British reissue label Sepia Records takes advantage of the 50-year copyright on recordings in Europe to present its own unlicensed version of a musical adaptation of Hansel and Gretel originally released on an LP in 1958 on this CD compilation. That is, one-half of that LP, MGM Records E-3690, is included, along with other material. On April 27, 1958, the NBC-TV network broadcast a live production of the Brothers Grimm's fairytale with a script by Yasha Frank and songs by William Engvick (lyrics) and Alec Wilder (music), starring Red Buttons and Barbara Cook in the title roles. The MGM LP contained an abbreviated 22-minute recording-studio adaptation of the hour-long TV musical, not a soundtrack recording of it, with Buttons supplying a narration and a reduced cast performing the songs. (For example, opera singer Risë Stevens, who had played the mother, was absent, and Cook sang her number, "Evening Song [Soft Through the Woodland]," instead.) As it was, it occupied only the first side of the album, with the second side given over to a symphonic treatment of the more familiar version of Hansel and Gretel composed by Engelbert Humperdinck. That recording is not included on this CD, but the disc is filled out to a 76-minute length with extras, starting with five songs from a 1957 TV version of the Gilbert & Sullivan light opera The Yeomen of the Guard, also featuring Cook, as well as Alfred Drake and Celeste Holm, plus 16 tracks taken from '50s solo recordings by the Hansel and Gretel principals, Buttons, Cook, Stubby Kaye, and Rudy Vallée. The tracks from The Yeomen of the Guard sound like demos, with the singers accompanied only by a piano, not the orchestra conducted by Franz Allers that played on the TV broadcast. Typically witty and tuneful Gilbert & Sullivan songs, they provide a considerable contrast with the musical children's story they follow. The extra tracks, which actually make up the majority of the disc, take the collection in yet another direction, namely toward the novelty pop of the early '50s. The four songs from two Red Buttons singles of 1953, two of which actually made the Top 20, are in effect comedy routines set to music; Buttons, who was then a TV star with his own show, cracks jokes and orchestrates the laughter of an audience, probably canned. The four Stubby Kaye numbers, also culled from two singles cut in 1953, are more in the musical novelty category. Made in London when Kaye was appearing in the West End production of Guys and Dolls, they exploit his abilities as a comic actor, as opposed to Buttons, an outright comedian. The seven Vallée tracks all come from a 10" LP he recorded for Capitol Records (catalog number T-550) that was released in 1954; accompanied by arranger/conductor Billy May, he re-records some of his greatest hits and tackles other appropriate material in a winning style. But the most welcome inclusion for musical theater fans is the rare single "That Girl," written for the stage play The Seven Year Itch and performed by Eddie Bracken, who replaced Tom Ewell in the Broadway production. Bracken is accompanied by Cook, portraying the sex-kitten part later essayed by Marilyn Monroe in the film version (even though Cook was not in the play). It's a pleasant, minor effort, but any Barbara Cook rarity is worth unearthing.
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AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann