I got to my car after work with my press copy CD of the new Broadway cast recording of "South Pacific."

Engine idling, the CD was sucked into the player and began to whirl while I pulled out the liner notes.

Then, I stopped in my tracks.

Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful!

Though I've heard "South Pacific" a trillion times, I've never heard it like this. I sat mesmerized, and slowly reached for my volume knob, turning it to the right — evenly so as not to interrupt the soaring "Bali Ha'i" in the Overture.

"Listen to those strings," I say to no one.


Breaking my trance I began to look frantically through the liner notes to figure out who was responsible?"

Music direction: Ted Sperling.

To be honest, I hadn't heard of him, but I'm certainly familiar with his work: "The Light in the Piazza," "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels" and "The Full Monty," to name a few.

Sperling did what he should do with "South Pacific": Nothing. He didn't change a thing. He used the original orchestrations by the great Richard Rodgers, and you're simply not going to get better than that.

In a day and age where orchestras are being cut back to save money, Lincoln Center's revival did just the opposite — filling the pit with 30 musicians, just like the golden age of Broadway.

It makes all the difference in the world.

Throw Kelli O'Hara, Paulo Szot and Matthew Morrison in the mix and you have a marvelous new recording; exactly how Rodgers and Hammerstein wanted it to be heard.

This, my friends, is just what a Broadway soundtrack should be.

Tony talk: It's Tony time (June 15, 7 p.m., CBS/Ch. 2) and there are a couple of things you should look for.

1. Usually only nominees perform during the Tonys. But this year, the original cast of "Rent" will join the current cast for a song to celebrate the closing of the musical's 12-plus year run (it closes Sept. 7). Also, cast members of "The Lion King" will do a special performance, commemorating the show's 10 year anniversary.

2. Sunday, June 8, at 2 p.m. on CBS/Ch. 2, The Visa Signature Tony Awards Preview Concert will be broadcast. If you remember, this was part of the nomination announcement. The show will include musical numbers, interviews with nominees and a salute to past Tony winners.

State of the Great (White Way, that is): Thing's aren't looking good. Something is lurking in the shadows of the theater district, threatening Broadway. Here, some interesting whisperings of new shows:

"Little House on the Prairie, the Musical": This new adaptation will make its premiere in Minneapolis, starring none other than the original Laura Ingalls, Melissa Gilbert (who looks great, by the way), this time playing Ma.

"Ugly Betty, the Musical": Actor Michael Urie, of the popular ABC comedy, confirmed rumors about a full-stage show may be true. "Everyone is hush-hush right now." If nothing else, they at least want to do a musical episode soon.

"Spider-Man the Musical": Scarily, this one is actually already written and in the works to open in late '09 or

2010. Under the direction of Julie Taymor, of "Lion King" fame, "Spider-Man" will have music by Bono and The Edge. I'm biting my tongue.

Lastly, and this one pains me greatly, Britney Spears — yes, that Britney Spears — is being looked at to play Sandy in the Broadway revival of "Grease."

Do I really need to say what I'm thinking? Surely you're on the same page ... it's a good thing I'm out of space.

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