In 1967, James Lipton, a 40-year-old lyricist/librettist who had one Broadway flop (1962's Nowhere to Go But Up) behind him, got together with Laurence Rosenthal, a 40-year-old composer best known for the film Becket (1964), which had earned him an Academy Award nomination, and they wrote Sherry!, a musical based on George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart's comic 1939 play The Man Who Came to Dinner, a send-up of the author and radio commentator Alexander Woollcott (fictionalized as Sheridan Whiteside, hence "Sherry!") with supporting roles for characters based on Noël Coward, Gertrude Lawrence, and Harpo Marx. The original play was a hit, running 739 performances and earning frequent revivals. But Lipton and Rosenthal's musical was a flop, running 72 performances, not even enough to interest a record company in making a cast album, and that was that. Rosenthal went back to screen composing, eventually focusing on television work. Lipton found minor writing and acting assignments, then settled into moderating a "meet the celebrities" course at New York's New School for Social Research that eventually moved to the cable-TV channel Bravo as Inside the Actors Studio. Each week, viewers could see the amazingly obsequious Lipton shamelessly buttering up great actors and many not-so-great ones. Meanwhile, the musical parts for Sherry! were lost, meaning that the show couldn't even be resurrected for a high-school production.
But in 2000, they were located at the Library of Congress, and Lipton used his brown-nosing to good purpose, talking a dream cast of former guests on his show into making this studio-cast recording of the 37-year-old musical. And what a cast it is! Nathan Lane, Carol Burnett, Bernadette Peters, Tommy Tune, Mike Myers (!?!), Tom Wopat, Lillias White, Phyllis Newman: if any producer tried to mount an actual Broadway production using such a musical theater A-list, the payroll would rival that of the New York Yankees (and, to turn a profit, the show would have to be put on in Yankee Stadium). Needless to say, the album could be expected to be pretty good just because of all that talent, and it is. But Lipton and Rosenthal's score isn't bad, either. The music is a cross between period-appropriate pre-World War II pop and the kind of pastiche of that style approximated by Jerry Herman in the '60s musicals Hello, Dolly! and Mame. Indeed, the title song sounds very much like an attempted successor to the title songs from those shows. (In his liner notes, Lipton incorrectly claims a recording of it hit number three in Billboard; in fact, Marilyn Maye's pre-opening version got to number eight, and only in Billboard's easy listening chart, at that.) The lyrics are witty in the manner of Cole Porter in places, and merely serviceable in others. Sherry! is not a great lost work, by any means. But it is certainly a professional effort, and this accomplished recording no doubt will inspire stage productions. (The second disc is an enhanced CD containing extensive video material, including excerpts from the Inside the Actors Studio stints by the principals and footage from the recording sessions.)