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Archive for May 9th, 2011

Back Tracks, In Memoriam: The Musical Legacy of Arthur Laurents

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The late Arthur Laurents wrote many of the most beloved musicals and films in entertainment history including West Side Story, Gypsy, The Way We Were and Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope.  He passed away on May 5, but today’s special Back Tracks celebrates this great writer’s legacy in music.

“If you have a good strong finish, they’ll forgive anything!”

So implores stage mother Madame Rose to her daughter Louise, the future Gypsy Rose Lee, in the 1959 musical Gypsy.  Rose’s bon mot was one of many priceless lines written by Arthur Laurents, and unsurprisingly, an incredibly true one.  Laurents, who died on May 5 at the age of 93, certainly had a good strong finish, directing the smash 2008 Broadway revival of Gypsy and following it in 2009 with an equally-successful production of his 1957 musical West Side Story.  But Arthur Laurents had amazing first and second acts, too, making his mark in the worlds of film, literature and most especially theatre.

Arthur was a true American original.  He wrote the timeless screenplay to The Way We Were, and was among the first to discover its star, Barbra Streisand.  He penned Rope for director Alfred Hitchcock, and was an Academy Award nominee for The Turning Point.  Laurents was a passionate advocate of the truth, and stood up to the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) at the height of the blacklist.  He directed and guided the original Broadway production of La Cage Aux Folles, recently revived to much success in New York.  His greatest legacies may be the books for two of the most significant musicals ever written: West Side Story, on which he collaborated with Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim, and Gypsy, with Sondheim and Jule Styne.   A librettist of a Broadway musical may have the most thankless task of any member of the creative team; his job is to create the words that will inspire a song to take flight – and in most cases, replace that original dialogue.  And Arthur was second to none in creating the characters and situations that allowed Stephen Sondheim, Leonard Bernstein and others’ melodies to soar.

Today’s special edition of Back Tracks looks at the musical world of Arthur Laurents through the original soundtracks and cast recordings of his the films and musicals he wrote.  (He also had success as a director; in addition to La Cage aux Folles, he was the original helmer of I Can Get It For You Wholesale, which introduced Barbra Streisand to the world in 1962.)  We’ll explore all of the many reissues of these timeless titles and let you know just where to find bonus tracks and additional material.  You can hit the jump below if you’d like to skip to that portion of our post, but in a break from tradition here at The Second Disc, I hope many of you will indulge me in a personal reminiscence about this most remarkable man and writer who was so mightily influential to me and many others.

Having grown up with many of the works mentioned above, your humble author found himself quite intimidated when first introduced to Arthur in the fall of 1999.  The occasion was the first day of rehearsals for the world premiere of Laurents’ revised version of Do I Hear a Waltz?  Arthur collaborated with Richard Rodgers and Stephen Sondheim on this 1965 musical based on his own play The Time of the Cuckoo (which in turn was adapted into David Lean’s film Summertime, starring Katharine Hepburn).  The original production was an unhappy experience for many of its creators, but Arthur was in high spirits when we began rehearsals that crisp fall morning at George Street Playhouse under the direction of David Saint.  I was assisting David, for the first but not the last time, and any nerves quickly evaporated that very day. Arthur was passionately dedicated to making this musical sing anew, sharply focusing his own text and always at the ready with a new line or bit of staging that would just make a scene click.  It was simply a joy getting new pages to type for the cast!  He charismatically and generously imparted the experience gained over 50 years in the theatre to all in attendance.  Even when I must have seemed like the green kid asking another question about what it was like to work with Richard Rodgers or Alfred Hitchcock, I was never turned away.   Arthur was fiendishly clever and unfailingly honest, with the best theatrical instinct I’ve ever encountered.  I considered Arthur a teacher; David was among those he mentored, and David, in turn, remains a treasured mentor of mine.  Like his frequent collaborator David, Arthur always led by example.  Our company was proud to be working with him on this important reclamation of a lost musical.

I was lucky enough to work with him again in the ensuing years, including on a new play, the cheekily-titled and decidedly contemporary The Vibrator, and to see him with semi-regularity at opening nights and other occasions.  I remember Arthur engaging audience members in the George Street lobby, greeting complete strangers like old friends.  He was far from shy, and his candor is legendary.  I can hear his hearty congratulations on each opening and also his incisive, sharp criticism when something wasn’t right.   Yet most of all I think of the joy he took in collaboration, the big hugs and bigger smiles, and his refusal to ever remain stagnant.  Energetic beyond his years, he was writing up until the very end of his life, and constantly inspiring with sheer tenacity and limitless vivacity.  He continually looked with new, critical eyes at projects acclaimed long ago, never content to rest on his well-earned laurels.  I learned from Arthur the importance of considering those people and those works which came before me, while still looking forward.  Arthur made good on his beliefs.  He established The Laurents-Hatcher Award, a $150,000.00 prize distributed annually to deserving young playwrights and named for Arthur and his late partner of 52 years, Tom Hatcher.

Arthur’s work and reputation will live on, thanks to the innumerable theatres who will continue to celebrate his life and art, and especially his beloved George Street Playhouse.  Each day, somewhere in the world, there will be a pushy lady making her way down the aisle with a dog and a hatpin admonishing “Sing out, Louise!” or a Maria holding her beloved Tony in her arms, praying the violence will stop.  But much like his characters, Arthur Laurents was larger than life.  I’ll always be grateful and privileged to have known this great man over the past twelve years, and will long cherish those misty watercolor memories of the way he was.

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Written by Joe Marchese

May 9, 2011 at 13:29

Twisted Sister Goes Back “Under the Blade”

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For years, fans of Twisted Sister have rightfully complained about the less-than-ideal treatment of the band’s catalogue on CD. Rhino Records, who’d have first crack at the band’s output for Atlantic Records, largely stayed away even after a great 25th anniversary deluxe edition of the band’s classic Stay Hungry, which yielded the metal-pop classics “I Wanna Rock” and “We’re Not Gonna Take It.” And recent releases through Eagle Rock Entertainment have been nothing more than straight reissues.

Now, however, Eagle Rock is coming through in a major way with a deluxe edition of the band’s debut album, 1982’s Under the Blade, at the end of the month. This CD/DVD set will feature a few great things that TS collectors have been waiting for: the album features the original track listing, mix and album sleeve as released by British label Secret Records (a 1985 Atlantic reissue added one track, “I’ll Never Grow Up, Now!”, and remixed the album), the CD debut of the Ruff Cuts EP, which featured three alternate versions of tracks from Blade and a cover of the The Shangri-La’s classic “Leader of the Pack” and a live track from the band’s performance at the famed Reading Festival in 1982. That performance is captured in full for the first time ever on the accompanying DVD, and features not only powerhouse performances from the band (with guest appearances from rock bassist Pete Way and Motörhead’s Fast Eddie Clarke and Lemmy Kilmister) but 40 minutes of new interview footage from the band regarding the record and the subsequent performance.

It looks like Eagle Rock may be the label to give Twisted Sister fans the deluxe sets they deserve. It’ll be out on May 31 and the track list is after the jump.

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Written by Mike Duquette

May 9, 2011 at 12:42

UMe Declares WAR

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You probably knew this already, based on the presence of an ICON title for the legendary funk group WAR, but Universal Music Enterprises has acquired the rights to their back catalogue. And it looks like they may be gearing up to do some stuff with it.

The label issued a press release last week in honor of the band’s 40th anniversary year, detailing a few notable bits of info about the band’s plans to celebrate. While the band will be touring and working on a new album – their first since 1994’s Peace Sign – of interest to catalogue fans is the digital debut of three WAR albums – 1979’s The Music Band and The Music Band 2, originally released by MCA, and 1997’s Colección Latina compilation, released on Avenue Records, which previously controlled the band’s back catalogue (through distribution by Rhino).

Also, anyone who likes WAR’s new official Facebook page before May 10 gets a free download of the track “War is Coming! War is Coming!” from the group’s 1977 album Platinum Jazz.

Of course, we’ll report if any more WAR catalogue releases or expansions are in the pipeline. Hit the jump for the track lists and U.S. iTunes links for the newly-digitized albums. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Mike Duquette

May 9, 2011 at 11:14

Another Chance to Visit Dave Grusin’s “Mulholland Falls”

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One year before Curtis Hanson made film noir hip again with LA Confidential, director Lee Tamahori and screenwriter Pete Dexter proved that there was still a lot of life in the old form.  They assembled an all-star cast led by Nick Nolte, Chazz Palminteri, Jennifer Connelly and John Malkovich for Mulholland Falls.  The production was top-notch, with the legendary Haskell Wexler (In the Heat of the Night, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, The Thomas Crown Affair) signed as cinematographer, and jazz icon Dave Grusin enlisted as composer.  Grusin’s score is now getting the expanded deluxe treatment courtesy of Kritzerland as a new, limited edition CD of only 1,000 copies.

Grusin’s distinguished film career began in 1967 with Norman Lear’s Divorce American Style and Mike Nichols’ The Graduate.  He established himself as a master of numerous styles, and Oscar rewarded him frequently with nominations for Tootsie, The Fabulous Baker Boys, The Firm, Heaven Can Wait, On Golden Pond and more; he took the coveted prize home for 1988’s The Milagro Beanfield War.  Grusin has maintained a parallel career as a jazz musician, and co-founded GRP Records in 1978.  He’s also contributed arrangements to artists of all genres, including Billy Joel, Paul Simon and Sergio Mendes.

Grusin has been the deserving recipient of a lot of reissue love lately, between Varese’s The Goonies and Kritzerland’s A Dry White SeasonMulholland Falls is a worthy addition to any film score fan’s library, and the new edition bests the out-of-print Edel CD which regularly fetches upwards of $35.  The sound has been improved thanks to a new remastering, and never-before-released additional cues and alternates are present.

Mulholland Falls is available for pre-order here and is scheduled to ship the third week of June, but pre-orders from Kritzerland usually arrive an average of four weeks early.  The cost is $19.98 plus shipping.  Hit the jump for the label’s press release plus the track listing! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

May 9, 2011 at 10:24

Posted in News, Reissues, Soundtracks

Erasure LPs Get a Little Respect on CD/DVD Sets

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It wasn’t easy for Vince Clarke when he set out to form his latest project in 1986. The synth-playing songwriter had a lengthy amount of credits to his name in the previous five years, including the first album by Depeche Mode (of which he was a founding member), two albums with singer Alison Moyet as the synthpop duo Yazoo and a collaboration with producer Eric Radcliffe under the name The Assembly.

When he put out an ad in Melody Maker for a singer for a new project, though, lightning struck once more when Andy Bell, a young man working in a meatpacking plant, answered his ad. With a rich tenor similar in tone to Moyet, the duo began working as Erasure, with Clarke’s usual synth mastery nicely complementing Bell’s vocals. Although audiences were slow to pick up on the band – debut album Wonderland (1986) only dented the U.K. Top 75 and spun off no Top 40 singles – their sophomore record, The Circus (1987) was a smash hit, going Top 10 in the U.K. and yielding four hits, including the Top 10 tracks “Sometimes,” “Victim of Love” and the title track. (It was only the beginning of the band’s most successful period, though; their next four albums through 1994 would top the U.K. charts and third album The Innocents (1988) gave the group their biggest chart success with “Chains of Love” and the gorgeous “A Little Respect.”)

Erasure have gotten the deluxe treatment before; four box sets of the band’s singles were released in 2000 and 2001, and 2009 saw The Innocents remastered and expanded for its 21st anniversary. Now, on July 4 in the U.K., Wonderland and The Circus will receive the same deluxe treatment, presenting each remastered album and scores of extra material on CD and DVD across two CDs and a DVD. Unreleased material includes BBC sessions and a 1986 concert film; the 1987 concert Live at the Seaside also makes its DVD debut, having been released on VHS some years ago.

Both are available for pre-order at Amazon as well as through the band’s official fan club, the Erasure Information Service, which will offer exclusive bundles featuring a limited edition slipcase and T-shirt for each album. The full breakdown is after the jump.

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Written by Mike Duquette

May 9, 2011 at 10:05

Posted in Erasure, News, Reissues