Lyricist/librettist Kenward Elmslie and composer Claibe Richardson, the team that had written the 1971 Broadway musical The Grass Harp, reunited 11 years later for the musical Lola. The show, based the life of 19th century dancer Lola Montez, who counted Franz Liszt, Alexandre Dumas Père, and King Ludwig I of Bavaria among her lovers, was produced off-off-Broadway by the York Theatre Company ("off-off-Broadway" is defined as a New York theater with fewer than 100 seats) beginning on March 24, 1982, but it never transferred to off-Broadway (up to 499 seats), much less Broadway, and thus did not earn an original cast recording. Painted Smiles Records redressed that injustice in 1985 by recording this studio-cast version of the score, which includes Jack Dabdoub of the original cast and stars Judy Kaye as Lola Montez, with David Carroll doubling as two different suitors and Christine Andreas as a literal mirror image of Lola. Richardson's music is influenced by Stephen Sondheim (particularly Follies and A Little Night Music), while Elmslie's lyrics have witty moments and are at very least serviceable. The action, following Montez's peripatetic life, moves from various locations in Europe to California in the gold-rush days, and the musical styles reflect the changing settings. On record, the songs seem to break down into the men's pledges of love to Lola and their expressions of jealousy on the one hand, and her own reflections on her romantic life on the other. The album is well sung, but the subject matter seems to suggest a more impressive work than it has inspired here. The CD reissue added a bonus recording of the score's best song, "Beauty Secrets," by Barbara Cook, taken from another Painted Smiles album, Kenward Elmslie Visited, and sung with Cook's usual distinction.
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AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann