By Andy Propst on May 26, 2009 | In ATW Reviews
Today a look at five discs from Stage Door Records.
Probably the most obscure in the recent releases from Stage Door is Hermione Gingold Live at the Café de Paris with Bonus Tracks, a dazzling array of comic specialty material that the singer offers up with her inimitable dryness and pitch-perfect timing. To give you an idea of how unknown this material is many of the songs are listed with a credit of "composer unknown." This is unfortunate because it's some of the funniest material – to the point of burst out laughing – I've heard on disc in a long while. Giving away the jokes seems a little unfair, so let me just point, generally, to a few favorite tracks to share a sense of what's on here. I'm particularly fond of a song that listeners may have heard before "Which Witch?" – in which the singer describes her negotiations with John Gielgud about appearing in the Scottish play. "Witch," was introduced in Sky High, and then used in John Murray Anderson's Almanac and Sticks and Stories. Another grand number is "You've Got to Have a Photograph" – a number that Dame Edna herself might want to incorporate into her first farewell tour.
The bonus tracks on "Café" come from a 1955 disc, La Gingold, and here, you might want to direct your attention to "Cocaine" – which is one of the numbers from a tuner the singer's "written" for a "dope musical" and "Robert the Robot" – a ditty about love in the just-dawning computer age.
This is a disc you'll really want to add to the shelf.
Equally continental – for a variety of reasons that will soon be clear – is the label's Lerner & Loewe's Gigi - a 23-track compilation disc that includes not only the tracks from a British studio recording of this musical, but also French tracks which feature Maurice Chevalier and three Spanish ones.
The English-language tracks feature Gogi Grant and Tony Martin performing with Dennis Farnon's Orchestra. Martin is a particularly suave performer vocally, and it's difficult to not be swayed by his smooth, and slightly playful, "Thank Heaven for Little Girls." I happen to be fond of Grant's simultaneously acidic and blasé take on "The Parisians" (a song that didn't make it from film into the 1973 Broadway version of the show); it's a grand comic romp.
After the 11 tracks of this studio recording come eight from the French Gigi - where the film's star Maurice Chevalier is joined by Sacha Distel and Marie-France. It's hard to beat the Chevalier vocals in which he's palpably debonair – and the blissfully airy orchestrations – in "Little Girls," but this is indeed topped by his work with Distel in "Je m'en souviens tres bien" ("I Remember It Well") – which is a drips with a comic bittersweet romance.
Finally, the disc is rounded out with a trio of Spanish-language tracks from Mexico. Here, there's a charming buoyancy to the songs that I've highlighted from the other sections of the disc in addition to "La noche en que nacia el champagne" ("The Night They Invented Champagne"). Like a similar recording from Bayview a few years back – An International Annie Get Your Gun - this disc is a terrific snapshot of a musical's durability and pleasures across borders and languages.
Stage Door, which is UK-based and has Footlight Records its sole U.S. distributor, isn't limited to recordings from "across the pond. In addition to these two recent releases, the company has also brought a handsome release of the original Broadway cast recording of Harold Rome's Wish You Were Here - the second such release this spring (the other's come from DRG Records).
For my money, the Stage Door release stands out because it contains not only the complete OCR, but also four carefully chosen bonus tracks. There are two of Rome himself performing songs from the show and one of Eddie Fisher delivering the show's title song in a pop version that puts a wonderfully smooth "cocktail music" sheen on the already beguiling melody.
Of course there are plenty of delights in the score for this show about life at a camp for adult just to the north of Manhattan. There's Sidney Armus' virtuoso delivery of the comic patter song lament: "Ballad of a Social Director," and Jack Cassidy's superlatively plaintive take on the lush romantic ballad "Where Did the Night Go?" and his delicate take on the wistful "They Won't Know Me."
It's a really swell release and not the only one from Stage Door where you'll find Cassidy performing. He's also on one half of a double release of On Your Toes / Pal Joey. It's hard to beat a jauntily playful "It's Gotta Be Love" and a lushly smooth take on "There's a Small Hotel" that he delivers with Portia Nelson (a Cassidy co-star a year following this recording in a revival of The Boys From Syracuse). Nelson's lovely soprano shines elsewhere on the disc particularly with the show's jazzy and tautly syncopated title song. One other highlight of "Toes" is Laurel Shelby and Ray Hyson's "Too Good for the Average Man," which I must think is one of the most intelligent renderings of Hart's hilariously erudite lyric about the things that can ironically elude an average Joe – things like being stuck with a check in a smoky supper club for instance.
Cassidy's not to be found on the nine Pal Joey tracks, but that's okay, this studio recording features some grandly jazzy arrangements from conductor Lew Raymond. Take for instance, Martha Tilton's "The Lady is a Tramp" (which shares some lyrical similarities to "Average Man"): this interpolated song almost sounds as if she could be performing this pleasingly teasing rendition at a small downtown club. The same can be said for "You Mustn't Kick It Around" where Bob McKendrick's silky vocals caress Rodgers' jagged melody. The two numbers that everyone probably wants to know about are "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered" (here just "Bewitched") and "Zip." Both are delivered by Marilyn Maxwell – and while the latter will never top the Elaine Stritch rendition of the song from earlier in the 1950s, the former is a luxuriously graceful and interpretation of a classic.
Finally, Rodgers (with Hammerstein) and Cassidy show up on the fifth release from Stage Door - Shirley Jones: Then & Now - which begins with 14 tracks of the singer in her heyday and are followed by 10 from her today. There's some overlap – like "People Will Say We're in Love" (heard in duet with her film costar Gordon McRae) and "Out of My Dreams" and some disconnect (April Love and Brigadoon tunes don't make it to the "Now" portion of the disc, but "Beauty and the Beast" and "Memory" do).
There are joys to be found on both halves of the disc, and it's no surprise that Jones' clarion soprano can thrill during the disc's early tracks. What may take listeners may not be prepared for, though, is the richness of her voice on the latter ones. I happen to be quiet fond of the "Almost Like Being in Love" duet Jones shares with Cassidy during "Then" and from "Now," well, it's a toss up between a superb medley of songs from The Music Man and a medley of movie tunes ("As Time Goes By" and "Bill").
This one is really a keep all the way around – and if I had to pick which ones to buy in tight economic times, I'd say this one along with the first two.
----- Andy Propst
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