Analog Spark kicked off 2016 with a trio of cast recordings – Fiddler on the Roof, My Fair Lady, and West Side Story – on deluxe 180-gram vinyl LPs, and now, the label is welcoming this spring with another three landmark titles from the Sony vaults: Columbia Records’ original Broadway cast recordings of South Pacific (1949), Gypsy (1959), and Company (1970) – each one representing a classic period of American musical theatre.
Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II’s South Pacific, the team’s fourth Broadway musical (and fifth overall collaboration, counting the 1945 original film musical State Fair), was adapted from stories in author James Michener’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Tales of the South Pacific by librettists Hammerstein and Joshua Logan, also the show’s director. In musicalizing the romance of Ensign Nellie Forbush of Little Rock, Arkansas (Broadway’s Mary Martin) and the older French planter Emile de Becque (opera’s Ezio Pinza), Rodgers and Hammerstein confronted racism head-on. In the process, they created one of the most enduring and relevant theatrical works of all time. The original cast recording was first released in 1949 on the young twelve-inch 33-1/3 RPM long-player format as well as in true “album” style, with sets of 78 RPM and 45 RPM records. South Pacific would be a major salvo in Columbia’s campaign to promote the burgeoning LP format; the previous year’s cast recording of Kiss Me, Kate had already become the biggest-selling release in the label’s history to that point. Columbia’s then Vice President Goddard Lieberson produced the recording himself, uniquely shaping it as a full listening experience (and even reworking the finale specifically for records) rather than just a mere collection of the show’s songs. Lieberson’s passion for musical theatre and skill in the recording studio would soon transform the way musicals were heard.
Containing bona fide standards including “There is Nothin’ Like a Dame,” “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair,” “(I’m in Love with) A Wonderful Guy,” “Younger Than Springtime,” the powerful “You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught,” and of course, “Some Enchanted Evening,” the recording was an instant best-seller, bringing Rodgers and Hammerstein’s engaging and remarkable score to a far larger audience than New York’s Majestic Theatre could accommodate. It reached No. 1 by the middle of summer 1949, and stayed there for an astounding 63 weeks, through the end of 1950. It also went a long way in establishing the long-playing record as the format of choice among buyers. Analog Spark’s reissue of the original 1949 Columbia Masterworks LP, remastered by Ryan Smith from the original analog tapes, captures the splendor of the full mono sound. It vividly brings to life Robert Russell Bennett’s lush and large orchestrations and the still-unmatched performances of Martin, Pinza, Juanita Hall (Bloody Mary), William Tabbert (Lt. Cable), and company. While subsequent recordings of South Pacific have been able to take advantage of stereo, and advances in recording technology, Lieberson’s beautifully-recorded original remains the benchmark, and this reissue does it proud by bringing out the power, clarity and vibrancy of the mono recording.
One decade later, in 1959, Oscar Hammerstein II’s young protégé Stephen Sondheim teamed as lyricist with veteran Broadway and Hollywood composer Jule Styne, librettist Arthur Laurents, and director/choreographer Jerome Robbins to create the musical frequently hailed as the genre’s greatest: Gypsy. Loosely based on the memoirs of stripper – make that ecdysiast – Gypsy Rose Lee, this “musical fable” isn’t only one of the most perfectly structured plays ever, but gave the theatre some of its best-remembered lines and phrases (“Sing out, Louise!”) plus the role often thought of as the musical female equivalent to King Lear. Madame Rose, created by Ethel Merman, and later revisited by Angela Lansbury, Tyne Daly, Bernadette Peters and Patti LuPone onstage and Rosalind Russell and Bette Midler onscreen, is a titanic creation in every way, the ultimate stage mother who is willing to turn her children into stars at any cost. Rose was shaped for Merman’s titanic talents and clarion voice, but its acting demands challenged the star, who was accustomed to lighter musical comedy. Make no mistake, however; she more than delivered, as can be heard on Columbia’s cast recording, featuring the orchestrations of Sid Ramin and Robert Ginzler (with dance arrangements by a young composer named John Kander) and once again helmed by Goddard Lieberson.
From the first notes of its mighty and never-bettered overture, Gypsy defines the exciting sound of “Broadway” – and in 1959, subtly subverted audiences’ expectations (even after nearly two decades of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s own mature works) with its powerful dramatic arc. Lieberson’s album captured Merman’s piercing intensity on “Some People,” the frighteningly anthemic “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” and the dramatic tour de force “Rose’s Turn,” on which she’s affectingly vulnerable, as well. It also preserved the tender “Small World” and charming “You’ll Never Get Away from Me” with co-star and self-confessed non-singer Jack Klugman as the long-suffering Herbie, the sweet “Together, Wherever We Go” with Klugman and Sandra Church as daughter Louise, the yearning “If Mama Was Married” from Church and Lane Bradbury as her sister June, and the showstopping “You Gotta Get a Gimmick” from a trio of seasoned strippers (Faith Dane, Chotzi Foley, Maria Karnilova). Once again, Lieberson crafted a unique experience for records, largely eschewing Laurents’ dialogue (however seminal it indeed is) and restructuring songs as needed to make for enjoyable repeat listening.
ASCAP’s composers and lyricists voted the score to Gypsy the greatest ever created for a Broadway musical, as well, so felicitously were its creators in tune with each other. “Small World” became a hit song for Johnny Mathis, Frank Sinatra was among the artists to record “All I Need is the Girl,” and “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” became part of the national vernacular. In 1999, producer Thomas Z. Shepard helmed an expanded reissue on CD for Masterworks Broadway. He added material to “Baby June and Her Newsboys”, “You Gotta Get a Gimmick” and “Let Me Entertain You” and more controversially, replaced portions of “All I Need is the Girl” and even Merman’s “Rose’s Turn” with alternate takes. While Shepard’s remix has its merits, Analog Spark’s vinyl reissue happily recreates the original 1959 stereo LP as Goddard Lieberson produced it, complete with original cover artwork. (Much like South Pacific, the cover artwork of Gypsy was replaced by Columbia for subsequent reissues on both LP and CD.) Its rich, brassy sound as remastered by Ryan Smith with the inherent warmth of vinyl emphasizes its boldness. It’s an essential addition to any Broadway library, or indeed, any library of popular music.
Much as Rodgers and Hammerstein had done before him, when they first masterfully integrated songs, dance, and dialogue into a dramatic whole, Stephen Sondheim would inaugurate his own musical theatre revolution. 1970’s Company, produced and directed by Harold Prince and choreographed by Michael Bennett, deconstructed the by-then-standard, Rodgers and Hammerstein-style “musical play” format in which every song or dance number emerged from the script to advance the plot. Company, instead, consisted of a series of vignettes revolving around bachelor Bobby (Dean Jones, of Disney fame), his “good and crazy” circle of friends, and his inability to commit to a romantic relationship. Everything about the show was cutting-edge circa 1970, including the brisk, smart, and funny book by George Furth, and the contemporary score penned by composer-lyricist Sondheim. Jonathan Tunick took his experience as orchestrator of Burt Bacharach and Hal David’s Promises, Promises and applied it to Sondheim’s sophisticated and urbane melodies.
Ushering in the era of the “concept musical,” Company sounded like nothing that had come before. Today, the pulsating cast recording produced by Lieberson protégé Thomas Z. Shepard still crackles with the energy of New York at the turn of a new decade, with all its jagged edges, tension, excitement, drama, and vigor. From the thrilling extended opening title song to the show’s climactic, shattering anthem to “Being Alive,” Sondheim melded his always-incisive, intricately-crafted lyrics to vivid, melodic and of-the-moment melodies delving into the dynamics and vagaries of relationships. “The Little Things You Do Together” and especially the evocative “The Ladies Who Lunch” are pure doses of acid, deliciously rendered by the one and only Elaine Stritch. “Sorry-Grateful” touchingly addresses the ever-present ambivalence that haunts so many couples; “Another Hundred People” is a throbbing snapshot of arrival in the big city that still emotionally rings true today. The Andrews Sisters-esque “You Could Drive a Person Crazy” and big vaudeville-style production number “Side by Side by Side/What Would We Do Without You” showcase Sondheim’s gifts for pastiche, while the tongue-twisting “Getting Married Today” mines comic gold via an anxious bride who’s not so eager to complete her journey to the altar.
Company resounds with truth and urgency, and a universal appeal which results from Sondheim’s keen eye for observation. The original cast recording is very much of its time, but also truly timeless as a work of art that pushed the envelope for the Broadway musical and opened the door to countless possibilities. A direct line can be drawn from Company to Michael Bennett’s A Chorus Line to today’s blockbusters such as Hamilton and Dear Evan Hansen, and it’s precisely the kind of album that the young generation of vinyl collectors should explore in this subtly remastered reissue. In other words, there’s nothing to be sorry about – only grateful. As with Gypsy, producer Shepard remixed Company for compact disc. Analog Spark’s release, naturally, has the original album mix from 1970.
All three cast albums are attractively and sturdily packaged in Stoughton-printed, tip-on jackets, and have been pressed and plated at RTI. They happily boast replicas of the original Columbia labels and original album artwork. (Note that the back cover of Company replicates that of the quadraphonic LP – an exquisite, immersive surround-sound version that deserves reissue itself.) These LPs are up to Analog Spark’s typical high audio standard, and the closest one can get to a front row seat to these classic musicals. Curtain up!
All three titles are available now!
South Pacific: Original Broadway Cast Recording Vinyl LP (Amazon U.S.)
Gypsy: Original Broadway Cast Recording Vinyl LP (Amazon U.S.)
Company: Original Broadway Cast Recording Vinyl LP (Amazon U.S.)