Various Artists

Original Cast! 100 Years of the American Musical Theater: The Forties

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These two volumes, of two CDs each, are absolutely splendid compendiums of American musical theater material, all of it as vital musically as it is historically. There's a lot that's familiar here, including On the Town, Oklahoma, Annie Get Your Gun, Kiss Me, Kate, and other works that have ingrained themselves in the American consciousness, but represented with them are also works like Harold Rome's Call Me Mister, a topical show aimed at postwar audiences (highlighted by Betty Garrett's performance of "South America, Take It Away" and Lawrence Winters' poignant "The Red Ball Express"), Raymond Scott and Bernard Hanighen's Lute Song (based on a 15th-century Chinese play), Carl Sigman and Bob Hilliard's Angel in the Wings, High Martin's Look Ma, I'm Dancin' (featuring Nancy Walker doing "I'm the First Girl in the Second Row"), Arthur Schwartz and Howard Dietz's Inside USA (with Beatrice Lillie and Jack Haley), and Kurt Weill and Maxwell Anderson's Lost in the Stars. The annotation on both sets is well-written and engaging, yet staggering in its detail. Much more important, the excerpting is nigh-on-perfect -- one gets a solid, even legendary performance, and enough of a sampling of each show not to feel cheated in any way. As with other parts of this Met series, the makers have drawn from several labels' archives in most impressive fashion. The 44 songs have also been remastered very cleanly and carefully.