Curtain up! Analog Spark, the audiophile imprint of Razor and Tie, has brought back the luster of yesteryear with a trio of reissues from the days when people dressed up to go to the theatre. The label has given the Original Broadway Cast Recordings of My Fair Lady, West Side Story and Fiddler on the Roof the deluxe treatment on 180-gram vinyl, and indeed, one would be hard-pressed to think of three titles more worthy of the presentation.
Fair Lady, Fiddler and West Side all reveal profound, universal truths about love, tolerance, tradition, and social identity, and all feature songs that are so woven into the fabric of American culture that it seems they have been here forever. It's no wonder these three musicals are among the most-revived - and most relevant - of the repertoire. As of this writing, Fiddler is currently enjoying its sixth Broadway production! Yes, these are some of the most famous - and readily available - cast albums ever released, but chances are your near-mint original LPs still don't sound as effervescent as these newly-remastered reissues. After years of listening on CD, now just might be the time to reacquaint yourself with the spot in which to turn the record over.
West Side Story (1957) remains a benchmark in musical theatre history. Few musicals have so powerfully and viscerally integrated music, lyrics, dialogue and dance - but then again, no other musical boasted the combined forces of Arthur Laurents, Leonard Bernstein, Stephen Sondheim and Jerome Robbins. Laurents' book. The triumvirate of librettist Laurents, composer Bernstein and director/choreographer Robbins (director/choreographer) initially conceived of it as East Side Story with an Irish Catholic/Jewish conflict.
When Laurents and Bernstein hit upon the notion of setting it in the up-to-the-minute world of juvenile delinquency, it gained up-to-the-minute currency. Sondheim was brought on board as lyricist for his Broadway debut, and Larry Kert and Carol Lawrence were cast as Tony and Maria, the star-crossed lovers caught between gang rivalries. Laurents ensured his book, a model of economy and impact, would be timeless by inventing his own jargon for the Jets and the Sharks, avoiding then-current slang and rooting it in the attitude and spirit of contemporary youth. The libretto was seamlessly entwined with the pulsating, rhythmic and often stirringly romantic score by Bernstein and Sondheim. Columbia's 1957 Original Broadway Cast Recording, produced by the label's legendary President Goddard Lieberson, preserved the introduction of now-standards like "Somewhere," "Maria," "Tonight," "America" and "Something's Coming."
This groundbreaking musical can be enjoyed anew in this sonically lavish presentation. It's the most ear-opening of this trio of reissues as Analog Spark has pressed the stereo cast album onto four sides - rather than the traditional two - of vinyl, and Ryan Smith has cut it from the original three-track master tapes. It's apparent from the very first piece of music on Side One, the exciting orchestral "Prologue," that there's a newfound clarity here - from the finger snaps and the slashing strings to the frenetic brass, forceful percussion, shouts and whistles. Bernstein's classical-meets-jazz-meets-Latin musical language, orchestrated by the composer in tandem with Sid Ramin and Irwin Kostal and conducted by Max Goberman, hasn't lost any of its energy and edge in the past almost-60 years. (Alice Cooper was among those influenced by West Side Story and saw its connection to the primal power of rock music.) The raw, immediate performances by Kert, Lawrence and Chita Rivera outshine the arguably more familiar versions on the record-breaking film soundtrack (54 weeks at No. 1!) - good as those are. Each striking audio element here boasts great three-dimensionality and resonance, and it's a testament to the work of original producer Lieberson, engineer Fred Plaut, and Analog Spark's reissue producer Mark Piro.
Subsequent recordings of Joseph Stein, Sheldon Harnick and Jerry Bock's 1964 Fiddler on the Roof have included more music, but RCA Victor's original cast recording produced by George R. Marek and Andy Wiswell remains the go-to recording of the Bock/Harnick score. Much of this, of course, is due to the larger-than-life presence of Zero Mostel as Tevye. But the supporting cast of Jerome Robbins' original Broadway production was equally distinctive. Though she's only heard fleetingly on the recording, a pre-Mame (and pre-Maude!) Bea Arthur portrays Yente the matchmaker; future television game show star Bert Convy is young revolutionary Perchik; mezzo-soprano Julia Migenes plays Tevye's daughter Hodel; and American theatre greats Maria Karnilova and Austin Pendleton, respectively, portray Tevye's wife Golde and the tailor Motel Kamzoil.
