Fun, laughs, good time… The team of director-choreographer Bob Fosse, librettist Neil Simon, composer Cy Coleman, and lyricist Dorothy Fields made good on those promises with the 1966 Broadway debut of Sweet Charity. Based on Federico Fellini’s film Nights of Cabiria, the musical depicted the bittersweet romantic adventures of dance hall hostess Charity Hope Valentine, so memorably created onstage by Gwen Verdon and introduced on film by Shirley MacLaine. The splashy production reopened the venerable Palace Theatre on January 29, 1966, netting a Tony Award for Fosse’s remarkable choreography and lasting 608 performances in New York. It inspired further Tony-winning revivals in 1986 and 2005. Sweet Charity made it to London in October 1967 starring Juliet Prowse, and it’s subsequently been revived on the West End, too, in 1998 and 2010. In December ’67, British label Saga Records released its own recording of the Coleman/Fields score to coincide with the Prowse production’s arrival at the Prince of Wales Theatre. (That staging was recorded by CBS.) Now, Saga’s studio cast recording is making its premiere on CD from Stage Door Records on July 23.
To play the title character, Saga tapped big-voiced West End mainstay Mary Preston who had previously appeared in such musicals as West Side Story, Irma La Douce, and Oh! What a Lovely War. Canna Kendall and June (Jan) Hunt sang the roles of Charity’s fellow Fandango Ballroom hostesses Nicky and Helene, while John Parker took on matinee idol Vittorio Vidal and Valentine Palmer portrayed Charity’s neurotic boyfriend Oscar Lindquist. Craig Hunter led the raucous “Rhythm of Life” as far-out church leader Daddy Brubeck. (Mary Preston would go on to replace Paula Kelly as Helene in the London production.)
The 13-track recording preserve most of the highlights of Coleman and Fields’ brassy and melodic score, among the best of any musical comedy of the 1960s – or any other decade, for that matter. Those extraordinary songs include Charity’s effervescent “If My Friends Could See Me Now” and “I’m a Brass Band,” her wistful “Where Am I Going,” the hostesses’ seedily inviting “Big Spender,” Charity and the girls’ pulsating “There’s Gotta Be Something Better Than This,” and Oscar’s sweet title song. Note that Charity’s opening “You Should See Yourself” boasts an additional cut verse not included on any other Sweet Charity album. (Unfortunately, Saga didn’t record the show’s dynamic overture, Charity and Oscar’s “I’m the Bravest Individual,” or “Charity’s Soliloquy.”)
The fully-orchestrated Saga cast recording features the Westminster Sinfonia and Theatre Chorus as conducted by Frank Raymond; they get an extra spotlight here with the premiere of an extended version of the groovy production number “Rich Man’s Frug” recorded during the album sessions but truncated on the original LP release.
Stage Door’s CD reissue has been freshly remastered from the original master tapes as housed at the British Library from whom the release has been licensed. It’s limited to just 500 units and is due on July 23. You’ll find Amazon links below, but pre-orders placed directly from Stage Door typically arrive earlier than the release date.
- Charity’s Theme – Westminster Sinfonia
- You Should See Yourself – Mary Preston
- Big Spender – Canna Kendall and June Hunt
- Rich Man’s Frug – Westminster Sinfonia and Theatre Chorus
- If My Friends Could See Me Now – Mary Preston
- Too Many Tomorrows – John Parker
- There’s Gotta Be Something Better Than This – Mary Preston, Canna Kendall, and June Hunt
- Rhythm of Life – Craig Hunter
- Baby Dream Your Dream – Canna Kendall and June Hunt
- Sweet Charity – Valentine Palmer
- Where Am I Going? – Mary Preston
- I’m a Brass Band – Mary Preston
- I Love to Cry at Weddings – David Wheldon-Williams, Canna Kendall, and June Hunt