The U.K.’s Dutton Vocalion label is continuing its ongoing campaign reissuing quadraphonic albums on hybrid SACD (with a stereo layer playable on all CD players) with two classic Broadway cast recordings from the Columbia vaults. Both were choreographed by Michael Bennett, feature the talents of Donna McKechnie, and have orchestrations by Jonathan Tunick. Moreover, both merged classic Broadway with a powerful and contemporary sensibility.
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 (including Elaine Stritch, Donna McKechnie, and Murphy Brown stalwart Charles Kimbrough), 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 pop-influenced 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 Goddard 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 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 today’s blockbusters such as Hamilton and Dear Evan Hansen, and it’s no surprise that an updated revival of Company was packing houses on Broadway until the COVID-19 pandemic caused its premature closing (for now). (Company even got a 2019 spoof from John Mulaney and co. when his series Documentary Now offered a spot-on parody, Original Cast Album: Co-Op, of director D.A. Pennebaker’s film Original Cast Album: Company.) The 1970 Original Broadway Cast Recording was issued in quadraphonic sound in 1972, but the mix by Larry Keyes was no afterthought; it’s a very discrete mix that will give those with surround systems plenty to be grateful – and not at all sorry – about.
Company is joined on multichannel and stereo SACD by the 1975 Original Broadway Cast Recording of A Chorus Line, conceived by director-choreographer Michael Bennett and produced by Joe Papp with book by James Kirkwood and Nicholas Dante (with an uncredited hand from Neil Simon), music by Marvin Hamlisch, and lyrics by onetime Columbia Records executive Edward Kleban. The revolutionary musical once held the record as the longest-running Broadway production of all time (6,137 performances between 1975 and 1980) in its original production at Broadway’s Shubert Theatre.
The genesis of A Chorus Line was in a series of taped chat sessions by a group of Broadway dancers, including eight who would go on to appear in the original cast. Michael Bennett quickly sensed the dramatic potential as he observed these seasoned though still youthful ensemble dancers (or “gypsies”) sharing powerful stories of their innermost lives. Set on a bare stage with just a line painted on it, the musical – which premiered, like Hamilton many years later, on the Newman Theatre stage at New York’s Public Theater – gripped audiences as they witnessed director Zach (Robert LuPone) choosing his chorus line of eight (four boys, four girls) from a group of 24 dancers – some of whom the audience would come to know intimately over the course of the intermission-less show. A Chorus Line captured the universally relatable feeling of being “on the line,” judged by an unseen person (in this case, the director) with much at stake. It didn’t look like a standard Broadway musical, with its simple set and modern, seemingly off-the-rack costuming, yet it ended up as an apotheosis of the form.
It didn’t sound like a typical Broadway musical, either. Composer Hamlisch (already an Academy Award winner) and lyricist Kleban composed an exhilarating, modern-tinged score (orchestrated by Jonathan Tunick as well as Billy Byers and Hershy Kay) to accompany the soul-bearing monologues crafted by James Kirkwood and Nicholas Dante. The opening “I Hope I Get It” established the urgency of the evening; the trio “At the Ballet” was just one of the shattering emotional high points. Another was Donna McKechnie’s tour de force “The Music and the Mirror;” still one more was Priscilla Lopez’s heart-rending “What I Did for Love.” Comic relief came via Pamela Blair’s “Dance: Ten, Looks: Three,” while Priscilla Lopez’s “Nothing” recounted feelings that any student has surely experienced at one time or another. In the climactic “One,” Hamlisch and Kleban created the ultimate Broadway showstopper – yet one in which the star is completely invisible, and the dancers whom the audience had gotten to know intimately were now seemingly automatons in a faceless chorus line in which they were stripped of all their individuality. A Chorus Line turned the conventions of musical theatre on their ear, and even today it’s a gold standard of the genre.
The original cast recording of A Chorus Line was personally produced by Columbia’s longtime president and cast album champion Goddard Lieberson who came out of retirement to helm the sessions. It would prove to be Lieberson’s final production. Like Company, it received an immersive, discrete quadraphonic mix that places listeners onstage with the cast members. The original quadraphonic LP echoed the stereo album sequence of 11 tracks; in 1998, A Chorus Line was reissued on stereo CD and 5.1 surround SACD in an expanded 13-track presentation (adding more than two minutes to the “Montage,” originally presented on one track but now split into three). The original quad remix was John Guerriere; the SACD was mixed by Richard King. Vocalion’s website is currently showing 13 tracks, but does specify “this reissue features the original stereo and quadraphonic mixes , as made by Columbia Records’ engineers in 1975.” The Second Disc has reached out to the label for further information.
