Henry James’ 1903 novel The Ambassadors told the story of Lewis Lambert Strether, a Massachusetts man sent to Paris by his widowed fiancée to retrieve her son from the clutches of a woman there. Once in Paris, Strether discovers some truths about himself, shattering his preconceived notions of the situation. Don Ettingler (book), Don Gohman (music), and Hal Hackady (lyrics) saw the potential of James’ novel as a musical, and enlisted director Stone Widney (an associate of Alan Jay Lerner’s and assistant director on My Fair Lady, Camelot, and Coco) to stage it. The musical’s title was shortened to Ambassador, and it opened in London on October 19, 1971 at Her Majesty’s Theatre, today the longstanding home of Phantom of the Opera. Though the show only ran 86 performances, it received a cast album from RCA Records, produced by Norman Newell. Now, that album is receiving its CD premiere from Stage Door Records on October 25 in a limited edition fully authorized by Sony Music.
Ambassador starred stage and screen leading man Howard Keel (Annie Get Your Gun, Show Boat) as Strether, Danielle Darrieux (The Young Girls of Rochefort, Coco) as Countess Maria de Vionnet, and Margaret Courtenay (Mame, Separate Tables) as the widowed Amelia Newsome. The score by Gohman and Hackady was filled with robust melodies drawing on both operetta and musical comedy styles as expertly orchestrated by Philip J. Lang (Hello, Dolly!, 42nd Street), and provided ample showcases for Keel and Darrieux.
Though produced in London, Ambassador was very much an American show; its U.S. producers chose to stage it in the West End because the cost there was $265,000.00 as opposed to the $800,000.00 it would have been on Broadway. But after its three-month run in London, the producers committed to a U.S. run. Anna Marie Barlow joined Ettlinger on the book, and Gohman and Hackady dropped some songs from their score while adding others. The revised Ambassador opened at Broadway’s Lunt-Fontanne Theatre (currently home to Tina: The Musical) on November 19, 1972 with the London sets and costumes, and Keel and Darrieux again in the leads. With original London choreographer Gillian Lynne unavailable to reprise her work, choreography duties were assumed by Joyce Trisler. The show ran for a mere nine performances. Composer Gohman committed suicide after the show’s New York closing.
Stage Door’s first-time CD reissue launches the label’s Cast Album Masters Series which promises to debut more London cast recordings on CD, all licensed from the major labels and freshly remastered. Ambassador is limited to 500 copies. This slice of West End and Broadway history arrives on October 25 and can be pre-ordered at the links below!
- Overture – Orchestra
- A Man You Can Set Your Watch by — Howard Keel, Margaret Courtenay, Judith Paris
- It’s a Woman — Margaret Courtenay, Howard Keel, Judith Paris, Nevil Whiting
- Lambert’s Quandary/Lilas — Howard Keel, Toni-Sue Burley
- The Right Time, the Right Place – Ensemble
- Surprise — Danielle Darrieux
- Charming — Howard Keel, Danielle Darrieux
- All of My Life — Howard Keel
- What Can You Do with a Nude? — Blain Fairman, Neville Jason, Brian Rowley, David Wheldon Williams, Nevil Whitin
- Love Finds the Lonely — Isobel Stuart
- Tell Her — Howard Keel
- Young with Him/I Thought I Knew You — Danielle Darrieux, Howard Keel
- Lilas/What Happened to Paris? — Howard Keel
- Too Much to Forgive — Howard Keel
- That’s What I Need Tonight — Danielle Darrieux, Howard Keel, Ensemble
- You Can Tell a Lady by Her Hat/This Utterly Ridiculous Affair/Gossip — Neville Jason, Penny Everton, Judy Gridley, Lamona Snow, Margaret Courtenay, Howard Keel
- Not Tomorrow — Danielle Darrieux
- Thank You, No!/All of My Life (Reprise) — Howard Keel