Original Cast

The Best of Broadway: The Early '40s

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The fifth and final volume in Time-Life's truncated The Best of Broadway mail-order series considers the first half of the 1940s. (Previous volumes have covered the late '40s, early and late '50s, and early '60s.) While you might expect an album with the word "Broadway" in the title to restrict itself to music drawn from stage musicals, fully half of the selections here come from movie musicals. And while you might think that an album subtitled "The Early '40s" would contain music exclusively from that period, in fact three of the songs here date from earlier decades, even if the recordings themselves are '40s vintage. But truth-in-labeling aside, this is an excellent sampler of Broadway and Hollywood music from a period when both dominated popular music. It's hard to argue with a set that presents songs by such writers as George and Ira Gershwin, Cole Porter, Burton Lane, Kurt Weill, Harold Arlen, E.Y. Harburg, Irving Berlin, Richard Rodgers, Oscar Hammerstein II, Johnny Mercer, Leonard Bernstein, Betty Comden, and Adolph Green, among others, performed by Fred Astaire, Judy Garland, Mickey Rooney, Ethel Waters, Gene Kelly, Lena Horne, Bing Crosby, Mary Martin, and the Andrews Sisters, among others. One could quibble with the selections, but the main quibble would be that no 20-track, 67+-minute album could adequately represent so rich a five-year period. (That said, the most notable omissions are the Rodgers and Hart musical Pal Joey and, despite two selections, "Moonlight Becomes You" and "Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive," the under-representation of Bing Crosby, given his success during this period. On the other hand, such non-'40s songs as "Summertime" and "Stormy Weather" could have been left out.) Especially because the actual soundtrack recordings from the '40s films are only recently available (in those days, the stars would recut the songs for record release), it's a treat to hear them on disc. The Best of Broadway series is not a patch on the Metropolitan Opera's Original Cast! series covering the same period, and at $22.35 per disc (that includes shipping and handling), the albums are not cheap. But they do evoke the music of the era by using the actual recordings in reasonable fidelity.