Wednesday, April 3, 2024

Play It Again: My Fair Lady's "On the Street Where You Live"

Play It Again:
My Fair Lady's "On the Street Where You Live"

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’s edition considers four recordings of “On the Street Where You Live” from Lerner and Loewe’s My Fair Lady. One of Broadway’s most vivid statements of simple but exuberant devotion, this song bears a lot of the burden for making the secondary character of Freddy feel like a genuine alternative to Higgins in the pursuit of Eliza Doolittle’s affection. While Freddy isn’t exactly what you’d call a juicy character, two of these singers manage to squeeze a fair amount of flavor from this song, resulting in a very close race for my top pick.

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. (Once again this week I have declared a tie in the “singing” category.)

- YouTube

Freddy Eynsford-Hill: John Michael King

SINGING: King’s powerful but stolid delivery is very much in keeping with the character’s uncomplicated ardor, but there’s little sense of development throughout the song. Some of the later, more nuanced versions are just more satisfying to listen to.

ORCHESTRA: This is a typically lush, string-oriented Golden age orchestration. I love the leaping build-up to the middle eight; the spirited orchestral break and brassy ending are also very nice.

SOUND: This early stereo recording sounds fine in the orchestral sections, but is otherwise too voice-forward and many details get lost in the mix.

MISCELLANEOUS: The tempo is moderate, but probably features the most effective use of the dramatic pauses written into the song. Unlike the other versions, this one leaves out the introductory verse and dialog when Freddy comes to call on Eliza, probably due to the limitations on LP length.

- YouTube

Freddy Eynsford-Hill: Bill Shirley

SINGING: Shirley’s voice is a little thinner than King’s but more pliant, with some variation in dynamic level. However, this version still lacks the warmth and personality of the two later entries.

*ORCHESTRA: This is a very luxurious orchestration, as is expected for a film version of a classic musical. Several layers of melody and countermelody can often be heard in the string section, and the brass and woodwind ornamentation is very detailed.

SOUND: The aggressive stereo makes for a very striking “surround sound” feel in the orchestral passages, but the balance and separation between voice and orchestra isn’t the clearest, especially in the louder sections (such as the ending).

MISCELLANEOUS: This one does include the introductory verse and dialogue, but the song itself is truncated compared to all the other versions, lacking the orchestral break and final repeat.

- YouTube

Freddy Eynsford-Hill: Jerry Hadley

*SINGING: Hadley’s pure operatic power is unequaled, and happily it’s also wedded to a canny sense for the ebb and flow of Loewe’s melodies and Lerner’s words. Notice, at the end of the first section of the song, the natural-feeling shift from intensity (“several stories high”) to tenderness (“on the street where you live”). His delivery of the words “towering feeling” seems to manifest that exact image in vocal form.

ORCHESTRA: The London Symphony, of course, sounds wonderful, but also quite restrained, especially in the orchestral passage in the middle of the song.

SOUND: The sound is mostly clear and well-balanced, but becomes a little muddled at the very loudest parts, especially at the end of the song.

*MISCELLANEOUS: This version has the most relaxed pace, which I think is fitting for a song about savoring an unrushed moment of anticipation. The track includes the introductory dialogue and the full song with repeats.


Freddy Eynsford-Hill: Jordan Donica

*SINGING: Donica may not be the accomplished operatic tenor that Hadley was, but he comes close, and his very detailed performance does just as good a job in creating a character through song. He’s willing to break (very briefly) from vocal perfection for the sake of emotional impact, as in his judicious use of shout-singing on the word “towering,” and near-speaking on “no, it’s just on the street…” at the end of the second section. In addition, his relative restraint at the beginning of the song allows for a real sense of build-up as the song progresses.

ORCHESTRA: Similar, if not identical to, the original orchestrations (though we get to hear more of them).

*SOUND: This is one of the clearest, most well-balanced cast recordings I’ve heard in a long time. Orchestral details are discernable throughout, even in the louder passages, and the brassy ending sounds incredible. The stellar sound quality gives this version the edge over the 2007 studio recording.

MISCELLANEOUS: This version features, I think, the fastest tempo. It includes the same material as the studio recording, but with another bit of dialogue over the mid-song orchestral section, where Freddy expresses his willingness to wait weeks to see Eliza if necessary.

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