Wednesday, March 20, 2024

Play It Again: South Pacific's "I'm In Love With a Wonderful Guy"

PLAY IT AGAIN: “I’m In Love With a Wonderful Guy” 

For this new series, Jeff has invited me to choose some classic Broadway show tunes and compare versions of these songs from several different cast recordings. Wherever possible, I’ll link to the songs on YouTube, where I listen to most of them myself.

This week I compare five versions of “I’m in Love with a Wonderful Guy” from
Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific. Finding herself on an exotic island at the height of the war, American nurse Nellie Forbush exults in her newfound love for a distinguished French man despite his questionable past. As you can see, this role and this song have been blessed with the unique talents of five legendary performers (actually more than that, since you can also find recordings out there featuring Kiri Te Kanawa and several other leading ladies). For pure listening pleasure, I’m happy to recommend each of these fine recordings; choosing my favorite in each category, and the big winner, was a particular challenge this week.

My overall favorite version is marked with two stars (**); one star (*) is used to indicate that a particular version stands out in terms of singing, orchestra, sound, or other miscellaneous qualities. (Note that there’s a tie in the “singing” category this time around.)

- YouTube

Nellie Forbush: Mary Martin

*SINGING: Martin’s famously pure voice really shines in this song. Her singing is classically beautiful, but with personality to spare and lots of variety. There are passages that are perfectly smooth and others that are notably clipped, and relatively quiet passages that develop into jubilant shout-singing when she reaches the title words.

ORCHESTRA: The orchestration is quite brassy throughout, which doesn’t seem quite as appropriate as the breezier orchestrations heard on a couple of the other versions below. The introductory verse especially calls for something a little more supple. The energetic dance break does sound great, though.

SOUND: This pre-stereo, pre-Lieberson recording can’t compete with later versions, with much more distortion than we’re used to with LPs from the mid-1950s and onward. The orchestra is also very quiet.

MISCELLANEOUS: This one has the slowest tempo (judging by the length of the track) but doesn’t drag in any perceptible way. (There’s not a whole lot I’ll be saying in this category, to be honest. Usually there are some significant differences in tempo, in what is included on the recording, or in the actual words and music, but not this time.)

- YouTube

Nellie Forbush: Mitzi Gaynor

SINGING: Gaynor’s voice isn’t as dynamic or intense as Martin’s, but she does create a unique, vulnerable personality with her sometimes breathy (or breathless) delivery. The end is a bit of a let-down; her voice merges completely with the chorus rather than standing out against it.

*ORCHESTRA: As I’ve noted before, movie soundtracks often have an advantage in this area, with greater resources in terms of time and personnel, and that’s definitely true here. But I also simply like the mellower, less brass-centered approach. I especially enjoyed the dark, somewhat exotic touches in the verse. 

SOUND: Fairly clear, and balanced, but a little distant and flat compared to some later recordings.

MISCELLANEOUS: The tempo sounds quite brisk.

- YouTube

Nellie Forbush: Florence Henderson

SINGING: Henderson’s voice is very pleasant throughout, but probably with the least variety in her vocal style; consequently, her characterization is not especially detailed. At least until the very end, where her zesty repetition of “I’m in love!” over the chorus makes for the best finale of the bunch.

ORCHESTRA: Kind of a middle-ground between the film soundtrack and the Broadway orchestration, it’s mostly string-oriented, with brass and woodwind for color. The brass does take over in the dance break, but it’s not overwhelming. 

*SOUND: Very clear and perfectly balanced; orchestral details are beautifully preserved.

MISCELLANEOUS: Moderate in tempo. 

- YouTube

Nellie Forbush: Reba McEntire

SINGING: McEntire, it goes without saying, brings her own delightful style to the song. There are some noticeable limitations in terms of enunciation and breath control, but it’s hard to compare this version to the others, which were recorded in a studio rather than on stage.

ORCHESTRA: Quite similar to both of the Broadway versions (original and revival).

SOUND: Quite good; clear and balanced.

MISCELLANEOUS: Probably the fastest version, or at least it gives that impression. This is a live recording, with a few stray noises and audience applause at the end.


Nellie Forbush: Kelli O’Hara

*SINGING: Although O’Hara at first seems more restrained than Martin, she reaches similar heights as the song progresses. The verse and beginning of the song itself are quite reserved, but she builds nicely to full-throated exultation when she finally declares that she’s in love. I like her self-deprecating vocal touches on individual words (like “conventional” and “trite”), and the chorus-backed finale is almost as vivid as Henderson’s.

ORCHESTRA: Similar to the original and Carnegie Hall recordings, i.e., a little brass-intensive for my taste.

SOUND: The balance between singer and orchestra is good, but the overall impression is a bit flat, with some orchestral details lost in the mix.

*MISCELLANEOUS: This one is the fastest by track length, but it didn’t seem rushed at all.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...