April 2001 Film Music CD Reviews

Film Music Editor: Ian Lace
Founder Len Mullenger

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EDITOR’s CHOICE April 2001


Oklahoma! OST ANGEL CDC 5 27350 2 [76:42]
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Carousel OST ANGEL CDC 5 27352 2 [70:14]
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The King and I OST ANGEL CDC 5 27351 2 [75:57]
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[This is the first time these soundtracks have been issued on CD in this expanded format - all three albums contain over 30 minutes material never released before, including ballet sequences. Each album has a 34-page booklet with many stills and articles about the production of the films and the original Broadway stage productions]

I am tempted by the notion that if any of these three wonderful musical plays had been written in Paris or Vienna, they would have been termed operettas. I do not mean to be at all elitist in putting forward this idea, for they have undeniable universal appeal. I raise the point because of the sheer quality of inspiration here. Indeed when the first of them, Oklahoma! came to Broadway, back on March 31st 1943, it was recognised that a new, fresher approach to musical theatre had arrived with the songs that were relevant the plot, pushing it forward, enhancing a mood or atmosphere, depicting a location or fleshing out the play's characters. Take, for instance, Carousel and the romantic song, 'If I loved You' natural and sincere, with Julie (Shirley Jones) shy and tentative and Billy Bigelow (Gordon MacRae) more reluctant to surrender to tenderness. The fusion of words and music, as in so many of these songs, is inspired. Just listen to the prologue to Billy's part of the refrain. The poetry of: "… you can't even count the stars in the sky and the sky's so big the sea looks small; and two little people, you and I, we don't count at all.. (these words against an evocative orchestral lapping and rippling that turns slightly bickering as Billy complains about "the silliness" of men being in love before the music broadens out to underscore Billy's singing of the song's lovely refrain.) Then there is that inspired blending of two Carousel songs: the women's chorus that ends 'Stonecutters cut it on stone', with the girls complaining that "there's nothing so bad for a woman as a man who's bad or good", leading, so naturally, into Julie's beautiful 'What's the use of Wond'rin' made almost unbearably plaintive, because of the anticipation of Billy's tragic fate.

In Oklahoma! one admires how cleverly and accessibly three songs put the story into its historical context. In 'Kansas City' Will Parker (Gene Nelson) sings of all the modern wonders in Kansas like motor cars, telephones and pavements (sidewalks) with storm drains. And in the title song 'Oklahoma!', the whole cast celebrates the territory's accession into the Union (shortly after the turn of the 20th century); and in 'The Farmer and the Cowman (…should be friends)' one is made painlessly aware of the conflict that has ensued between the cattle rancher and the farmer over grazing and water rights.

For those of my generation who thrilled to these films screened in CinemaScope, our fond recollections are completed with the inclusion of the ballet music that was excluded from the original LPs. In the case of the Oklahoma! 'Out of My Dreams' ballet, this is a considerable addition with over ten minutes of music. One admires anew Rodgers' skill and panache as he weaves and blends whisps of dreams with nightmarish images, prompted by the oafish, sinister Jud Fry (Rod Steiger), besmirching the songs' high spirits and romance as they are pounded out hollowly on a saloon piano. In The King and I, there is the extra dimension of the exotic orchestrations and harmonies (tastefully and subtly employed) in such numbers as 'The March of the Siamese Children' and the amusing and charming 'The Small House of Uncle Thomas' (an oriental take on Uncle Tom's Cabin) with its enchanting children's choruses.

But it is of course the songs that matter. There were so many hits; one marvellous number after another; the words, more often than not, engraved upon our memories. For younger generations, they must surely be a revelation. From The King and I: 'I Whistle a Happy Tune'; 'Getting to Know You'; 'I Have Dreamed'; 'Something Wonderful' and 'Shall We Dance'. In Oklahoma!: the colourfully optimistic 'Oh, What a Beautiful Morning'; the courtly 'The Surrey with the Fringe on Top'; the exuberant 'Kansas City' and the foot-tapping 'The Farmer and the Cowman'; the shyly tender 'People Will Say We're in Love'; the sly, sardonic 'Poor Jud is Dead' and the naughty 'I Cain't Say No'; and the pique of 'Many a New Day'. But for me the jewel in the crown is Carousel -- one ravishing number tumbling after another: 'When I marry Mr Snow'; 'If I Loved You'; 'June is Bustin' Out All Over'; that wonderful 'Soliloquy in which Billy dreams of having a son before realising he might have to care for a daughter; 'When the Children Are Asleep'; 'A Real Nice Clambake'; 'What's the Use of Wondrin' (a song that never fails to bring a lump to my throat and a tear to my eye) and 'You'll Never Walk Alone' (what a pity it had to be commandeered by soccer enthusiasts).

Intriguingly, Shirley Jones comments in the Carousel booklet: "Carousel remains my favourite among all the shows Rodgers and Hammerstein have created, but the film didn't do it justice. It was not terribly good… I think that if it were made today; and I'm hoping that they might do a remake of it, it would have a totally different sensitivity to it." Interestingly, Didier C. Deutsch who has contributed excellent informative notes to the Oklahoma! and Carousel albums (besides co-producing all three), informs that Frank Sinatra was considered for the role of Billy Bigelow in Carousel but refused it when he learnt that he was expected to do the same scenes twice - one for the CinemaScope 55 process and the other for the standard 35mm film. Following her success in Oklahoma!, Shirley Jones was never in doubt as the preferred choice for the role of Julie Jordan. She commented, "I was quite excited when I found out initially that I was going to work with Frank Sinatra. I was a great fan of his as everybody was at the time…When he left I was disappointed, because I was really looking forward to working with him. I know I would have given an entirely different performance. With Gordon, I knew that it would be beautifully sung, and besides I had my leading man back."

Gordon MacRae, of course, was known principally for his roles opposite Doris Day in those popular frothy Warner Bros. musicals like On Moonlight Bay and By the Light of the Silvery Moon. Often unfairly dismissed as lightweight by unkind critics, these albums show him to have been a fine baritone, clear-voiced and most sensitive to Hammerstein's lyrics. Marni Nixon (who would go on to sing off-screen for Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady) provides a very appropriate singing voice for a well-cast Deborah Kerr in The King and I and Yul Brynner brings the required dignity and solemnity to his singing for The King. Applause is due too, for Alfred Newman's keen direction of the 20th Century Fox studio orchestra that is consistently first rate.

A welcome return to three very popular albums; now irresistible in their stunning 24-bit digital remastering and with much, much more music than in their original LP incarnation. Older admirers of Rodgers and Hammerstein need not hesitate. Younger generations should find them a revelation.

Ian Lace

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