Broadway in a Box CD Review:
Carousel (LCT 1965)
At Christmas a few years ago, Jeff gave me a copy of Broadway in a Box: The Essential Broadway Musicals Collection. He has now given me the opportunity to use his blog to share my impressions of each of the 25 cast recordings contained in the set, in alphabetical order.
This week’s entry is about the 1965 Music Theater of Lincoln Center recording of my favorite Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, Carousel.
With a huge orchestra and ensemble reproducing the original vocal arrangements and orchestrations (by Don Walker), this recording truly excels in the briskly-paced “Carousel Waltz” and large-scale choral numbers like “A Real Nice Clambake” and the final reprise of “You’ll Never Walk Alone.” The soloists are a slightly mixed bag, but succeed in providing a fairly satisfying reading of this masterwork.
I thought I might be in for a rough ride with the first vocal scene between Julie Jordan (Eileen Christy) and Carrie Pipperidge (Susan Watson), leading up to Carrie’s first song “Mister Snow.” The two sound very much alike, and their classic, pure voices sat a bit uneasily with their somewhat awkward attempts at pulling off Maine accents. Fortunately, both of them did much better with their subsequent songs.
It’s probably impossible for any Julie to make a huge impression on an audio recording of Carousel; her musical material is fairly meager for a leading lady, and her sweet vulnerability is no match for the pizzazz of the other female characters in the show. Given these limitations, Christy did a fine job showing her feistiness in the famous Bench Scene, and her “What’s the Use of Wond’rin’” held its own with the other versions I’m familiar with from stage and screen.
Listening to a recording of this show, one realizes to what extent this is, vocally speaking, Carrie’s show: she has more songs than either of the dramatic leads. Watson, whom Jeff and I saw performing “Rain on the Roof” in the most recent Broadway revival of Follies, does a good job bringing this joyful, empathetic character to life. She plays up the oh-so-vaguely-naughty humor in “Mr. Snow” and its reprise (though not as much as Audra MacDonald!), and she has good chemistry with her husband and frequent scene partner.
John Raitt originated the role of Billy Bigelow on Broadway, so it’s a little disappointing that I found his rendition to be somewhat flat compared to others that I’m familiar with. He has a habit of sliding into each note, so that the first bit of each syllable is slightly off-pitch; I know this is a legitimate vocal choice, but here it’s so ubiquitous as to be slightly distracting. More problematically, he does not bring much personality to his portrayal of Billy, compared to either Michael Hayden or Joshua Henry in the most recent Broadway revivals. This was more of a problem for “If I Loved You” and “The Highest Judge of All” than for the respectable “Soliloquy.”
In the smaller roles, Katherine Hilgenberg as Nettie Fowler gave jubilant and moving performances, respectively, in her big songs “June is Bustin’ Out All Over” and “You’ll Never Walk Alone.” Her interpretations are thrilling, but the lyrics can get lost a bit on her higher notes. Reid Shelton (Enoch Snow) and Jerry Orbach (Jigger Craigin) brought lots of personality to their featured roles; Orbach, in particular, performed the best version I’ve heard of my least favorite song, “Blow High, Blow Low.”
It’s interesting to note what’s included and what’s not included on this disc. Like the most recent revival, this recording cuts “Geraniums in the Winder” and “Stonecutters Cut It On Stone”; the second-act ballet is also omitted. (I particularly miss “Stonecutters,” since it leads so nicely into “What’s the Use of Wond’rin’.”) In addition, “June is Bustin’ Out All Over” is heavily cut, but the lengthy verse leading up to it is retained. Also retained is some forgettable material in “A Real Nice Clambake” and “When the Children are Asleep” that, if my memory serves, is usually cut from recorded versions of the show. Notably, this recording includes the often-cut “The Highest Judge of All,” which gives the character of Billy Bigelow a little more vocal material to work with.
Next up is the Original Broadway Cast Recording of Chicago.
Thanks again, Mike! Looking forward to your thoughts on Gwen, Chita and Jerry next week. Jeff