About this Recording
8.555025 - VINTAGE BROADWAY: Orchestral Selections
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Vintage Broadway
Cole Porter • Rodgers and Hammerstein II • Jule Styne • Burton Lane

The Broadway musical has a tradition traceable to the New York première of John Gay’s Beggar’s Opera at the Nassau Theater, Manhattan Island in 1751. By 1900 the commercially-inspired modern musical had evolved, via American burlesque and Negro minstrelsy, with imported European conventions added, into the tuneful, stylish, ‘native American’ bourgeois operettas of Kerker and Victor Herbert. During the twentieth century more than 2,000 productions were staged in Broadway theatres, all of which owed something to the time-honoured traditions of pantomime, ballet, Viennese operetta and English comic-opera, vaudeville and farce, although only fifty or so of these musicals enjoyed initial runs of over five hundred performances and far fewer exceeded one thousand or were blockbusters on a par with (to cite a few obvious examples) Show Boat (1927 – the first truly modern musical in its marriage of music to a realistic storyline), Oklahoma! (1947), South Pacific (1949), My Fair Lady (1956), West Side Story and The Music Man (both 1957) and The Sound Of Music (1959), as well as Kiss Me, Kate (1948) and Funny Girl (1964), two more megamusicals included here alongside several others less famous, but which nonetheless qualify as light classics and, being now half a century or more old, have earned the tag ‘vintage’.

With sophistication and elegance his keynotes, Cole Porter (1891-1964) was a major figure of the twentiethcentury screen and stage musical. For many years a virtual synonym for Broadway, the Peru (Indiana)-born composer-lyricist who wrote over twenty shows for the Golden Mile is represented here by arrangements from three of his mature efforts. The most durable of these, the monumental Kiss Me, Kate, opened in New York in December 1948, with Alfred Drake and Patricia Morison taking the leads. Running for an initial 1,077 performances, it won a first Tony ‘best musical’ award and two citations (best book, best score). With score ranking among Porter’s finest and with libretto by Sam (1899-1971) and Bella Spewack (1899-1990), this witty play-within-a-play paraphrase of Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew like its model traces family feud and reconciliation. Staged by Jack Hylton in March 1951 in London (501 performances) it was subsequently revived at various international locations over the next forty years and memorably filmed by MGM in 1953, starring Howard Keel and Katherine Grayson.

Can-Can, with libretto by Abe Burrows (alias Borowitz, 1910-1985) and produced by conductor Cy Feuer and Ernest Martin, opened in New York in May, 1953. A typically Parisian piece of froth, with some well-honed numbers, at 892 performances its Broadway sojourn was Porter’s second longest, and although it never won the international acclaim of Kiss Me, Kate, it enjoyed creditable New York revivals, in 1959, 1962 and 1981. In London it ran for 394 performances (from October 1954) but is now best remembered through the heavily adapted 1960 filming by Twentieth Century Fox, starring Frank Sinatra, Shirley MacLaine, Maurice Chevalier and Louis Jordan, which earned an Oscar nomination for Nelson Riddle’s musical direction.

Porter’s last stage musical (discounting Aladdin, originally filmed for television) Silk Stockings was conceived as a sequel to Can-Can. Paris again is the setting and its libretto, by George Simon Kaufman (1889-1961), Leueen McGrath and Abe Burrows, is derived from the screenplay of Ninotchka, a 1939 Greta Garbo vehicle produced by Ernst Lubitsch for MGM. The show ran on Broadway from February 1955 (478 performances) and whereas it received no London commission, its film-version of 1957, by MGM, starring Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse, choreography by Eugene Loring, was favourably received.

The fifteen-year association of the New York theatrical giants Richard Rodgers (1902-1979) and Oscar Hammerstein II (1895-1960) began with Oklahoma! in 1943. Chronologically their sixth Broadway collaboration, their ‘backstage’ musical Me And Juliet opened in New York in May 1953 and ran for 358 performances. Upstaged by Golden Mile competition from Can-Can, from Harold Rome’s Wish You Were Here and Bernstein’s Wonderful Town, however, it was overlooked by critics who had praised their earlier shows, notably Carousel and The King And I. Me And Juliet had no London run and nowadays is forgotten apart from its main theme, ‘No Other Love’, a borrowing from Rodgers’ filmscore of the 1954 screen documentary Victory At Sea, its one enduring standard.

With book by Hammerstein, who was also lyricist, and Joseph Albert Fields (1885-1966), Flower Drum Song was Rodgers and Hammerstein’s ninth Broadway production. An adaptation of a Chinese-American novel by Chin Y. Lee, it was directed by Gene Kelly and ran for 600 performances on Broadway from December, 1958. Staged in London in March 1960, the following year it was filmed by United Artists, featuring its original stars Miyoshi Emeki, Nancy Kwan and James Shigeta.

The New York team of lyricist Edgar ‘Yip’ Harburg (alias Isidore Hochberg, 1898-1981) and composer Burton Lane (alias Levy, born 1912) enjoyed various key screen and stage successes from about 1940. Harburg had earlier co-run an electrical business before turning to song-writing in 1929, while until that same year Lane was a staff writer with Tin Pan Alley music publishers Remick. Before joining forces both worked prolifically for Broadway and Hollywood. Opening in January 1947, at 725 performances Finian’s Rainbow was easily the duo’s greatest Broadway success, although Emile Littler’s parallel London production (also 1947) failed after only 55 performances. The filmversion (Warners, 1968) starred Fred Astaire, Petula Clarke and Tommy Steele.

Born in London but raised in Chicago, Jule Styne (alias Jules Kerwin Stein, 1905-1994) first won recognition as a concert pianist and Hollywood arranger, working variously with Sammy Cahn, Frank Loesser, Harburg and Sondheim. From 1947 he extended his activity to the Broadway stage, scoring his first significant hit in 1949 with Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (filmed in 1953). With book by Isobel Lennart and lyrics by Bob Merrill, Funny Girl opened in March, 1964. Loosely based on the larger-than-life adventures of New York east side comedienne Fanny Brice, it provided the youthful Barbra Streisand with an ideal starring vehicle. A subsequent high-gloss film (Columbia, 1968) also starred the Oscar-winning Streisand, as also did the less than auspicious 1975 screen sequel, Funny Lady.

Peter Dempsey

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