James Thurber (1894-1961) once commented, “”[Humor is] a kind of emotional chaos told about calmly and quietly in retrospect.” The celebrated writer, cartoonist and humorist, perhaps best-known for 1939’s fanciful The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, recounted that kind of emotional chaos in his acclaimed short stories and drawings, a number of which have been successfully adapted to other media. Four years before Walter Mitty itself was musicalized, Broadway welcomed Thurber’s works to the stage in an unusual revue entitled A Thurber Carnival.
Thanks to Masterworks Broadway, the original Columbia Records cast recording of A Thurber Carnival is finally ready to greet the digital generation. A Thurber Carnival is one of the relatively few Broadway Cast Recordings on the Columbia label to have not yet seen a CD release. The album, produced by the legendary Goddard Lieberson, now makes its debut as a digital download and disc-on-demand CD-R available from Amazon.com and Arkivmusic.com. It will arrive on January 24.
The rarely-revived A Thurber Carnival opened at the ANTA Theatre in New York City (today the August Wilson Theatre, home to Jersey Boys) on February 26, 1960. It was greeted effusively by the critics. Brooks Atkinson in The New York Times called it “a glorious world of meaningful nonsense,” while the no-less-esteemed Walter Kerr opined in the Herald-Tribune, “A Thurber Carnival is sheer delight…The whole thing is dandy. And very advanced.” The musical ran for 223 performances, with a break from June 25 to September 5. It closed on November 26, 1960. Thurber himself appeared in 88 performances; less than a year after the production’s closing, he would die of complications from a blood clot in his brain.
Though the cast recording of A Thurber Carnival doesn’t feature Thurber himself (who penned the musical’s book, to a score by Don Elliot), it does star Tom Ewell (The Seven Year Itch, Adam’s Rib), Peggy Cass (Auntie Mame) and Alice Ghostley (TV’s beloved Esmeralda on Bewitched). Charles Braswell (Mame) and John McGiver (Midnight Cowboy) also make appearances on the album. The musical was directed by Burgess Meredith, the distinguished actor/director forever immortalized as The Penguin on the Batman television campfest. The cast album preserves both music and sketches from the quirky revue, and musical accompaniment is provided by The Don Elliot Quartet: Elliott, Jack Six, Jim Raney, and Ronnie Bedford. The original liner notes and cover art are included in Masterworks Broadway’s reissue.
There’s more coming from Masterworks on Tuesday, including a rare tribute to producer David Merrick from Ann-Margret and others! Hit the jump, where you’ll also find pre-order links and track listings!
Also on January 24, the label will reissue two U.K. cast recordings for American audiences. Both titles are being released as traditional CDs to general retail. Adrian Sutton’s score to War Horse was recorded in 2008 for the National Theatre of Great Britain’s acclaimed production, and has been available in limited release at theatres in both the West End and on Broadway. Featuring Sutton’s orchestral score and songs by John Tams, it receives its first American release now, and makes for a fantastic companion to John Williams’ score to the Steven Spielberg film version. Also coming is End of the Rainbow, the cast recording to Peter Quilter’s play set in 1968 London and dramatizing the final days of Judy Garland’s life. The album features Bennett’s renditions of such Garland favorites as “The Man That Got Away,” “The Trolley Song” and, of course, “Over the Rainbow.” Bennett picked up an Olivier Award for her performance in London, and will reprise her role in the Broadway production slated to begin previews in New York on March 19 at Broadway’s Belasco Theatre.
Finally, another long-lost LP is set for February reissue. 1964 was a very good year for producer David Merrick. Immortalized by biographer Howard Kissel as The Abominable Showman in his biography of the same name, the legendary producer of Carnival, Oliver! and Promises, Promises never met a publicity stunt he didn’t like, or a battle he couldn’t fight. (One famous clash with humorist Stan Freberg is recounted here.) On October 1, 1964, RCA Victor released David Merrick Presents Hits from His Broadway Hits. The album paid homage to the man who delivered the label the original cast recording of Hello, Dolly!, the phenomenal hit that had just opened at Broadway’s St. James Theatre. RCA’s George R. Marek called on John Gary, The Merrill Staton Voices and the sizzling Ann-Margret to capture on record a dozen songs from a dozen different Merrick musicals. A full eight of those shows, beginning with 1959’s Gypsy, received Tony nominations for Best Musical, and a cadre of Broadway’s best writers are represented: Jule Styne, Stephen Sondheim, Betty Comden and Adolph Green, Harold Rome, Bob Merrill and more. David Merrick Presents arrives on CD(-R) for the first time on February 21, and will also be available as a digital download. Its cover is, of course, in hellish red, Merrick’s most favored hue. New liner notes have been written just for this release by noted theatre columnist Peter Filichia.
Original Broadway Cast Recording, A Thurber Carnival (Columbia LP 2024, 1960 – reissued Masterworks Broadway, 2012)
- Opening (2:30) – The Don Elliott Quartet
- Word Dance (Part I) (4:56) – Peggy Cass, Paul Ford, John McGiver, Alice Ghostley, Peter Turgeon, Wynne Miller, Margo Lungreen & Charles Braswell
- The Night The Bed Fell (10:00) – Tom Ewell
- The Unicorn in the Garden (2:58) – Peter Turgeon, Paul Ford, Alice Ghostley, John McGiver & Charles Braswell
- The Little Girl and the Wolf (1:37) – Peggy Cass, Paul Ford & Wynne Miller
- Memorial to a Dog (5:02) – Tom Ewell
- Casuals of the Keys (8:10) – John McGiver & Paul Ford
- The Last Flower (3:16) – Tom Ewell
- File and Forget (13:29) – Tom Ewell, Margo Lungreen, Peggy Cass, Wynne Miller, Jeannette Gaines, Alice Ghostly, Paul Ford & John McGiver
- Word Dance (Part II) (3:06) – Tom Ewell, Peggy Cass, Paul Ford, John McGiver, Alice Ghostley, Peter Turgeon, Wynne Miller, Margo Lungreen, Charles Braswell & Don Elliott Quartet
Various Artists, David Merrick Presents Hits from His Broadway Hits (RCA Victor LSP-2947, 1964 – reissued Masterworks Broadway, 2012)
- Fanny [Fanny] – John Gary
- Love Makes the World Go ‘Round [Carnival] – Ann-Margret
- Make Someone Happy [Do Re Mi] – The Merrill Staton Voices
- Small World [Gypsy] – John Gary
- Our Language of Love [Irma La Douce] – Ann-Margret
- Take Me Along [Take Me Along] – The Merrill Staton Voices
- What Kind of Fool Am I? [Stop the World, I Want to Get Off] – John Gary
- As Long as He Needs Me [Oliver!] -Ann-Margret
- Once in a Lifetime [Subways Are for Sleeping] -The Merrill Staton Voices
- Anyone Would Love You [Destry Rides Again] – John Gary
- Is It Really Me? [110 in the Shade] – Ann-Margret
- Hello, Dolly! [Hello, Dolly!] – The Merrill Staton Voices