Tomorrow, April 9, Masterworks Broadway once again dips into the vaults for two digital-only reissues of vintage Columbia Records cast recordings. What do these recordings have in common? Both feature greats of the opera world. 1962’s Original Broadway Cast Recording of Bravo Giovanni stars bass Cesare Siepi alongside ingénue Michele Lee; and the following year’s studio cast album of Lady in the Dark is led by mezzo-soprano Risë Stevens (who died on March 20 at 99 years of age) with Adolph Green and John Reardon.
Following engagements in Detroit and Philadelphia, Bravo Giovanni – with a book by A.J. Russell, lyrics by Ronny Graham and music by Milton Schafer – opened at New York’s Broadhurst Theatre on May 19, 1962. Based on Howard Shaw’s novel The Crime of Giovanni Venturi, the musical’s plot was a hoary one. When Giovanni’s small trattoria in Rome is threatened by Uriti, an upstart chain restaurant that sets up shop next door, he and a friend scheme to dig a tunnel between the two establishments for the purpose of stealing food from the competition! (Woody Allen’s 2000 film Small Time Crooks also involved a restaurant and a tunnel, though the restaurateurs in that film were tunneling to a bank.) Despite a stalwart cast including George S. Irving and Maria Karnilova, some snappy choreography by Carol Haney, and a score that’s not without its charms, Bravo Giovanni only held on for 76 performances and closed at a loss of more than half a million dollars. Siepi was destined to be better-remembered for his Don Giovanni than his Bravo Giovanni!
When it came time for the Tony Awards, Bravo wasn’t forgotten, however, and picked up a handful of nominations. Most interestingly, it was nominated for Best Original Score alongside Oliver! (the winner), Stop the World – I Want to Get Off, and Little Me. There was one egregious oversight, however. The Rome-set A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum picked up statuettes for Best Musical, Best Producer of a Musical, Best Actor in a Musical, Best Book of a Musical, Best Featured Actor in a Musical and Best Director of a Musical, but Stephen Sondheim’s score – his first for Broadway as both composer and lyricist – was overlooked.
If you’re curious to hear what beat out Forum for a Best Score nomination (the other three nominees all being recognized classics), you might want to download Masterworks Broadway’s Bravo Giovanni. The album was previously released on CD by DRG in 2002, and that edition’s sole bonus track (Michele Lee’s 1966 pop recording of the musical’s “Steady, Steady”) has been carried over for the digital version.
After the jump: a look at Lady in the Dark, plus order links and full track listings!
A forward-thinking musical with psychoanalysis as its subject, Lady in the Dark opened on Broadway on January 23, 1941, a couple of years before Oklahoma! revolutionized musical theatre and the recording business alike. Prior to Oklahoma!, all too few original casts in the U.S. had the opportunity to record their performances; Decca’s Jack Kapp had the foresight to create the modern Original Cast Recording when he brought the cast into the studio to record twelve songs from the show for an album of 78s. So the exciting and unusual score to Lady in the Dark, by Kurt Weill and Ira Gershwin, was largely unheard when Columbia released a studio cast recording in 1963. Some songs from the musical, with a book by Moss Hart, were familiar from recordings by the likes of Benny Goodman, and the original stars Danny Kaye and Gertrude Lawrence had both recorded selections, too – Kaye for Columbia and Lawrence for then-rival RCA. All told, the show ran a not-inconsiderable 467 performances over two Broadway seasons.
Although Columbia’s studio cast recording as produced by Thomas Z. Shepard and Jim Foglesong still made cuts to the ambitious score as a result of LP time constraints, it excitingly captured the musical’s fetching dream sequences and such songs as the reflective “My Ship,” the tour de force “The Saga of Jenny” and the tongue-twisting “Tschaikowsky.” The great Lehman Engel conducted the album with Risë Stevens as Liza Elliott, John Reardon as Randy Curtis, and Adolph Green (the screenwriter of Singin’ in the Rain and lyricist of On the Town, among so many other distinguished credits) as Beekman and the Ringmaster. Today, Lady in the Dark still sounds fresh and vibrant, a tribute to composer Kurt Weill’s first major American success and Ira Gershwin’s witty, adult lyrics.
The 1963 Lady in the Dark was released on CD by Sony Classical’s Masterworks Heritage imprint in 1997; that edition appended six tracks performed by Danny Kaye in 1941 with the musical’s original conductor Maurice Abravanel (including songs not sung by Kaye in the show like “The Saga of Jenny” and “My Ship”). All six bonus tracks have been retained for the new digital incarnation.
Masterworks Broadway’s Lady in the Dark and Bravo Giovanni will both be available for download at Amazon.com and other digital providers tomorrow. Oddly, links are not yet active. We'll update as soon as order links go live!
Original Broadway Cast Recording, Bravo Giovanni (Columbia KOS 2200, 1962 – reissued Masterworks Broadway – digital-only, 2013)
- Breachy’s Law
- I’m All I’ve Got
- The Argument
- Signora Pandolfi/The Kangaroo
- If I Were the Man
- Steady, Steady
- We Won’t Discuss It
- Ah! Camminare
- Virtue, Arrivederci
- Bravo, Giovanni/One Little World Apart
- Steady, Steady – Michele Lee (from Columbia CS 9286, 1966)
Studio Cast Recording, Lady in the Dark (Columbia OS 2390, 1960 – reissued Masterworks Broadway, digital-only, 2013)
- Glamour Dream: Oh, Fabulous One
- One Life to Live
- Girl of the Moment
- Wedding Dream: Liza, Liza
- Mapleton High Chorale
- This is New
- The Princess of Pure Delight
- Circus Dream: The Greatest Show on Earth
- The Best Years of His Life
- The Saga of Jenny
- Childhood Dream: My Ship
- One Life to Live – Danny Kaye
- The Princess of Pure Delight – Danny Kaye
- It’s Never Too Late to Mendelssohn – Danny Kaye
- Tschaikowsky and Other Russians – Danny Kaye
- Jenny – Danny Kaye
- My Ship – Danny Kaye
Tracks 14-19 recorded in 1941 at Liederkranz Hall, New York City
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