This compilation brings together vintage recordings of songs from interwar musicals recorded by artists who performed them on-stage in New York and London. This was an era when the "original Broadway cast album" had yet to be conceived, but it was not uncommon, especially in the U.K., for stage stars to go into a recording studio and cut one or more of the most popular songs from the shows they were in at the moment, often in arrangements not far removed from the way the songs sounded on-stage. Sometimes, as with George Gershwin here, the songwriter even accompanied the artist into the studio. (Gershwin's distinctive piano playing backs Fred and Adele Astaire in a version of "Fascinatin' Rhythm" from Lady, Be Good!) The tracks on the disc are sequenced by songwriter, six each by Cole Porter and Gershwin, five by Rodgers & Hart, and the final seven by Jerome Kern. The songs are among these writers' enduring standards: "I Get a Kick Out of You," "You're the Top," "Night and Day," "Someone to Watch Over Me," "My Heart Stood Still," "I've Told Every Little Star," "Ol' Man River," and more. Especially enjoyable are the ones that have not been as much performed, but remain winning, such as Porter's witty "The Physician" and Gershwin's satiric "The Babbitt and the Bromide." The artist list includes such well-remembered stars as Ethel Merman, Gertrude Lawrence, and Paul Robeson, though many of the singers are lost to history, and some of the performances are stagey and stilted. (Of course, with the tracks mastered from old records, the sound quality is not up to late-'90s standards.) But that's the most serious criticism to be made about a well-chosen and sequenced selection of the highlights of theater music in the second quarter of the 20th century.
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AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann