If you’re like me, a total fan of Broadway and Hollywood musicals, you know that 1982 was the Year of the Miraculous Secaucus Warehouse. It was then that 80 crates of material that had not seen the light of day for years—unpublished songs by Jerome Kern and the Gershwins, cut songs and original orchestrations for shows from the 1920’s and reams of other goodies—were found in storage at a facility maintained by Warner Brothers in New Jersey. The tons of manuscript had accumulated as the studio acquired a number of music publishers over the years, and it was only when a Gershwin scholar was tracking down some arrangements that the location as well as the scope of this incredible trove was realized.
Because of this discovery, we not only can enjoy historic musicals as their authors intended, we can now hear how they sounded before latter-day orchestrators tried to do us a favor by “updating” them in revivals. The best example of the wonders wrought at the Warner Brothers warehouse is the classic three-CD set of the Jerome Kern-Oscar Hammerstein landmark Show Boat, conducted by John McGlinn, who had helped to catalog the Secaucus material. Prior to his death in 2009 at the age of 55, McGlinn went on to record a number of classic musicals, including Anything Goes, Brigadoon and Kiss Me, Kate, as well as several compilation CDs featuring a cadre of wonderful singers: Rebecca Luker, Judy Kaye, Brent Barrett, Kim Criswell and George Dvorsky, among others.
One of my favorite McGlinn recordings is Broadway Showstoppers, which contains songs from both wildly successful shows and total flops, such as the legendary (for the wrong reasons) Bernstein–Lerner show, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue (fortunately Bernstein later folded its best music into his White House Cantata). I especially like “Who?,” sung by Rebecca Luker and Brent Barrett, with its long string of choruses, each differentiated with changes in interior rhythm and counter-melody; the virtuoso “Duet for One,” performed by Judy Kaye, alternating the personae of Julia Grant and Lucy Hayes; and the lovely “Some Girl is On Your Mind” from the Kern–Hammerstein musical, Sweet Adeline, featuring Messrs. Barrett, Groenendaal, Dvorsky and Gaines, abetted by the men of the Ambrosian Chorus. But the best track by far is the restored version of “All the Things You Are” from Very Warm for May, in an arrangement that has been known to cause jaws to drop in astonishment. The beauty of the performance lies not just in the music (which is incredible enough) but in the artistry of four soloists and a huge chorus, capped by Rebecca Luker’s voice soaring in what can only be described as the mother of all descants. I first heard this CD during a five-hour drive home from Massachusetts, and I swear I played that cut about 20 times in a row. This 1992 recording goes in and out of print, but is fairly easy to find from various internet sources. Don’t miss it.
The New York City Center “Encores!” series has also produced several great recordings, among which is the dynamite Rodgers and Hart musical, The Boys from Syracuse. This 1997 CD features Malcolm Gets, Rebecca Luker, Davis Gaines and Debbie Shapiro Gravitte doing wonderful things with some of the authors’ best material—“This Can’t Be Love,” “Falling in Love With Love,” and best of all, a bang-up version of “Sing For Your Supper,” which I’m nuts about. Here’s a later performance of the same song by, in descending vocal order, Rebecca Luker, Christine Ebersole and Debbie Shapiro Gravitte:
Coming Attractions: Hollywood Sings!, featuring The Busby Berkeley Album and Jule Styne in Hollywood.