This illustrious company brings true vivacity to a score that became an instant classic. Fiddler was so successful that studio cast recordings quickly followed. There were interpretations aimed at the Latin (Fiddler on the Roof Goes Latin by Joe Quijano, on MGM), jazz (Cannonball Adderley's Fiddler on the Roof, on Capitol) and even children's (Camarata Conducts Fiddler on the Roof, on Disneyland) interpretations plus numerous foreign-language accounts, including an Israeli cast recording on Columbia sung in Yiddish.
Analog Spark's new vinyl reissue of the original stereo album brings to life the full, rich sound of Don Walker's original orchestration as played under the baton of musical director Milton Greene. Vinyl's warmth also adds dimension and detail to the choral singing in the rousing opening number "Tradition," while there's a vibrant crispness to the vocals throughout including on Mostel's showstopping "If I Were a Rich Man" and Convy's touching "Now I Have Everything." Marek and his associate producer Wiswell took advantage of stereo for pronounced, theatrical separation on tracks like the surreal "Tevye's Dream" and the now-standard "Sunrise, Sunset."
My Fair Lady, of course, holds a very special spot in the Columbia Records catalogue. The album was produced (like West Side Story and most of the label's other golden-age cast recordings) by Goddard Lieberson who crucially committed financing to the show. Lieberson's faith in the Alan Jay Lerner/Frederick Loewe musical paid off; by 1965, the album had sold over five million copies and remained on the charts for 428 weeks. Unlike the other two titles reissued by Analog Spark, the 1956 Original Broadway Cast Recording of My Fair Lady is in mono, not stereo. Columbia reconvened leads Rex Harrison, Julie Andrews and Stanley Holloway in the studio in 1958 upon the occasion of the musical's London debut to record an all-new stereo album. Why reissue the mono recording, then? The answer is simple: for spontaneity and freshness of performance, the original '56 set simply can't be bettered. My Fair Lady was the Hamilton of its day, with record ticket demand and media attention. Revisiting this classic LP, it's easy to hear why.
Julie Andrews wasn't a national treasure the day before My Fair Lady opened on Broadway at The Mark Hellinger Theatre (today, alas, the home of the Times Square Church); the winsome young soprano and ingenue of The Boy Friend became one upon the musical's opening night. Her pure sound is enchanting on "Wouldn't It Be Loverly," intoxicating on "I Could Have Danced All Night" and fiery on "Without You." She's matched every step of the way by Rex Harrison's deliciously condescending, spoken-sung performances of "Why Can't the English," "I'm an Ordinary Man" and "A Hymn to Him" - not to mention his ultimately affecting revelation, "I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face."
The new LP reissue sounds stellar, especially considering that the sources are 60-year old mono tapes. There's an aliveness and presence in the quieter moments as well as in the rousing, Stanley Holloway-led production numbers "With a Little Bit of Luck" and "Get Me to the Church on Time." The instrumental clarity in Robert Russell Bennett and Philip J. Lang's lavish, large orchestrations as conducted by Franz Allers is particularly impressive (listen to the glistening harp and lush strings); the vocals are similarly present and vivid.
All three albums have been pressed and plated at RTI. They're housed in clear protective sleeves within sturdy Stoughton "tip-on" jackets with painstakingly recreated artwork; this attention to detail happily carries to the LPs themselves which feature attractive replica labels. West Side Story, because of its 2-LP length, gains a new gatefold which features photographs from the original recording sessions. There are no new liner notes, though the original album liners are reprinted. Note that none of the bonus tracks added to subsequent reissues have been retained, as these LPs faithfully replicate the original album sequences.
Naturally, one hopes that Analog Spark has plans for future cast album releases; there are certainly countless other titles from the Sony archives and beyond deserving of this splendid audiophile treatment. So whether West Side Story, Fiddler on the Roof and My Fair Lady are already among your most cherished recordings or you're looking to explore the riches of the American musical songbook for the first time on vinyl, you'll undoubtedly want to make room on your shelf for these three titles. You just might end up dancing all night!
The 2-LP West Side Story and 1-LP Fiddler on the Roof and My Fair Lady are available now directly from Analog Spark, and will be released next Friday, February 26, at Amazon: