Upon its May 13, 1954 opening, The Pajama Game was an instant smash. The Tony Award-winning Best Musical by George Abbott, Richard Bissell, Richard Adler, and Jerry Ross went on to run 1,063 performances and inspire a London production, two Broadway revivals, and countless regional, school, and community theatre productions. But for Bissell, the Iowa-born author of the novel 7-1/2 Cents on which The Pajama Game was based, the road to Broadway was a bumpy one. Bissell put his memories to paper in an amusing, semi-autobiographical 1957 novel entitled Say, Darling which was praised for its humorous look at the behind-the-scenes travails of a great, big Broadway show. Naturally, Broadway snapped it up for its own adaptation. The result was the 1958 "comedy about a musical," also called Say, Darling. Jule Styne both co-produced and composed the show, with lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green. Bissell, his wife Marian, and director Abe Burrows co-wrote the play. Now, its original cast recording is about to return in a deluxe 2-CD edition from Stage Door Records.
In the show, Bissell stand-in Jack Jordan (David Wayne) is brought from Indiana to New York to help shape his best-selling novel Paddlewheel into a Broadway musical, The Girl from Indiana, to be written and directed by Richard Hackett (Jerome Cowan, doing a turn based on George Abbott) and produced by boy genius Ted Snow (Tony-nominated Robert Morse, channeling the young and ambitious Harold Prince). Pop singer Johnny Desmond portrayed lecherous composer Rudy Lorraine (modeled on Richard Adler, who was apparently flattered) and Guys and Dolls star Vivian Blaine as actress Irene Lovelle. Of course, the artists involved had to go out of their way to deny any particular inspirations for the roles. As George Dansker points out in his typically astute liner notes, the scene-stealing Robert Morse insisted, "I never saw Hal Prince." For his part, Jule Styne said, "I'm Rudy Lorraine," perhaps to diffuse any potential drama. (Styne, too, was known as a ladies' man as well as one of Broadway's finest composers.) When Prince eventually saw Say, Darling, the Pajama Game co-producer described it as a "little like biting the hand that feeds you." He did praise Robert Morse, though, and decades later worked with Morse in his lavish Broadway revival of Show Boat.
The tryouts in New Haven and Philadelphia saw songs coming and going from the Styne/Comden/Green score. When the show opened on Broadway in April 1958, Say, Darling was generally well-received even if some critics felt the material would have been better-served as a full-blown musical rather than a play with music. Indeed, all of the songs in Say, Darling were performed in diegetic fashion: as actual songs, not as musical statements of what characters are feeling or experiencing. The score wasn't orchestrated; instead it was performed onstage by pianist/sidemen including Colin Romoff (Kwamina, Fade Out-Fade In), Peter Howard (Hello, Dolly!, Annie), and Wendell Marshall. When RCA Victor came calling, though, the decision was made to expand the score with a full orchestration. It's not hard to see why; even the songs that were written to be comically goofy have all the hallmarks of Styne's melodic gift and Comden and Green's stylish wit. (Just try to get "The Husking Bee" and "Something's Always Happening on the River" out of your head!)
Sid Ramin (West Side Story, Gypsy) was enlisted as orchestrator for the RCA cast recording which would be issued in the label's Living Stereo format. The LP was released on April 25, 1958, just three weeks after opening night. Ramin's brassy charts gave the show a real scale and grandiosity, beginning with the stunning Overture that fits comfortably in the canon of the composer whose other Overtures include the greatest of the genre, Gypsy and Funny Girl.
Stage Door's reissue is the first appearance of Say, Darling on CD since 2008 (in an edition which added some originally discarded narration), and has been newly remastered from a reel-to-reel tape of the stereo recording. (The tape's unique artwork by groundbreaking African-American artist Mozelle Thompson has also been preserved; the LP edition bore a photo of the lead performers.) At the time of the show's premiere, RCA proffered the songs to its diverse stable of artists, resulting in covers from the likes of Perry Como, Tony Martin, Dinah Shore, Dennis Farnon and His Orchestra, and others. Not to be outdone, other labels including MGM, Roulette, Capitol, and Decca got into the act with cover versions. Almost two dozen of these fun renditions are preserved on the second disc of this deluxe edition, with most of these tracks never having appeared previously on CD. A fun highlight is the single by jazz pianist Cy Coleman, who would later go on to compose acclaimed musicals such as On the 20th Century and The Will Rogers Follies with Comden and Green. Louie Bellson's 1960 recording of "My Little Yellow Dress" preserves the song which was performed out-of-town but cut prior to the show's New York bow.
