This is the fifth in a series of studio cast recordings of Gershwin musicals sponsored by the Gershwin estate through its Roxbury Recordings label, as issued by Nonesuch. As with such previous efforts, like the 1990 recording of Strike Up the Band, Roxbury president Tommy Krasker has opted to "restore" Oh, Kay! not by trying to re-create what an original Broadway cast album might have sounded like if one had been made just after the show opened on November 8, 1926, but rather to gather together all of the available materials relating to the show and then assemble a composite version to his own satisfaction. In this case, that means this Oh, Kay! is probably closer to what preview audiences saw in Philadelphia than what the opening night crowd saw in New York. Krasker points out that the show ran long in tryout and that some of the early material was cut and some resequenced; he has restored songs like "The Moon Is on the Sea" and "When Our Ship Comes Sailing In" that were cut out of town and moved the hit ballad "Someone to Watch Over Me" back to the first act. What may matter more to modern listeners is the curious casting for the recording, a mixture of Broadway singers, opera singers, and actors. In 1955, when Goddard Lieberson made the first studio cast recording of Oh, Kay! at Columbia Records, he used the Broadway star Jack Cassidy in the leading male role of Jimmy Winter. Thirty-nine years later, Cassidy's son Patrick Cassidy, also a Broadway performer, is in this one, but in the relatively minor role of Larry Potter, which, however, does allow him to sing one of the better-known songs, the gospel rave-up "Clap Yo' Hands." If only he had been allowed to follow more closely in his father's footsteps. Instead, Jimmy is sung by opera singer Kurt Ollmann, who overdoes the part. His counterpart is another opera singer, Dawn Upshaw, playing the title character. Upshaw makes more of an effort to play the material than Ollmann, but she is still a more interested in her vocal quality than in her characterization. This is especially odd given that the role was written for the pitch-challenged Gertrude Lawrence. Along with the opera singers, however, are actors who can barely carry a tune. The contrast is greatest in "Ain't It Romantic," which Upshaw shares with actor Adam Arkin, who not only can't sing, but also is aggressively playing a gangster character. Maybe the dichotomy is supposed to be funny, but it's really just strange. The recording, thus, is worthwhile more as an academic exercise than for listening pleasure.
AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann