Various Artists

Unsung Musicals: The Ultimate Collection

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A stage musical may fail for any number of reasons, but when it does, it takes everything -- the actors' performances, the choreography, the sets, the songs -- with it, and in the case of the music, that has meant, over the years, quite a body of good show tunes that went unrecorded. Producer Bruce Kimmel, on his three volumes of Unsung Musicals, aimed to rescue some of that music; this compilation presents the best of those collections, the first recordings of 18 songs from flop musicals of the 1960s to the 1990s. Often, the songwriters succeeded elsewhere, as names like Howard Ashman and Alan Menken (Little Shop of Horrors), Martin Charnin (Annie), Cy Coleman (Sweet Charity), Marvin Hamlisch (A Chorus Line), Mary Rodgers (Once Upon a Mattress), Charles Strouse and Lee Adams (Bye Bye Birdie), and Jule Styne and Bob Merrill (Funny Girl) suggest. Sometimes, the shows in question (which either never progressed beyond workshops or out-of-town tryouts, or closed quickly on Broadway) sound like good ideas. There is Sherry!, a musical version of the hilarious play The Man Who Came to Dinner, for example, which ran only 65 performances on Broadway, as well as La Strada, based, like Sweet Charity, on a classic Federico Fellini movie, which lasted only one performance. The presence of so many talented professionals results in songs that are of high quality and identifiably in a Broadway show tune style. Many of them sound like they could be taken out of their shows to become standards, since they often are articulate, melodic love songs. (No doubt Kimmel intended to find just such songs.) Of course, there are also some tracks that benefit from insider knowledge. The only instance in which the performer who actually sang the song on-stage also sings it here is Jodi Benson's "Disneyland" from Smile, and it may increase the listener's enjoyment to be aware that Howard Ashman, who details a love of Disneyland in his lyric, went on to write songs for animated movie musicals at Disney, starting with The Little Mermaid, the title character of which was voiced by Benson. These sorts of details are featured in the liner notes by Ken Mandelbaum, who knows his way around Broadway failures, having written the book Not Since "Carrie": 40 Years of Broadway Musical Flops. In addition to Benson (who also went on to Broadway success in Crazy for You), the singers include many talented Broadway and cabaret performers, such as Debbie Gravitte, Harry Groener, Judy Kuhn, and Michael Rupert, but special mention must be made of Christine Baranski's bravura reading of the Cole Porter-like lyric (courtesy of James Lipton) to "Sherry" and Liz Callaway's sensitive interpretation of the lullaby-like "New Words" from Maury Yeston's One, Two, Three, Four, Five. These are songs deserving of a second life, which is the whole point of the album.

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