Hallelujah, Baby! [Original Cast Recording]

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It seems like a million years ago. On the late 20th century and early 21st century Broadway stage, where escapism -- or, at the very least, a plunge into a past that's at a distance of greater than arm's length -- is the recipe for huge success, it would be unimaginable to present a musical built around the state of black/white relations. (One is sure people would like to try it on a creative level, but where would one find the financial backers?) But well over 40 years ago, in 1967, there were Arthur Laurents, Jule Styne, Betty Comden, and Adolph Green, along with a cast led by Leslie Uggams and Robert Hooks with Allen Case, giving it their best effort on Hallelujah, Baby!, in the midst of many of America's cities breaking out in riots over this very subject. It won five Tony Awards, including Best Musical and Best Composer and Lyricist, and turned Leslie Uggams into a star -- but the reality is that Hallelujah, Baby! ran for just nine months (293 performances), and hasn't exactly loomed large in the memories of the average theatergoer since. The cast recording is actually probably stronger than the original book, which Laurents regarded as too soft in its approach -- and it holds up extremely well, with an exuberance that is still bracing 40-plus years later. Uggams, replacing Lena Horne (who was originally to have starred), is a fireball throughout, with a youthful energy that pours out of the speakers, and Robert Hooks' contributions are also welcomed. By the time this was done, Columbia Records had the making of cast recordings down to a science as well as an art, and still had all of its best engineers and producers on hand, and it shows on this vivid account of the score and the performances -- the original LP was of almost audiophile quality in its own time.

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