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Recovering the Original

Recovering the Original

by Peter Filichia

That the original cast album of Peter Pan was reissued last week was cause for celebration for those who missed the Mary Martin vehicle the first time around. But for most collectors, the most delicious words associated with the reissue were “Cover has been changed to reflect the original 1954 LP cover.”

Yes, after years of waiting, we once again have a cover with a picture of Mary Martin. There she is, back arched and fists clenched in her “I’ve Gotta Crow” position.

Original artwork captures the specific era in which the album was first made and released. It’s its own kind of time capsule. Those too young to have witnessed the show itself still would like to get as close to the experience as possible. Original artwork is one of those ways.

Starting in the early ‘60s, the Peter Pan cover was changed when a new technological innovation was introduced: Electronic faux stereo, or, as the cover claimed, “Stereo Effect Reprocessed from Monophonic.”

About the technical worth of the process, the less said, the better. But the powers-that-be in advertising and marketing decided cast albums subjected to electronic stereo deserved a new look, too. In Peter Pan’s case, all 38 words that had been on the previous cover were retained: “An original cast recording. Richard Halliday presents Edwin Lester’s production. Mary Martin as Peter Pan with Cyril Ritchard in a new musical version of the play by Sir James M. Barrie. Production Directed and Staged by Jerome Robbins.” But now instead of Martin’s picture, there was a drawing of Peter that didn’t much resemble Martin.

What a slap in the face to one of the Broadway musical’s greatest stars! Martin returned on the first Peter Pan CD in the ’80s, and when the cover of Peter Pan was again redesigned in the ‘90s, a new drawing of Peter resembled Martin. (A sketch of Ritchard’s Captain Hook standing behind her was added for good measure.)

So most everything old does indeed become new again. The retro look of many of these albums is now again appreciated.

But during the ’60s, artists were hired to slightly modify the original covers of Jamaica, Pipe Dream, Redhead and Wish You Were Here too. Allegro went from a yellow cover with cute drawings in the ‘40s to a peach one with even more quaint sketches in the ‘60s – and then back to yellow but with still different artwork in the ‘70s. The original cover returned for the 1993 CD release.

Paint Your Wagon returned to its original logo some years ago, too. For decades before that, though, the cover sported a pretty painting of a pioneer woman clad in a red-and-white dress and bonnet. She looked nothing like star Olga San Juan.

During those same ‘60s, logos for musicals had become far more eye-catching and sophisticated, so several covers were replaced lest the records look old-fashioned. Finian’s Rainbow, The Golden Apple, Milk and Honey and South Pacific dropped their logos in favor of pictures from the productions. The CD editions of all but Milk and Honey have now been returned to their first edition look.

Some original cast albums had their covers changed when a film version of the musical was released. Perhaps management felt that the older covers needed a spruce-up. The cast album of Bells Are Ringing originally had a black-and-white photo of star Judy Holliday in costume as answering service operator Ella Peterson; once the film emerged, then it sported a color photo of Holliday out-of-costume. Holliday has been back in character with the original logo since 1991.

But the covers of Bye Bye Birdie and Camelot changed for a different reason. They were originally released on “gatefold” albums – two-jacket configurations that opened up – and thus were a dollar more expensive than single-sleeve albums. Once the soundtracks of Birdie and Camelot were released in the less expensive one-sleeve format, their original cast albums were demoted to the same status so they’d be price-competitive.

Camelot’s second cover offered revisionist history. For while the original 1960 cover put Richard Burton and Julie Andrews above the title, the cover that came out in the late ‘60s had Robert Goulet, originally below the title, vaulting to join Burton and Andrews above it. Goulet had become a recording star during the decade, and Columbia wanted to make the most of his success. Now he, like Dolly Levi, is back where he belongs.

But Damn Yankees, the 1955 musical in which the lowly Washington Senators dethroned the mighty New York Yankees, didn’t wait for its movie version to change its cover. Originally, both the album and the show’s advertising had star Gwen Verdon on a green field, wearing only the top of a baseball uniform so that her panties and black tights could be seen. In time, though, the management of both the show and the record label noticed that sales were not commensurate with the rave reviews the musical had received. Could it be that the public interested in Broadway just wasn’t that interested in baseball? Verdon was called back to the photographer’s and was asked to bring along her sexy “Whatever Lola Wants” outfit. This image of Verdon, set on a sizzling red cover, made a difference in ticket and album sales. Perhaps that original cover will return one day, too – presumably before the Washington Nationals beat the New York Yankees in the World Series.

Do Re Mi didn’t quite get a gatefold album in 1961 from RCA Victor, but a twice-as-thick monolithic sleeve with slightly taller packaging. From it, a colorful, ornate and informative sleeve could be extricated. In 1965, the album was reissued in a conventional single sleeve, but that wasn’t the extent of the change. While the original had a black cover with red lettering, now the colors were reversed to make a red cover with black lettering. When the CD was issued in 1994, the original cover look returned.

During the ‘70s, some of Columbia’s bigger original cast album hits (West Side Story among them) were reissued with covers that proclaimed “The Columbia Treasury of the American Musical Theatre” in big black lettering on brown fields. 7-by-7-inch reductions of the album’s original cover were put near the center.

But some of the less famous Columbia cast albums stayed in print in only the most marginal way. Such titles as Anyone Can Whistle and House of Flowers were now available on a separate label called Columbia Special Products. They offered Spartan light blue jackets with the name of the show simply printed in black at the top.

As time went on, even those baby blue sleeves were considered cost-prohibitive. The records were then encased in plain black sleeves with no printing at all; a “doughnut hole” in the center of the sleeve was all that allowed us to see the label, which told us what the musical was.

Black was the color of our true emotions, as we mourned for what had happened to so many worthy original cast albums. Happily, in recent years, many have rebounded from these indignities. How nice to see Peter Pan, among so many others, flying high once more.

Peter Filichia also writes a column each Monday, Wednesday, and Friday for www.theatermania.com