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Lullaby of Broadway: Classic Columbia, RCA Victor Cast Albums Collected in “Broadway in a Box”

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Curtain up!  Tomorrow, Sony’s Masterworks Broadway division will release Broadway in a Box: The Essential Broadway Musicals Collection, a 25-disc collection formatted similarly to the “Complete Albums” box sets arriving from sister label Legacy Recordings.  This impressive collection brings together the original cast recordings for 25 musicals recorded for Columbia Records, Arista Records and RCA Victor between 1949 (South Pacific) and 1987 (Into the Woods and a revival of Anything Goes).

Columbia Records’ commitment to the American musical began in 1946 when the label recorded the Broadway revival cast of Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II’s Show Boat; Columbia’s first cast recording of an original musical followed just one year later with Burton Lane and E.Y. “Yip” Harburg’s score to Finian’s Rainbow.  Although it was rival Decca Records that is generally credited with inventing the modern cast recording format with 1943’s Oklahoma!, Columbia established supremacy in the area thanks to the unwavering support of label head Goddard Lieberson.  Lieberson personally produced records of many of the most influential musicals of all time, from Finian’s through A Chorus Line in 1975.  One of Columbia’s closest competitors was RCA Victor, with that label beginning its stellar run of cast albums also in 1947, with Brigadoon, High Button Shoes, and Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Allegro.  When Columbia’s parent Sony merged with BMG in 2004, the deal unified arguably the two most important labels for Broadway theatre music.  Sony BMG ceased to be an ongoing concern in 2008 when Sony bought BMG’s 50-percent stake in the company, forming today’s Sony Music Entertainment and retaining all of the music acquired from BMG.

As all of the cast recordings contained in Broadway in a Box are currently in print from Masterworks Broadway, the box may be best as an introductory sampler for young fans and collectors, or for those who might not have purchased these recordings on CD before.  Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein are the most represented composers/lyricists on the box, with five recordings: RCA Victor’s 1965 Carousel revival starring original Billy Bigelow John Raitt; RCA’s 1964 The King and I revival starring Darren McGavin and Risë Stevens; RCA’s 1979 Oklahoma! with Laurence Guittard and Christine Andreas;  Columbia’s 1959 The Sound of Music starring Mary Martin; and Columbia’s 1949 South Pacific with Martin and Ezio Pinza.  The words of lyricist Hammerstein appear a sixth time via RCA’s 1966 Show Boat revival, with Barbara Cook.

Stephen Sondheim isn’t far behind his mentor Hammerstein with five shows included, too.  The reigning musical theatre master makes appearances via Columbia’s 1957 West Side Story (co-written with Leonard Bernstein, featuring Larry Kert, Carol Lawrence and Chita Rivera), 1959 Gypsy (co-written with Jule Styne, starring Ethel Merman and Jack Klugman), and 1970 Company (Dean Jones, Elaine Stritch), as well as RCA Victor’s 1979 Sweeney Todd (alas, the single-disc highlights version only, starring Angela Lansbury and Len Cariou) and 1987 Into the Woods (Bernadette Peters, Joanna Gleason).

After the jump: what else is in the set?  Which stars will you hear?  We have a full album listing and order link for you!

The late Marvin Hamlisch’s score to A Chorus Line, with lyrics by Ed Kleban, has been included, along with other recently-revived classics by Cole Porter (Anything Goes), Frank Loesser (How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, Guys and Dolls) and the team of John Kander and Fred Ebb (Cabaret, Chicago).  Charles Strouse and Martin Charnin’s Annie returns to Broadway in a new production this fall, and its original cast recording appears here.  Columbia’s landmark Broadway Cast Recording of My Fair Lady, written by Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe, is part of the set, as well as the same team’s Camelot.

