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Anna Maria Alberghetti & Deanna Durbin/Gloria Jean/Jane Powe - Anna Maria Deanna Gloria Jane
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  • Among American musicals of the 1920s, Rudolf Friml's Rose-Marie made the most money and Jerome Kern's Show Boat was the most important, but neither had Original Broadway Cast albums, because the vogue for such recordings didn't arrive until 20 years later. Another decade on, in the '50s, major record labels like RCA Victor had hit on the idea of creating their own cast LPs of such vintage shows without bothering to mount stage productions, instead hiring a bunch of prominent singers and doing it all in the recording studio. Thus, RCA had Broadway conductor Lehman Engel wield the baton for a version of Show Boat in 1956 for which opera stars Robert Merrill, Patrice Munsel, and Ris‰ Stevens took the vocal parts, and in 1958, the label dispatched Engel to London so that Julie Andrews, then appearing in the West End in My Fair Lady, could join opera singer Giorgio Tozzi and some stars of the British stage in a version of Rose-Marie. Now, those recordings have fallen out of copyright in Europe, which allows Flare Records to combine the two LPs on this unlicensed CD. (That is, most of the two LPs: although there is no acknowledgment in the packaging, Flare has deleted several minor songs from the Show Boat recording to fit the two collections on one CD.) First up is Rose-Marie. Although the title character is supposed to be partially a Native American who speaks pidgin English (witness her song "Lak Jeem," i.e., "Like Jim"), Andrews makes no attempt to accommodate that characterization. Indeed, while she follows the occasionally fractured syntax of the lyrics, she sings in the same clipped, upper-class English accent that Eliza Doolittle learned from Professor Henry Higgins in My Fair Lady. That's just an indication that there isn't any real effort at character realism here. The singers simply try to sing the score as well as they can, and that turns out to be very good, with Tozzi teaming with her successfully on "Indian Love Call" and other roles played by such effective performers as the comic Meier Tzelniker and Frances Day ("Hard-Boiled Herman," "Why Shouldn't We") as well as Marion Keene ("Totem Tom-Tom"). But this is largely a showcase for Andrews. The dominant performer on the Show Boat highlights, on the other hand, is Merrill, in part because he's on the disc so much, not only playing the male lead, Gaylord Ravenal, but also switching characters to portray Jim and sing "Ol' Man River." For that song, he tries for a dialect that is sufficiently embarrassing to make the listener long for Andrews' earlier refusal to take the same approach. But he sings well, managing a good compromise between his opera training and a show music style. So do Munsel and Stevens, making this a good recording that deserved to be heard in full instead of being abridged. ~ William Ruhlmann
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