As the Original Broadway Cast albums of the great musicals fall out of copyright in Europe after 50 years (the copyright term is much longer in the U.S.), British record companies are simply making transfers from the old records and putting out their own unlicensed versions of the recordings. With the greater amount of time available on a CD, some labels (notably Prism Leisure) are adding bonus tracks in the form of pop recordings of songs from the shows or other material; Living Era's practice is to combine the contents of two old LPs on one new CD, and thus there have been discs devoted to Annie Get Your Gun/Kiss Me Kate, Carousel & South Pacific, Finian's Rainbow/Brigadoon, Guys and Dolls/Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, The King and I/Kismet Oklahoma!/Show Boat. Some of these combinations work better than others as unified listening experiences, but none of them is as odd as this juxtaposition of lyricist/librettist Alan Jay Lerner and composer Frederick Loewe's Paint Your Wagon and Cole Porter's Can-Can, the contrast between a rustic American Western setting and a sophisticated urban tale set in Paris. (It would have made much more sense to pair Paint Your Wagon with another Western, Annie Get Your Gun, and Can-Can with another Porter work, Kiss Me, Kate, or as rival Sepia Recordings did in 2005, with the British musical Wedding in Paris.) Lerner & Loewe, who had achieved Broadway success in 1947 with Brigadoon and then separated, reunited for 1951's Paint Your Wagon, a musical set in the days of the California Gold Rush. Lerner's original book concerned a prospector and his daughter in a boom town, and it was a rambling effort that underwent so many changes during the pre-Broadway tryouts that the synopsis printed on the back cover of the Original Broadway Cast album incorrectly stated that the prospector died at the end (a mistake repeated by Peter Dempsey in his liner notes to this reissue). The show was generally well thought of, but by 1951 and a run of 289 performances which it enjoyed, wasn't necessarily enough to guarantee a profit, and it in fact closed at a loss. Happily, the strongest part of the project is the Lerner & Loewe score, which includes not only "I Talk to the Trees," "They Call the Wind Maria," and "Wand'rin' Star," the songs for which it is remembered, but also the stirring, scene-setting "I'm on My Way," the humorous "What's Goin' on Here?" (in which the prospector's teenage daughter muses about the peculiarities of being the only female in a town of 400 men), and the sly "In Between," no doubt written to the talents of vaudeville star James Barton, playing the part of the prospector. All of those songs are on this album along with some other worthy ones, taking up the first 13 tracks of the disc. Despite being underrated upon its Broadway opening on May 7, 1953, Can-Can represented a late triumph for Cole Porter, eventually enjoying the second longest run of any Porter show at 892 performances (Kiss Me, Kate was first). On-stage, critics complained of the weak book, somewhat reminiscent of The Blue Angel, about a judge who goes to a nightclub to investigate a dancer and falls in love with her, and they praised young Gwen Verdon in a secondary role that made her a Broadway star. But the story, weak or not, is only vaguely apparent in the songs, and Verdon's no doubt thrilling dancing cannot be appreciated on a cast album. (Her adequate singing is heard only on "If You Loved Me Truly.") The elements that stand out on disc are Porter's songs, which are typically melodic (with a French tinge at which he excelled, of course) and filled with wit and wordplay, and the singing of lead actress Lilo, who is heard on half of the tracks. A French star, Lilo manages to make herself understood, and Porter seems to have deliberately put a lot of repetition into her songs, but she is still not the ideal interpreter of his material. Male lead Peter Cookson has one of those manly Broadway baritones but little individual flair. Nevertheless, they succeed in rendering a score that is led by three Porter standards -- "C'est Magnifique," "It's All Right with Me," and "I Love Paris." Those songs went on to numerous cover recordings, and they are some of the simpler numbers in the score, which also contains clever (and, naturally, suggestive) tunes such as "Never Give Anything Away" and "Come Along with Me." Can-Can suggested that Porter still had plenty to say in the musical theater.
AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann
|Paint Your Wagon, musical|