Though one could quibble with some of the choices – why the 1966 Show Boat instead of Columbia’s very first cast album, the 1946 Show Boat?  Why RCA’s 1965 The King and I revival with Darren McGavin as the King rather than RCA’s 1977 one with Yul Brynner in his original role?  Why the highlights-only version of Sweeney Todd? – the set is, by and large, filled with some of the most beloved, classic musicals of all time.  Performers include Patti LuPone (Anything Goes), Nathan Lane (Guys and Dolls), Joel Grey (Cabaret), Chita Rivera (West Side Story, Chicago), Zero Mostel (Fiddler on the Roof), Carol Channing (Hello, Dolly!), Julie Andrews (My Fair Lady, Camelot) and Christine Ebersole (Oklahoma!).  In addition, the bonus tracks appended on Masterworks’ most recent CD reissues of titles including Cabaret, Gypsy, The Sound of Music, My Fair Lady and Annie have been retained.

Broadway in a Box is housed in a cube reminiscent of those designed for Legacy’s Complete Albums collections, although it appears to open from the top, lid-style, unlike the Legacy boxes.  Like those boxes, however, each album is included in a paper-sleeve mini-LP replica, and a 64-page booklet is included with all of the pertinent information as to each album, including an introduction, cast list, and track listings.  Peter Filichia provides the new notes.  One hopes this does well enough that Masterworks will consider similar sets, perhaps dedicated to a particular star or composer.  Nearly all of Stephen Sondheim’s Broadway cast recordings between 1957 and 1990 (save A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum and Follies) were released on Columbia and RCA Victor, so one could create a comprehensive portrait of Sondheim via such a collection.  Likewise, boxes could house Lerner and Loewe’s Broadway musicals between Brigadoon (1947) and Gigi (1973), all from the Columbia and RCA Victor libraries, and a strong sampling of Kander and Ebb’s works between Flora, the Red Menace (1965) and Steel Pier (1997) from Columbia, RCA Victor and Arista.  A deluxe Rodgers and Hammerstein box could represent each of the duo’s stage musicals (save the posthumous adaptation of State Fair) with a disc from the Columbia and RCA Victor archives.  And wouldn’t it be nice to see some of the titles previously released only as CD-Rs and digital downloads made available in a physical format in an appropriate box?  The possibilities are, indeed, great.

Broadway in a Box is available tomorrow, September 11, from Masterworks Broadway!

Various Artists, Broadway in a Box: The Essential Broadway Musicals Collection (Masterworks Broadway, 2012)

  1. Annie (Columbia, 1977) – Charles Strouse and Martin Charnin
  2. Anything Goes (Revival Cast) (RCA Victor, 1987) – Cole Porter
  3. Cabaret (Columbia, 1966) – John Kander and Fred Ebb
  4. Camelot (Columbia, 1960) – Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe
  5. Carousel (Revival Cast) (RCA Victor, 1965) – Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II
  6. Chicago (Arista, 1975) – John Kander and Fred Ebb
  7. A Chorus Line (Columbia, 1975) – Marvin Hamlisch and Ed Kleban
  8. Company (Columbia, 1970) – Stephen Sondheim
  9. Fiddler on the Roof (RCA Victor, 1964) – Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick
  10. Guys and Dolls (Revival Cast) (RCA Victor, 1992) – Frank Loesser
  11. Gypsy (Columbia, 1959) – Jule Styne and Stephen Sondheim
  12. Hair (RCA Victor, 1968) – Galt MacDermot, James Rado and Gerome Ragni
  13. Hello, Dolly! (RCA Victor, 1964) – Jerry Herman
  14. How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying (RCA Victor, 1961) – Frank Loesser
  15. Into the Woods (RCA Victor, 1987) – Stephen Sondheim
  16. The King and I (Revival Cast) (RCA Victor, 1964) – Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II
  17. Man of La Mancha (Revival Cast) (RCA Victor, 2002) – Mitch Leigh and Joe Darion
  18. My Fair Lady (Columbia, 1956) – Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe
  19. Oklahoma! (Revival Cast) (RCA Victor, 1979) – Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II
  20. Oliver! (RCA Victor, 1962) – Lionel Bart
  21. Show Boat (Revival Cast) (RCA Victor, 1966) – Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II
  22. The Sound of Music (Columbia, 1959) – Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II
  23. South Pacific (Columbia, 1949) – Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II
  24. Sweeney Todd (Highlights) (RCA Victor, 1979) – Stephen Sondheim
  25. West Side Story (Columbia, 1957) – Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim

Each title represented by composers/lyricists.

Written by Joe Marchese

September 10, 2012 at 14:45

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