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Richard RODGERS (1902-1979) South Pacific (1949)
Original 1949 Broadway Cast, Chorus & Orchestra/Salvatore Dell’Isola Oklahoma! (1943)
Original 1943 Broadway Cast, Chorus & Orchestra/Jay Blackton
Orchestrations: Robert Russell Bennett ALTO ALN1964 [77:59]
“Two Original Broadway Classics” reads the header on the cover of this issue, and nothing could be truer. Classics indeed they are and have remained in Broadway musical lovers’ memory ever since the 1940s when they were created. A lot of the melodies are established as evergreens in the Great American Song Book and will be recognized by millions of listeners, some of whom probably didn’t have the slightest idea that they emanated in these two shows. And isn’t it a special treat to hear the original recordings? Especially since the sound in Paul Arden-Taylor’s remastering is so eminently listenable. The orchestrations are by the ever reliable Robert Russell Bennett and they not only convey an agreeable period flavour but are also by and large rather timeless.
They are here for some reason presented in reversed order, but those who want to hold strictly to the chronology need only use the programming facility of the CD-player. Incidentally Oklahoma! was the first Broadway show that was recorded almost complete on 78s. That was in 1943. In 1949 when South Pacific was premiered, that was more or less the rule.
The short overtures are of the potpourri kind, exposing snippets from the best-known numbers. The South Pacific music opens with the young Barbara Luna in the role as Emile de Becque’s (Ezio Pinza) daughter singing Dites-Moi, prettily and innocently. Then we meet Mary Martin, by 1949 an established musical artist, as Nellie Forbush, singing A Cock-eyed Optimist. She took the same role in the London production as well. Ms Martin is excellent throughout the performance. Gonna Wash that Man Right Outta my Hair is one of the real highlights, as is A Wonderful Guy. Ezio Pinza, Italian operatic bass with a long international career behind him, including many years at the Metropolitan Opera, was at the time 57 but he had retained his warm, velvety voice in mint condition. His reading of Some Enchanted Evening is a classic and one must admire his soft end – OK, he sings the final note in falsetto – but so beautifully! The chorus show their mettle in a swinging Bloody Mary and a cheeky There’s Nothing like a Dame, before Bloody Mary herself appears, in the shape of Juanita Hall, singing a fruity Bali Ha’I. Hall was awarded a Tony for this role. William Tabbert (misspelt on the back cover and the tracklist) sings really beautifully in Younger than Springtime and Juanita Hall delivers a bubbling Happy Talk and before the finale Pinza seduces the audience with a warm, inward This Nearly was Mine This score really overflows with delectable songs.
Oklahoma! may not be quite as profuse, but there are still several memorable tunes and the excellent Alfred Drake rips off two of the best known immediately after the overture. His beautiful baritone is heard to best advantage in the show-stopping Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’ but he is just as apt in a vital Surrey With the Fringe on Top. Lee Dixon, who was also a dancer, sings attractively in the marching Kansas City. The two leading ladies, Joan Roberts as Laurey and Celeste Holm as Ado Annie, were both born in 1917 – and thus in their mid-20s – and they both passed away as recently as 2012, but whereas Ms Roberts’s career was practically over after Oklahoma!, Ms Holm was much in demand for film roles – she won an Oscar for Gentleman’s Agreement in 1947 – and appeared on TV until 2004. Celeste Holm, Ado Annie is pert and lively in I Cain’t Say No, though not always so well-tuned, whether deliberately or not I can’t tell. Joan Roberts is far better in that respect in Many A New Day and the nice Out of my Dreams in ¾ time. She is also a worthy partner to Drake in the well-known People Will Say We’re In Love. This song and Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’ are reprised in the finale, bringing the story to a happy end after some tragic complications.
Hi-fi buffs may not be immediately attracted by this issue but everyone with an interest in Broadway musicals should lend an ear to these classic recordings.