These two classic LPs are joined on quadraphonic and stereo hybrid SACD by four more titles: jazz trumpeter Donald Byrd’s funky 1973 Blue Note album Street Lady; a two-fer of Paul Mauriat’s Emmanuelle (1976) and Fantastic 4 Channel (1973); David Raksin Conducts His Great Film Scores (1976) featuring music from Laura, The Bold and the Beautiful, and Forever Amber; and conductor Charles Gerhardt’s Casablanca: Classic Film Scores for Humphrey Bogart (1974).
All titles have been remastered from the original tapes by Michael J. Dutton of Dutton Vocalion and are available now directly from the label as well as at the Amazon links below.
- Company – Dean Jones & Company
- The Little Things You Do Together – Elaine Stritch, Charles Kimbrough, Barbara Barrie & Company
- Sorry Grateful – Charles Kimbrough, George Coe, Charles Braswell & Dean Jones
- You Could Drive a Person Crazy – Donna McKechnie, Susan Browning & Pamela Myers
- Have I Got a Girl for You – Charles Braswell, John Cunningham, Steve Elmore, George Coe, Charles Kimbrough & Company
- Someone Is Waiting – Dean Jones with The Vocal Minority
- Another Hundred People – Pamela Myers
- Getting Married Today – Beth Howland, Steve Elmore, Teri Ralston & Company
- Side by Side by Side/What Would We Do Without You? – Dean Jones & Company
- Poor Baby – Barbara Barrie, Teri Ralston, Merle Louise, Beth Howland, Elaine Stritch, Charles Kimbrough & George Coe
- Tick Tock – Orchestra
- Barcelona – Dean Jones & Susan Browning
- The Ladies Who Lunch – Elaine Stritch
- Being Alive – Dean Jones & Company
- Finale – Company
- Opening: I Hope I Get It – Company
- I Can Do That – Wayne Cilento
- At The Ballet – Carole Bishop, Nancy Lane & Kay Cole
- Sing! – Renee Baughman, Don Percassi
- Montage Part 1: Hello Twelve, Hello Thirteen, Hello Love – Cameron Mason, Baayork Lee
- Montage Part 2: Mother – Ron Kuhlman, Patricia Garland
- Montage Part 3: Gimme the Ball – Michel Stuart, Ronald Dennis & Company
- Nothing – Priscilla Lopez
- The Music and the Mirror – Donna McKechnie
- Dance: Ten; Looks: Three – Pamela Blair
- One – Company
- What I Did For Love – Priscilla Lopez, Company
- One (Reprise)/Finale – Company
- Lansana’s Priestess
- Miss Kane
- Sister Love
- Street Lady
- Witch Hunt
- Woman of the World
Emmanuelle (Philips LP 4DX 60, 1976)
- Alia Souza
- Rock the Boat
- Goodbye My Love, Goodbye
- Angie Baby
- Have You Never Been Mellow?
- La maladie d’amour
- Retalhos de cetim
- Pacific Holiday
Fantastic 4 Channel (Philips 4DX 3, 1973)
- Love Story
- Tombe la neige
- L’Amerique: Yellow River
- Let There Be Freedom, Peace, and Love
- L’aigle noir
- Il cuore e uno zingaro
- Anonimo Veneziano
- Colombe Ivre
- Un banc, un arbre, une rue
- Si douce a mon souvenir
- Lonely Days
The Bad and the Beautiful Suite
- Main Title Theme: Love Is for the Very Young
- The Acting Lesson
- The Quickies and the Sneak Preview
- Nocturne and Theme
Forever Amber Suite
- Main Title: Amber
- The King’s Mistress
- The Great Fire
- End Title: Forever Amber
Charles Gerhardt, Casablanca: Classic Film Scores for Humphrey Bogart (RCA ARL1/ARD1 0422, 1974) (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.)
- Casablanca: Suite
- Passage to Marseille: Rescue at Sea
- The Treasure of the Sierra Madres: Suite
- The Big Sleep: Love Themes
- The Caine Mutiny: March
- To Have and Have Not: Main Title – Martinique
- The Two Mrs. Carrolls: Suite
- Sabrina: Main Title – The Larrabee Estate
- The Left Hand of God: Love Theme
- Sahara: Main Title
- Virginia City: Stagecoach – Love Scene
- Key Largo: Suite
- Peyton Place: Original Main Title (Bonus Track from The Spectacular World of Classic Film Scores, RL 42005, 1977)