Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Broadway in a Box CD Review: Company (OBCR - 1970)

 Broadway in a Box CD Review:
Company (OBCR - 1970)

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 1970 Original Broadway Cast Recording of Company.

I’ve been listening to this CD, and other recordings of this show, for about thirty years, so it can be a challenge to hear it with fresh ears. What follows are a few impressions I had re-listening to it this morning.

This original recording has several big advantages over some others I’ve heard. First, it features the full, unadulterated, often twangy, early-1970s orchestrations. Second, the ensemble is uniformly excellent, and fulfills its intended function perfectly: this group is loving and nurturing, but also, on occasion, vaguely menacing with their many demands and aggressive advice for Bobby. This recording also includes a rollicking, even rocking, version of the amazing “Tick Tock” dance sequence; this juicy passage has often been cut in subsequent versions.

The CD in this box set includes the superbly remastered version of the Broadway recording. This is old news, I know, but most of my experience has been with a much muddier early-generation CD, and the difference is significant. I especially appreciated being able to hear the details of the conversational back-and-forth in the second half of the title song, and the vivid orchestrations in “Another Hundred People.”

Among the mostly one-and-done musical solos from the ensemble members, I really enjoyed Pamela Myers’ energetic take on “Another Hundred People.” Beth Howland also set a very high bar for subsequent performers with her break-neck rendering of “Getting Married Today.” Both of these performances have perhaps been equaled but not topped in the intervening five decades.

Elaine Stritch, of course, gives a legendary performance on this CD. I really appreciate the role of Joanne for its ability to accommodate a number of different approaches - I equally enjoyed Barbara Walsh’s more subdued and sardonic performance in the last Broadway revival. But there’s something really special about Stritch’s much earthier, booze-soaked interpretation. Having just watched the famous documentary on the making of this cast album, which depicts Stritch’s struggle to deliver a version of “The Ladies Who Lunch” worthy of preservation for posterity, I really appreciate her triumph on this disc.

I grew up (or at least got through college) listening to Dean Jones singing the part of Bobby, and he will always be more or less definitive to me; these are surely the versions I hear in my head when I think of these songs. That being said, Jones’ singing is pretty much uniformly loud and features an aggressive vibrato that makes it hard for him to deliver a lot of nuance, a noticeable drawback in songs like “Someone is Waiting” and “Being Alive.” He may have set the standard, but standards are meant to be judged against, and I have to say that I’ve seen others - John Barrowman, Raúl Esparza, even Neil Patrick Harris - give equally well-sung but more emotionally satisfying performances.

As if to drive home the point, this CD includes, as a bonus, Larry Kert’s version of “Being Alive.” Kert succeeded Jones on Broadway, and his performance is taken from the London Cast Recording. He really brings out the essence of the slow epiphany Bobby experiences in this song; note particularly how he builds from a half-whispered “somebody hold me too close,” and the particular zest he adds when he sings “crowd me with love.” It’s my understanding that the full London cast recording is identical to the Broadway version except for Kert’s dubbed vocals, so maybe I’ll have to try to get my hands on it one of these days.

Next up is the Original Broadway Cast Recording of Fiddler on the Roof.

Thanks, as always, Mike. Can't wait to see the new revival! Jeff

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