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CD Review

Richard Rodgers & Lorenz Hart

Musicals from the Forties

  • A Connecticut Yankee (1943)
  • Higher and Higher (1940; selections) *
  • By Jupiter (1942; selections) **
Vivienne Segal (Morgan Le Fay)
Dick Foran (Martin)
Julie Warren (Alisande La Courtelloise)
Chester Stratton (Sir Galahad)
Vera-Ellen (Evelyn La Rondelle)
Unnamed Orchestra/George Hirst
* Shirley Ross
* Unnamed Orchestra/Ray Sinatra
** Hildegarde
** Unnamed Orchestra/Harry Sosnik
Decca 440013560-2 55:03
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Summary for the Busy Executive: Great songs à la Forties Broadway, with mixed results.

By the Forties, lyricist Lorenz Hart was well on his way to alcoholic self-destruction. The drinking binges got longer. He avoided work. Usually, nobody knew where the hell he was. In an effort to pull his partner together, Richard Rodgers conceived the idea of a revival of their 1927 hit, A Connecticut Yankee, this time adapted to the circumstances of the war. The musical, one of Hart's favorites of his own works, engaged his enthusiasm and he managed to focus up to the premiere, after which he again disappeared. Five days after opening night, he was dead.

The "book" of the musical contains amusing moments, but the show itself hasn't really lasted, even though many of its songs have. It contains a few gems, some from the 1927 version: "My Heart Stood Still," "Thou Swell," "On a Desert Island with Thee," "Can't You Do a Friend a Favor?" (new), and "To Keep My Love Alive," Hart's last song, written especially for the star Vivienne Segal, on whom Hart had a crush. The last number proved such a favorite with audiences during out-of-town tryouts that Hart kept adding verses, at least doubling the length of the original song.

For those used to, say, Ella Fitzgerald's Rodgers & Hart Songbook, these performances may come as a bit of a shock. Julie Warren, the ingénue, has a thin soprano, Dick Foran a bleaty baritone. A Rodgers & Hart veteran (she also appeared in By Jupiter), Vera-Ellen, the comedy ingénue, sounds permanently stuck in Ado-Annie mode – a straight tone, but with plenty of pep 'n' personality. You may find yourself between enchantment and annoyance. Vivienne Segal's performance, however, hasn't dated. She had previously made a sensation as the cougar Vera Simpson in Rodgers & Hart's Pal Joey and scored again here as Morgan Le Fay. She's what keeps this disc worth listening to.

Shirley Ross has become an obscure name now, but she was, among other things, Bob Hope's duet partner in the first screen appearance of "Thanks for the Memories." Her warm contralto suits ballads better than up-tempo songs, but she confines herself to the former. The big hit of Higher and Higher, the lovely "It Never Entered My Mind," gets a superior reading. Ross puts out a long, seamless line and turns the tricky phrasing into "natural" pauses.

The cabaret singer Hildegarde is an altogether sketchier performer. Her singing has more scoops and slides to notes than Phil Spitalny and His A&P Gypsies. Uncertain intonation and amateur diction plague these tracks. You can understand her – she sounds all her consonants – but she sometimes puts final consonants at the beginning of the next word: for example, "music of our own" becomes "musih kov vour rown." Nevertheless, the songs still win you over. By Jupiter boasts a number of terrific songs, including the ones here. However, the available CD (the 1967 off-Broadway revival) features mediocre performances and arrangements at nearly $30. We really need one of Tommy Krasker's restorations of this score.

Copyright © 2013, Steve Schwartz