Another bonus (on CD 1) is the Sammy Cahn/Vernon Duke composition "Good Little Girls" (written for the 1952 revue Two's Company) which was added for Lisa Kirk to perform in the 1959 L.A. production accompanied by another future Broadway eminence, musical director Don Pippin.
Say, Darling lasted a respectable 332 performances on Broadway (first at the ANTA Playhouse, then at the Martin Beck Theatre), only to return six weeks later for a limited engagement at New York City Center (today the home of the popular Encores! series of musical revivals, for which Say, Darling might itself be a good candidate). A 1996 off-Broadway revival played a limited 16-performance run.
On evidence of the original cast album, Say, Darling remains a rollicking and sharply satirical look at the business of fifties Broadway; Stage Door's reissue (made possible via current U.K. public domain laws) makes a strong case for the showstopping tunes by one of Broadway's all-time greatest teams, Styne/Comden/Green. The release also features a 12-page booklet with George Dansker's liner notes as well as numerous photos and memorabilia images. The 2-CD reissue is available on Friday, June 30, but orders are already shipping directly from Stage Door. You'll find order links and the track listing below.
CD 1 (originally released as RCA Victor FPS-150, 1958)
- Try to Love Me, Just As I Am - Vivian Blaine
- It's Doom - Johnny Desmond
- The Husking Bee - Johnny Desmond and Chorus
- It's the Second Time You Meet That Matters - Johnny Desmond
- Let the Lower Lights Be Burning - David Wayne and Jerome Cowan
- Chief of Love - Vivian Blaine
- Say, Darling - Johnny Desmond
- The Carnival Song - David Wayne, Vivian Blaine, and Steve Condos
- Try to Love Me, Just As I Am - Johnny Desmond
- Dance Only with Me - Vivian Blaine and Mitchell Gregg
- Something's Always Happening on the River - David Wayne and Company
- Say, Darling - Finale - Company
- Good Little Girls - Lisa Kirk (Bonus Track)
- Something's Always Happening on the River - Bob Scobey's Frisco Band with Clancy Hayes (from RCA LPM 1889, 1958)
- Dance Only with Me - Peggy Lee (from Capitol ST 1290, 1960)
- It's the Second Time You Meet That Matters (RCA single 47-7211, 1958)
- It's Doom - Cy Coleman and Annie Ross (Jubilee single 45-5331. 1958)
- Something's Always Happening on the River - Cy Coleman (Jubilee single 45-5331, 1958)
- Dance Only with Me - Perry Como (RCA single 47-7202, 1958)
- Dance Only with Me - Fred Waring and His Pennsylvanians, Soloist: Chuck Nelson (from Capitol SWB0 1079, 1958)
- Say, Darling - Tony Martin (RCA single 47-7210, 1958)
- Try to Love Me, Just As I Am - Tony Martin (RCA single 47-7210, 1958)
- Dance Only with Me - Blossom Dearie (from Verve MG VS-6050, 1959)
- Something's Always Happening on the River - Hugo and Luigi and Their Orchestra and Chorus (Roulette single R-4074, 1958)
- Something's Always Happening on the River - Art Mooney and His Orchestra and Chorus (MGM single 12649, 1958)
- Say, Darling - Dennis Farnon and His Orchestra (from RCA EP EPA 4288, 1958)
- Dance Only with Me - Dennis Farnon and His Orchestra (from RCA EP EPA 4288, 1958)
- Something's Always Happening on the River - Dennis Farnon and His Orchestra (from RCA EP EPA 4288, 1958)
- Try to Love Me, Just As I Am - Dennis Farnon and His Orchestra (from RCA EP EPA 4288, 1958)
- My Little Yellow Dress - Louie Bellson (from Verve V-10214X45, 1960)
- Dance Only with Me - Jonah Jones (from Capitol ST 1039, 1958)
- It's the Second Time You Meet That Matters - Jackie Davis (from Capitol ST 1046, 1958)
- Say, Darling - Jackie Davis (from Capitol ST 1046, 1958)
- Say, Darling - Carmen Cavallaro (from Decca DL 78805, 1958)
- Something's Always Happening on the River - Band of the Coldstream Guards (from RCA LSP 1944, 1959)