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The History of the Musical
by Richard Fawkes
Read by Kim Criswell
100 musical excerpts
rec. 2001, Motivation Sound Studios, London
NAXOS NON-FICTION HISTORIES NA422712 [4 CDs: 79:26 + 79:12 + 78:40 + 77:40]

The musical is one of the great art forms of the 20th century. This 4-CD set, liberally illustrated, with both vintage and modern recordings excerpts, traces its history from its origins in light opera and operetta in Paris, Vienna and London through to its transformation in the hands of the great American song composers and lyricists. These included: George M. Cohan the father of the modern musical, and Jerome Kern whose Showboat, marked the coming of age of the musical; plus the classic stage and screen musicals of Irving Berlin, George Gershwin, Rodgers and Hammerstein and Lerner and Loewe etc. CD4 takes the story forward to today’s productions through the works of Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim, Lionel Bart and Andrew Lloyd-Webber.
The story begins with John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera produced in London in 1728, and we hear a short excerpt sung by Sylvia Nelis and Frederick Ranslow with an orchestra by Frederick Austin, recorded in 1919, of ‘Where I Laid on Greenland’s Coast’ with the tune instantly recognisable as ‘Over the Hills and Far Away’. The story continues, covering just about every significant composer and musical through to the company of Les Miserables singing ‘The People Song’. Along the way, especially for older listeners like myself, there are so many treasures, bringing a lump to the throat, a tear to the eye, on hearing long-forgotten recordings like Mary Ellis singing ‘I Can Give You the Starlight’ from Ivor Novello’s The Dancing Years, that concludes CD2 as the history approaches World War II. As Kim Criswell remarks “the war years saw the curtain ring down on the old romantic operetta-style musicals;” and of Mary Ellis she recalls, “sang with Caruso, and was the original Rose Marie. And she lived to see in the new millennium.”
Kim Criswell who starred in the title role of Annie Get Your Gun, belted out her songs, in the tradition of Ethel Merman, in Bernstein’s Wonderful Town and starred in so many other classic musicals such as Anything Goes and On the Town, is the committed and enthusiastic narrator.
A most enjoyable history that would have gained a place in my top recommendations for the year had it arrived sooner.
Ian Lace



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