By Peter Filichia — Thanksgiving is upon us, so let’s get in a thankful mood.
Here’s hoping that you indeed have a great deal for which to be thankful: health, relatives, friends, a job you like, financial security and enough leisure time.
Let’s also be thankful for the music that has filled our lives and has made us richer people. I’ve compiled My Own Personal Top 40 of Recordings of Musicals for which we should be thankful, and have listed them in alphabetical order by the name of the show. I’m sure we’ll agree on some and disagree on others — and that you’ll have plenty of your own with which I’ll agree and disagree, too. But let’s share them over a holiday that’s meant for sharing.
1) That for 70, Girls, 70 Kander and Ebb wrote “Yes,” a song that encourages us to seize the day and take the moment.
2) That Rex Everhart was an able enough understudy to turn in a terrific performance as Benjamin Franklin on the cast album of 1776 when star Howard DaSilva was indisposed.
3) That after knowing only thirty-three minutes and thirty-one seconds of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Allegro from its very truncated 1947 original cast album, we got an entire hundred-minute and fifteen second studio recording of the much underrated show.
4) That RCA Victor thought to record the 1966 revival of Annie Get Your Gun; had they not, we wouldn’t have heard Ethel Merman’s show-stopping take on “An Old-Fashioned Wedding.”
5) That Goddard Lieberson didn’t care that Anyone Can Whistle had lasted a mere nine performances, but still recorded the original cast album.
6) That while Assassins only had three musicians when it was produced off-Broadway in 1991, Michael Starobin was allowed to orchestrate for 23-33 musicians to play on the original cast album.
7) That Jule Styne, still searching for an 11 o’clock number for Judy Holliday in Bells Are Ringing, kept noticing that the audience laughed at a first-act joke about the Bonjour Tristesse Brassiere Company – which started the ball rolling on one of the best eleven o’clockers in musical theater history.
8) That the 1998 revival cast album of Cabaret is unique: the numbers set in a cabaret were recorded live and reflect audience noise and applause, while the book numbers were recorded in the cozy confines of a studio.
9) That Stephen Sondheim took the charming “Venice Gavotte” from the 1956 Candide and turned it into the even better “Life Is Happiness Indeed” for the 1974 revisal.
10) That RCA Victor thought enough of a regional production of Children of Eden (from the Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn, New Jersey) to record it in its entirety. Both the single-disc and double-disc set have spurred countless other productions.
11) That the CD of the original cast album of A Chorus Line added so much more of “Hello, Twelve, Hello, Thirteen, Hello Love” than was on the original “long-playing” record.
12) That the CD of the revival cast album of A Chorus Line added even more of “Hello, Twelve, Hello, Thirteen, Hello Love.”
13) That City of Angels included its “out music” on its cast album – for Cy Coleman’s “out music” is the best that any show could hope to have.
14) That “Tick-Tock,” now almost invariably dropped from productions of Company, will always live on through its original cast album.
15) That we have at least one original cast album with the inimitable Patricia Routledge on it: Darling of the Day, a most underrated Styne-Harburg score.
16) That Jerry Herman showed in Dear World that he could do more than just write razz-ma-tazz music, and that he could also deliver sensitive and soft swirling French waltzes.
17) That the deluxe edition of Fiddler on the Roof includes Sheldon Harnick’s singing “When Messiah Comes,” a fascinating song dropped in Detroit. The title may sound dour, wistful or just plain religious, but the song has many a surprise in store.
18) The 1985 concert recording of Sondheim’s Follies. ‘Nuff said.
19) That that 1985 concert recording of Follies didn’t quite take up two CDs – allowing enough space for us to get Sondheim’s haunting score for the film Stavisky.
20) That Gigi was recorded, for it gave us Alan Jay Lerner’s last great lyric in “The Contract.”
21) That the Godspell cast album includes “We Beseech Thee,” a stirring and exciting number that was replaced in the movie version.
22) That Elaine Stritch, best known for sassiness (or worse), in Goldilocks got a beautiful torch song in “I Never Know When” which she delivered perfectly.
23) That Grand Hotel finally got recorded. The show was more than two years old before a label would take a chance on recording it.
24) That “Miss Marmelstein” in I Can Get It for You Wholesale still exists to show us that, once upon a time, Barbra Streisand really was a funny girl.
25) That the long seconds of silence in “Bosom Buddies” are just as funny as the rest of the song. We can almost hear what friendly enemies Vera Charles (Bea Arthur) and Mame Dennis (Angela Lansbury) are thinking.
26) That we have both a fully orchestrated The Most Happy Fella and a two-piano version. The former is ideal for when we’re wide-awake and perky; the latter is perfect for soft, late-night listens.
27) That we have not one but two Rex Harrison and Julie Andrews My Fair Lady recordings. Harrison’s better on the first, while Andrews is better on the second. Choose accordingly.
28) For those who have O.D’d on Lloyd Webber’s version of The Phantom of the Opera, we have Maury Yeston’s take via the single-named Phantom. “My True Love” is especially beautiful.
29) That if we don’t have time to listen to the entire two-disc 1998 Ragtime cast album, there’s a nice distillation in the 1996 one-disc concept album.
30) That Rex was recorded, despite a 49-performance run – for it gave us Richard Rodgers’ last great waltz: “No Song More Pleasing.”
31) That The Roar of the Greasepaint—the Smell of the Crowd offers so many standards: “A Wonderful Day Like Today,” “The Joker,” “Feelin’ Good” and “Who Can I Turn To?”
32) That although forty-four years had to pass, we finally got a recording of Sondheim’s first (unproduced) show Saturday Night.
33) That Side by Side by Sondheim allows us to hear the entire “I Never Do Anything Twice” that was decimated in the movie (The Seven-Per-cent Solution) for which it was written.
34) That Sondheim: A Musical Tribute offers the best-ever recording of “I’m Still Here,” courtesy of Nancy Walker.
35) “Just One Step” in Songs for a New World. Jason Robert Brown wrote one of the greatest character studies in musical theater history: a small businessman’s wife who knows she’s losing her man threatens to throw herself off a building to — in both senses of the phrase – “get him back.”
36) That the recording of Starting Here—Starting Now showed us that Richard Maltby and David Shire may have had bad luck with their musicals, but their songwriting certainly wasn’t at fault.
37) Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd. ‘Nuff said.
38) That while Wildcat wasn’t a hit, it did allow us to see how Lucille Ball would fare in a musical. At least on this album she sounds substantially better than Lucy Ricardo.
39) That the 1999 revival of You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown yielded fuller orchestrations and Andrew Lippa’s new songs.
40) That the 1983 revival cast album of Zorba allows us to hear Anthony Quinn — the REAL Zorba the Greek — sing the Kander-Ebb score. The music is, by the way, far more Greek in feeling than the one that actual Greek citizen Manos Hadjidakis wrote for Illya, Darling.
Peter Filichia also writes a column each Monday, Wednesday and Friday at www.theatermania.com/peterfilichia;. His new book Broadway Musicals: The Biggest Hit & the Biggest Flop of the Season, 1959-2009 is now available through Applause Books and at www.amazon.com