Let me count the ways it is indeed terrific.
Although most of the tome centers on original cast albums, Maslon takes us back to the
days before recordings even existed. In most middle-class homes, one found pianos with
many pieces of sheet music that had been bought in any of 250,000 (!) counters or stores.
Then Thomas Edison invented the phonograph. Maslon notes that as far-sighted as the
genius was, the inventor envisioned phonographs as a way of communicating business
correspondence, not conveying music.
The public felt differently and wanted to hear songs, not sales pitches. By 1900, 32,000
phonographs had been sold; only eleven years later, the figure was up to more than
Not everyone embraced the new technology. Joel Grey recorded more George M. Cohan
songs in GEORGE M! than Cohan himself had recorded. Cohan thought only ten were
worth his time in the studio – and none that he chose to record were his major hits.
Eventually original cast albums came in, which, says Maslon, help “disseminate some of
the glamour” of The Great White Way and see that the “hinterlands are indoctrinated in
Broadway product.” He adds that “The original cast album soon became a commercial
commodity that would transcend generations, tastes and genres and provide a rare
commodity within American households.”
They of course began most notably with OKLAHOMA! Maslon makes a shrewd
observation about the absence of “The Farmer and the Cowman,” “It’s a Scandal! It’s a
Outrage” and “Lonely Room” on the score first recorded release: “Devoid of these
numbers,” he writes, “the listeners … must have mistaken OKLAHOMA! for a purely
upbeat optimistic story of romantic couples. (Think that’s why when Hollywood filmed
the show two of those three numbers were also omitted?)
Ads for cast albums would reiterate that. CAMELOT offered its disc “for those listeners
who will not be able to make the trip to the Majestic Theatre to see this masterpiece.”
Original cast albums became pretty popular for a while. Care to guess which thirteen of
them made it to Number One on the charts between 1945 and 1969? Learn which was the
first one to print the show’s lyrics. Find out what famous Broadway personality who was
active well into the 21st century was having an affair with Jack Kapp, the father of the
original cast album.
There are plenty of photographs. One shows Bing Crosby, Dinah Shore, Frank Sinatra
and Judy Garland performing together. And why are they in a book about Broadway,
given that none of them ever deigned to do a book musical? Notes Maslon, “The four of
them did more to popularize Broadway music than any dozen shows.”
(And he’s right.)
KISS ME, KATE sold over 100,000 in the first month.
SOUTH PACIFIC comes in for much discussion. See why original cast album guru
Goddard Lieberson had to end the SOUTH PACIFIC recording in a different way from
what happened on stage. That the score’s “Some Enchanted Evening” made the charts in
1949 isn’t so surprising, but that SEVEN different recordings did is a truly astounding
statistic. SOUTH PACIFIC held the record of the number of weeks ANY album had at
Number One until it was supplanted by – yes – the soundtrack to SOUTH PACIFIC
Cover recordings make up a big part of the book. Sales of Perry Como’s recording of ME
AND JULIET’S “No Other Love” essentially justified RCA Victor’s $185,000
investment in that less-than-blockbuster show. As for the angels in the original
production, Bill Rosenfield of RCA Victor said that CDs helped to put the production in
the black – albeit forty years after the show had closed.Long before then, the times, they were a-devolvin’. Even as early as 1957, Lieberson was wary, even about recording R&H’s CINDERELLA. He fully admitted to the team that “In this era of ‘Hound Dogs,’ I don’t know what the public is going to say.” Billboard also noted that Broadway was yielding “fewer and fewer hit singles due to the specialized
nature of the material.”
(True. The more specific lyrics got – and they became increasingly specific as the years
went on –taking them out of context was problematic.)
And yet, Maslon makes a shrewd observation when he notes “During the entire decade of
the sixties – those swinging, unsettling sixties – the most popular and enduring music in
America was the score to Rodgers and Hammerstein’s THE SOUND OF MUSIC.” How
true! The original cast album, released in just before Christmas, 1959, was Billboard’s
Number One album for sixteen weeks and stayed on the charts for sixty-one weeks. The
soundtrack of the 1965 film did even better. No soundtrack had ever stayed in the
Billboard Top Ten for 109 weeks or the Top 200 for 238 weeks.
And how about this? Julie Andrews and Carol Burnett did a hellishly clever parody of the
show in their 1962 revue at Carnegie Hall. This was three years before the film, remember, and yet those involved with the broadcast had confidence that even then the Broadway and touring versions – and recording — of THE SOUND OF MUSIC had reached so many millions that their viewing audience would get the joke.
Maslon gives a great deal of credit to Ed Sullivan and his Sunday night TV program
(1948-1971) for showing scenes from Broadway musicals. (If you ever wondered which
ones made the show, Maslon provides a complete list.) He admits that Sullivan wasn’t the
smoothest of hosts, and notes that he introduced Dolores Gray by saying that she was
“currently starving in SHERRY!” Maslon doesn’t, however, judge if this was just another
of Sullivan’s many flubs or an actual Freudian slip.
As for SHERRY! — with lyrics, by the way, from future INSIDE THE ACTORS’
STUDIO host James Lipton — Maslon devotes a full page for the ad that ran in Playbill
trumpeting the show’s upcoming original cast album. Alas, it didn’t happen.
Maslon suggests that part of the success of the soundtrack to WEST SIDE STORY
(Number One for, believe it or not, fifty-four weeks) was Saul Bass’ dynamic logo. That
it seems to be used in most every subsequent stage revival from Broadway to points far
beyond does support his assumption.
He also has a few notes on the recording session for I CAN GET IT FOR YOU
WHOLESALE and its supporting actress who had her own ideas of how to perform for a
recording. Says Maslon, “Lieberson may well have been the last record producer to tell
Barbra Streisand what to do.”
Maslon includes a smart observation from Stephen Schwartz: “Once the original
production is gone, the cast album BECOMES the show.” Schwartz’s own WORKING
as well as Sondheim’s MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG, both of which took a beating on
Broadway, had many subsequent productions that undoubtedly wouldn’t have happened
had their songs not been readily available to those directors, producers and actors who
wanted to hear them.
Don’t miss the back pages devoted to footnotes. There Maslon admits that he and
conductor-archivist John McGlinn “nearly got into a fistfight” during a radio interview.
See what led to the almost-fracas.
The book has a companion website, too, which gives dozens of audio selections that
prove the points that Maslon has to make both from cast and albums and cover
recordings. Thus, you’ll get to compare Angela Lansbury’s “If He Walked into My Life”
that she did for the MAME cast album with Eydie Gormé’s pop rendition. There’s even a
catchy song from LOLITA, MY LOVE, the Alan Jay Lerner-John Barry musical that
Columbia had the rights to record but didn’t when Boston was its tryout’s last stop.
Out-of-town closers are rarely recorded, but luckily non-hit musicals are – or have been.
So, for BROADWAY TO MAIN STREET: HOW SHOW TUNES ENCHANTED
AMERICA, my recommendation comes from the title of a 1915 Irving Berlin musical:
STOP! LOOK! LISTEN!