PORTER: Kiss Me, Kate. Josephine Barstow, Kim Criswell, George Dvorsky, Thomas Hampson et al.; Ambrosian Chorus, London Sinfonietta, John McGlinn conducting. EMI CDS7-54033-2 (two CDs).
PORTER: Kiss Me Kate. Kathryn Grayson, Ann Miller, Tommy Rall, Howard Keel et al.; MGM Studio Orchestra, Andre Previn conducting. CBS Special Products AK-46196 .If I, along with several others, felt that John McGlinn's super-archival approach to resurrecting Broadway musicals on record worked less well with "Anything Goes" than it had with his magnificent recreation of "Show Boat," well, the above two-disc issue of "Kiss Me, Kate" helps redress the balance, at least vis-a-vis Cole Porter.
Not only is the score itself, with its dazzling succession of hits and tight dramatic structure, more substantial than the one he turned out for "Anything Goes," but to my ears the performance springs to life a bit more readily, and nowhere more so than the opening number, "Another Op'nin,' Another Show" (which incidentally features McGlinn himself as the stage manager). Indeed, I
RECORDactually hear more lift here than on the 1948 original-cast album, with its more self-consciously operatic delivery, not to mention a great deal more music.
Which is typical of this release, offering as it does not only the first recordings of such things as "I Sing of Love" and all the dance music but, on a "Show Boat"-like appendix, six songs cut from the show before opening night. It's nice to have them, although none seems to me a match for the songs that replaced them. Even here, though, you'll hear more than you ever have outside the theater, including some additional lyrics - "Brush Up Your Shakespeare," for example, is here more than twice its usual length.
Otherwise the cast album still takes precedence, if for no other reason the star performances. Certainly Alfred Drake brought a swaggering authority to the role of Fred/Petruchio only fleetingly suggested by Thomas Hampson. Nor does the all-too-British Josephine Barstow begin to rival the unique bitchiness of Patricia Morison as his wife Lilli. Kim Criswell, however, in the Lisa Kirk role is not only more consistently on pitch but seems much more at home here than she did in McGlinn's "Anything Goes."
Star performances are also the main attraction of the soundtrack to the 1953 MGM film, at the time the most faithful translation of Porter the screen had yet offered. That still means some omission, interpolation and re-assignment of songs. In addition to which Andre Previn and Saul Chapin's glossy reorchestrations largely erase the '30s jazz influence so ebulliently apparent in some of McGlinn's readings (e.g., his and Criswell's langorously loping "Why Can't You Behave?").
What you do get, however, is Howard Keel's riched-voiced Fred and Ann Miller's sizzling Lois/Bianca - even without the dancing, a steamy "Too Darn Hot" and what is, on balance, still my favorite "Tom, Dick or Harry" (with a young Bob Fosse among the suitors).
On the above-listed CBS Special Products reissue, moreover, you also get it in honest-to-goodness stereo, something previously available only via home video. Pretty clearly this was also taped from the finished soundtrack, complete with extra dialogue, sound effects and the sound of dancing feet. But that's more than can be said of the same team's "Kismet" CD, where for some reason everything is still in mono.
Ergo, rank it third among currently available "Kates," right behind the original-cast and the new McGlinn editions. But I wonder if anyone at EMI/Capitol has thought to dredge up their own stereo remake of the first, with Drake, Morison, Kirk, Harold Lang and Lorenzo Fuller recreating their stage roles. That might not change the above ranking, but it would certainly be worth hearing again, at least while we're on the subject of resurrections.
GERSHWIN: Girl Crazy. Judy Blazer, Lorna Luft, David Carroll, Frank Gorshin et al.; Chorus and Orchestra, John Mauceri conducting. Elektra Nonesuch 9-79250-2 .
RODGERS: Babes in Arms. Judy Blazer, Judy Kaye, Gregg Edelman, et al.; New Jersey Symphony Orchestra, Evans Haile conducting. New World NW-386-2 .
Performers loom even larger in the history of the Gershwins' "Girl Crazy" (1930), which was frankly tailored to display the talents of Bert Lahr (who in fact never made it into the show), Ginger Rogers and the young Ethel Merman, whose reputation it made overnight - or was it the other way around?
Probably not. This may not be as consistently fine a score as "Kiss Me, Kate," nor is its dude-ranch plot more than something on which to hang a string of comedy numbers and songs. But since the latter include such genuine classics as "Bidin' My Time," "But Not for Me," "I Got Rhythm" and "Embraceable You," it's hard to think the show wouldn't have succeeded even without the above.
Certainly it comes across with remarkable freshness on the Elektra Nonesuch CD listed above, the first of several such Gershwin restorations to be undertaken in conjunction with the Library of Congress.
Lorna Luft may not be the reincarnation of Ethel Merman, or even her mother Judy Garland (who starred in the 1943 film version). But her smoky delivery of "Sam and Delilah" reminds us that it was this sultry saloon ballad that first woke the audience up to Merman and not "I Got Rhythm" (which comes later in the show). Interestingly, there is also an affectingly Garlandesque quality about Judy Blazer's vocals, and John Mauceri (whose authentic-Broadway credits go back even farther than McGlinn's) conducts with his usual zest.
The Garland influence is also apparent in Blazer's singing in New World's recording of Rodgers & Hart's "Babes in Arms" (1937), another musical more notable for its songs than for its plot. But what songs, including as they do "My Funny Valentine," "Where or When," "Johnny One-Note," "I Wish I Were in Love Again" and "The Lady Is a Tramp."
Blazer makes a particularly fine effect in the last, as does Judy Kaye in "Way Out West" and "Johnny One-Note." And under Evan Haile's energetic direction the title song registers strongly, if without the towering vocal presence the little-remembered Douglas McPhail brought to the 1938 MGM film, which, believe it or not, retained only two of the original songs.
Haile and company do considerably better than that. With its somewhat less puristic approach, however, even this disc does not give us all the songs, choosing to drop the racially sensitive "All Dark People." I can understand their thinking. But since the villain of the piece is pretty much branded as such by his attempts to get the black performers eliminated from the show-within-a-show, this decision is not without a certain irony.