By Peter Filichia —
Faithful readers may recall last week that I dealt with the marvelous original cast album of 110 in the Shade. I mentioned that after it was recorded in late 1963, the overture was not included on the record. We had to wait twenty-seven years to hear it, and only after it suddenly appeared on the CD re-release.
Rumor had it that the overture wasn’t included because it included a badly played note. Larry Blank, the three-time Tony-nominated orchestrator, read the column (bless him!) and wrote:
“Here’s the story on the 110 in the Shade overture.
“The overture was routined by Billy Goldenberg, the dance arranger (and composer of Ballroom). It was orchestrated by Hershy Kay and conducted by Don Pippin. It was put in very quickly for the New York opening at producer David Merrick’s insistence. It’s actually longer than it is on the original cast album. According to Don Pippin, it was never meant to be included on the recording. It was played early in the morning as a sound balance for the engineers.
“However, they did write a special ending for the overture that is heard on the recording. What they wrote was never in the score or used in the theatre. So perhaps they did entertain the thought of having it on the recording.
“The original lead trumpet player was a man named Pete Crino whom I once asked about this. He was an excellent player with much experience. It was decided (by Hershy Kay) to write the overture on D trumpets rather than the normal Bb trumpet that is used almost all the time.
The D trumpets make it a little easier to play some higher notes. It also does sound nice or special in certain instances – such as the little piccolo trumpet that’s used in much of 1776. It’s the same type of trumpet that is used in Bach’s music.”
Blank also offered another reason for that D trumpet: “It is likely that they were used to give the trumpet player a bonus as the union requires extra payment for playing another instrument.” Now we’re comin’ down to brass tacks!
“So,” Blank continued, “when they started the day with the overture, poor Pete Crino had a rough morning on the first and ONLY take of the Overture and missed a note.
“The recording was rolling around for years and Don Pippin let me hear it as far back as 1965. It was no surprise that when Bill Rosenfield re-released the recording that he put it on compact disc.
“Despite the cracked trumpet note, you can hear the enthusiasm of Don’s conducting, the freshness of the score and a really great overture that contrasts the very stark opening number which begins with a harmonica. By the way, that harmonica was played by the lead clarinet player, who happened to play that instrument as well.
“When I saw the show in its closing month at the Broadhurst in August, 1964, it was conducted by Pembroke Davenport (Cole Porter’s conductor for Kiss Me, Kate and others). The overture opened the show and I was quite surprised, because I’d already heard the cast album without it.”
Thanks, Larry! Now we know! But it did start me thinking about mistakes that did happen on cast albums. Considering that most of them are recorded in a single day, it’s a wonder that there haven’t been many more mistakes on cast albums. If you’ve seen that D.A. Pennebaker documentary Company: Original Cast Album, you know how rushed and harried a recording session can be.
But listen carefully to “Put on Your Sunday Clothes” on the first Hello, Dolly! album, and you just may hear Carol Channing come in too early with “Ermengarde, stop sniveling” at the 2:53 mark. She only gets out an “Er!” before she realizes her mistake. Apparently the sound engineers didn’t.
The album was recorded the first Sunday after the opening, so Channing hadn’t done all that many performances of the show. Here’s betting that that was the last time she made that mistake. Lord knows that she would later have between 4,500 and 5,000 more chances to get it right.
Listen to “Put ‘Em Back” from Li’l Abner, in which the women of Dogpatch complain that while their men have now been medicated into glorious hunks, they have lost their sex drive. It’s one of those songs where some chorus girls sing “Put ‘Em Back” while others echo the phrase. On the third go-round, the decision was made not to have the chorus girls echo, but as you can hear 38 seconds in, one does. “Put,” she sings, before shutting up.
Yes, having to come in with the same phrase repeatedly can cause a singer to lose concentration. That was the case with one singer who was to warble “Doot-doot-wa, doot-doot-do-wah-do-wah” while backing up Angela Lansbury in “Me and My Town” in Anyone Can Whistle. He gave out with an extra “doot” at the 3:49 mark.
In Take Me Along, just before Walter Pidgeon is to start the reprise of “Staying Young,” you can hear him clear his throat. Guess Pidgeon had a frog there.
Musical theater enthusiasts sometimes talk about hearing a trumpet player dropping a mute on the floor during the overture of Gypsy. Others say they can hear a chair fall over during the overture of My Fair Lady. Or was the mute dropped during Fair Lady and the chair during Gypsy? I’ve not been able to notice either. Perhaps you can.
Some mistakes aren’t made in the recording session, but on the printed album cover. Get hold of your grandparents’ original cast album on the so-called long-playing record of My Fair Lady, for it may be worth some money. “How can this be?” you ask. “This record was once the biggest-selling album of all time, so copies are as common as grains of sand sur le plage.”
Ah, but check and see if the back cover says that Eliza’s side-one closer is “I Want to Dance All Night” and not “I Could Have Danced All Night.” Truth to tell, there’s good reason for the mistake, as reported in Dominic McHugh’s good but dry new book, Loverly: The Life and Times of “My Fair Lady.” Alan Jay Lerner originally wrote the song as “I Want to Dance All Night.” Writes McHugh, “The playbills for the tryouts in New Haven and Philadelphia use the word ‘want,’ as did early pressings of the original cast album.” See if you can find one; it may mean early retirement.
Here’s Love’s original LP listed a song called “The Plastic Alligator” and It’s A Bird It’s A Plane It’s Superman made mention of a song entitled “Everything’s Easy When You Know How.” And while these may have been recorded, they didn’t show up on the LPs. The reason is the covers were made in advance of the actual recording; many cast albums from the ‘60s have words such as these: “Musical numbers are listed as of September 26, prior to the recording of this album.” Yeah, they rushed them out in those days to a cast-album-hungry public.
That explains those mistakes. But did you know that in the days of the Puritans, little girls who sewed their samplers purposely made one mistake per sampler while sewing? The feeling was that only God could make something perfect, and human beings couldn’t. Some cast albums do prove the Puritans’ point.