Eddie Bracken / Carol Channing

Archy and Mehitabel; Echoes of Archy; Carnival of the Animals

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AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann

DRG Records continues to comb through the Columbia Records vaults for children's material, and this reissue combines two delightful works featuring musical theater performers that first saw release in the 1950s. Don Marquis wrote a series of fanciful stories supposedly recited by a cockroach who typed them on a typewriter by jumping from key to key. The cockroach was named archy, and he was obsessed with a cat named mehitabel (he couldn't be expected to capitalize anything, under the circumstances). Joe Darion (later the lyricist of Man of La Mancha) and composer George Kleinsinger adapted the stories into the musical recitation "archy and mehitabel," narrated by actor David Wayne, with Broadway star Carol Channing playing mehitabel and film star Eddie Bracken as archy; "echoes of archy" added some more stories. Archy is something of a philosopher, and he is always trying to rehabilitate mehitabel, an alley cat who acts like one. The performers had fun with the material, which in 1957 was adapted into a Broadway musical, Shinbone Alley, featuring Bracken. DRG has filled out the reissue to CD length by adding a version of French composer Camille Saint-Saëns' wonderful suite "Le Carnaval des Animaux," played by Andre Kostelanetz & His Orchestra. The work, written in 1886, but not published until a year after Saint-Saëns' 1921 death, has had a set of silly two-line poems added to it by Ogden Nash that characteristically fracture the language for this English version, "The Carnival of the Animals," and they are even funnier coming out of the mouth of Noël Coward in an upper-class British accent. "If you think the elephant preposterous," he intones, "You've probably never seen a rhinos-terous." And so on. Classical music fans of the suite may frown, but children of the 1950s must have loved it, and children of the 21st century should, too.

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