Different observers have blamed different people for the failure of the Broadway musical All American. It has been suggested that the veteran Joshua Logan was the wrong director, diluting the satiric intent of the show with inappropriate, old-fashioned stagecraft. It has been suggested that young TV comedy writer Mel Brooks' book was bad. Neither of those principals is directly featured in the music on the original Broadway cast album, which Columbia Records went ahead and recorded in the week after the March 19, 1962, opening, bad reviews notwithstanding, but front and center is composer Charles Strouse and lyricist Lee Adams' song score, which critics mostly liked. Strouse and Adams' first show together, Bye Bye Birdie, was about high school students, their parents, and a strange charismatic pop star who comes to visit their small Midwestern town. All American is about college students, their teachers, and a strange charismatic immigrant who comes to teach at their Southern college. The immigrant, East European Professor Stanislaus Fodorski, is played by rubber-legged actor/dancer Ray Bolger, only one part of whose talent can be suggested on disc, though his tap dancing is audible during "I'm Fascinating." That is one song clearly written for Bolger (it contains echoes of his hit "Once in Love with Amy" from Where's Charley?), as are "What a Country!" and "If I Were You." The songs are adequate vehicles for the star, but the rest of the score is actually pedestrian, with one gigantic exception. In the first act, Bolger and his love interest, the dean of women (Eileen Herlie), reminisce about young love in a duet called "Once Upon a Time." This nostalgic, autumnal song not only has a rapturously beautiful melody, but also lovely, poetic lyrics; it's the best song Strouse and Adams have ever written. But it is nearly thrown away here, as Bolger speak-sings his part and Herlie, a trained singer, oversings hers. (Happily, Tony Bennett recognized the song's quality and began the process of turning it into a standard by quickly recording a cover version.) Also, it's not clear that a song like this actually belongs here. (In fact, it was not written for the show, but came out of the songwriters' trunk.) It certainly outclasses everything around it. But maybe it also justifies the recording of the score of a Broadway flop by a major record label; All American is destined to be remembered as the musical from which "Once Upon a Time" came.
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AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann