John Cranko, who conceived the British musical revue Cranks, was a choreographer, but he also wrote lyrics for the show's songs with composer John Addison. Yet his greatest contribution may have been in the casting of the four-hander, which featured Annie Ross, Anthony Newley, Hugh Bryant, and Gilbert Vernon. Ross was known as a jazz singer with a theatrical background, while Newley had appeared in a string of films, but never sung professionally before. It must have been the staging and the chemistry between the performers that gave the show its charm. Opening in the West End on March 1, 1956, it ran for 223 performances. Then, the entire production decamped for Broadway, where a November 26, 1956, opening led to only 40 performances. It's not surprising that the transfer across the Atlantic didn't work. The musical residue heard on the cast album reveals that Cranko occasionally aspires to the wordplay and wit of Noël Coward, but he rarely succeeds. Much of the time, the pedestrian songs rely on the engaging performances of Ross and Newley, along with Bryant, who handles the bluesy material. (Vernon, a ballet dancer, doesn't make much of an impression on the cast album.) Those performances are engaging, and Newley in particular shows off a virtuosity that would stand him in good stead later in his career. But as a purely musical work, Cranks is unmemorable.
AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann
feat: Anthony Newley
feat: Annie Ross