Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart's Babes in Arms, a musical about the children of vaudevillians who put on a show, ran for eight months on Broadway in 1937 and was loosely adapted into a 1939 movie starring Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney that retained only two songs from the score. For the most part, record companies were not recording original cast albums or original motion picture soundtracks in the 1930s, but several songs from Babes in Arms were recorded shortly after the show opened, with "Where or When" becoming a chart-topping hit and "The Lady Is a Tramp" also scoring in the charts. In later years, "My Funny Valentine" and "I Wish I Were in Love Again" joined the ranks of standards. In the early 1950s, Columbia Records and RCA Victor each produced studio cast versions of the show on 10" LPs (and, for what it's worth, the film soundtrack has turned up on vinyl as well). But it wasn't until New York's Encores! series of concert versions of vintage musicals revived Babes in Arms in 1999 that an opportunity for a real cast album came up. Encores! specializes in restoring original orchestrations, which in this case means that Hans Spialek's charts were heard for the first time since 1937. That helped with one of the challenges any revival of Babes in Arms faces: How to re-acquire those familiar songs from generations of nightclub performances by classic pop singers and make them sound fresh. Another advantage going back to the original score gave the revivers was that the songs are longer in their initial versions, with "Where or When," for example, having two introductory verses (for each part of what was a duet originally) that are not usually heard. But clinching the success of the production was the decision to follow the original idea of the show and cast it with new, young talent. Names like Erin Dilly, David Campbell, Melissa Rain Anderson, Christopher Fitzgerald, and Jessica Stone may not have rung any bells on opening night, but that enabled them to approach the material without the audience having any preconceptions. All those positive aspects of the revival carry over to the cast album. Snippets of dialogue and plenty of long-unheard ballet music rejoin the familiar tunes, along with some Rodgers & Hart obscurities that deserve to be better known, especially "All at Once," a song about the quick maturing of children, and the hilarious comparison between the West and New York, "Way Out West" ("on West End Avenue"), which contains lines like, "There's not much buffalo, but lots of bull." Meanwhile, songs like "My Funny Valentine" and especially "The Lady Is a Tramp" (with several extra verses) sound as good as ever. Rodgers & Hart usually are remembered for their songs, not their shows, but this recording of Babes in Arms goes a long way toward making a case for them as writers of whole musicals, while re-confirming the appeal of their tunes.
AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann