Angela Lansbury

Legends of Broadway

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Angela Lansbury appeared in five Broadway musicals between 1964 and 1979, and she won the Tony Award for best actress in four of them. The only time she didn't win was the first, Anyone Can Whistle, and that's forgivable. They don't give awards to shows that only run nine performances. But for Mame, Dear World (also a commercial failure, but with 132 performances), a revival of Gypsy, and Sweeney Todd, Lansbury swept the competition, and this album helps show why. Masterworks Broadway, drawing upon the catalogs of Columbia and RCA Victor due to the Sony BMG merger, is able to assemble material from all five cast albums on a compilation that constitutes the first disc ever credited to Lansbury by name. Although she had sung in one of her earliest motion pictures, The Picture of Dorian Gray, back in 1945, Lansbury stuck to non-singing roles and largely to film until songwriter Stephen Sondheim and librettist Arthur Laurents persuaded her to take on the experimental Anyone Can Whistle at the age of 38. Despite flopping, it showed songwriter Jerry Herman what she could do, and soon she was singing "If He Walked into My Life" as the title character of Mame. Herman's Dear World, a musical version of the play The Madwoman of Chaillot, gave her songs of the caliber of "I Don't Want to Know," even if it didn't work on-stage. Lansbury threw herself into Laurents, Sondheim, and Jule Styne's Gypsy, first in London, then on tour in the U.S., and finally on Broadway, making a role written for Ethel Merman her own. Then, her native British charm made the evil Mrs. Lovett appealing and funny in Sondheim's Sweeney Todd, even as she baked the main villain's victims into meat pies. It's a varied collection of characters, and the album is equally various. Lansbury is very much a musical actress, singing her songs in character, which can make the transitions -- from the madwoman singing "And I Was Beautiful" to the belligerent Momma Rose of "Some People," then from the feisty "Rose's Turn" to the effervescent and immoral Mrs. Lovett of "The Worst Pies in London" -- big turning points on the album. But the singer is convincing in each role. Since the CD runs less than 56 minutes (and since the concluding "Not While I'm Around," beautiful as it is, is not really a showcase for Lansbury, who barely sings along with Ken Jennings), it's hard not to mourn the absence of some other songs that might have been included -- for instance, "Me and My Town" from Anyone Can Whistle, "Open a New Window," "We Need a Little Christmas," and "Bosom Buddies" from Mame, "Mr. Goldstone" from Gypsy, and "God, That's Good!" from Sweeney Todd. Also, it should be noted that the album is not a comprehensive Lansbury best-of, lacking as it does such highlights of her singing career as the title song from the movie Beauty and the Beast. But that is not to disparage what is here, a series of recorded performances that more than justify the quartet of Tonys on her mantelpiece.

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