feuer and Martin were about to fold the turkey when they noticed that the audience were responding to leading man Ray Bolger’s inspired ad libbing and soft-shoeing to the charm song Once In Love With Amy.
‘On opening night,’ Feuer quipped, ‘the song ran for four minutes. By closing night, it took a half an hour.’
One song, one performer, made all the difference. You can hear a solitary 1949 version of Bolger singing that one song, but to sample the whole score in its delicious entirety, you have to join us for this 1958 British version, starring Cockney comic, Norman Wisdom (later to tackle Broadway in the 1966 flop, Walking Happy.)
Anyway, Loesser’s next time at bat yielded the brash success, Guys and Dolls (1950), so afterwards, he was ready for a little quiet charm again.
But it came from a highly unlikely source. Not just Hollywood, but the Hollywood of Samuel Goldwyn, a coarse man with a gift for mangling the English language. (‘A verbal contract isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on.’)
Still, somehow, he decided to put together a very erudite group of film-makers to tell the story of Hans Christian Andersen, the most beloved of all Scandinavian fabulists.
The fantastical Myles Connolly created the story, the erudite Moss Hart wrote the screenplay, the gentlemanly Charles Vidor was set to direct and Loesser came on to write the music and lyrics.
But then they ran into Danny Kaye, who Goldwyn wanted as the star. Kaye was best known as a madcap comic, slightly effete, who specialized in the rapid-fire patter songs his wife Sylvia Fine usually turned out for him.
Even when he appeared in Cole Porter musicals on Broadway, Porter would step aside and let Fine do her thing.
But Kaye was tired of being funny. He wanted to be a wistful zany, a misunderstood clown, a tragic lover and so the authors had to bend their material backwards to make it work.
It’s easy to see that Loesser was most comfortable in some of the heartier numbers like I’m Hans Christian Andersen and the sweeping Wonderful Copenhagen.
Loesser even provided a Fine-like patter song in The King’s New Clothes, although Kaye never pronounced himself happy with it.
And even numbers of decent sentiment such as Anywhere I Wander and Inchworm were milked so heavily for pathos, they lose their true effect.
Listen to Loesser himself demonstrating three of his own numbers at the end of the disc to hear more of what he had in mind.
But Hans Christian Andersen was a large hit, especially on the international market, and Kaye’s persona must have had the effect he wanted, because in 1954, he was asked to join UNICEF as an ambassador, a role he cherished and kept until his death in 1987.
And Frank Loesser? He returned to Broadway where his next hit, The Most Happy Fella, was a masterpiece combining equal amounts of broad laughter and open heartache. It must have taken two guys to write it, don’t you think?
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