PS Classics has done us a big favor by capturing one of the most melodious and witty scores ever on Broadway in its entirety – including the never previously recorded harmonica material for the Dance of the Golden Crock. They have also provided a package that serves as a documentation of the production itself with full credits, a bunch of photos and a well-written synopsis that puts each song in its proper perspective so you can enjoy the wit and cleverness of the work of lyricist Yip Harburg as well as the lilt of Burton Lane’s music even if you haven’t seen the show.
The cast and orchestra assembled in New York’s Avatar Studio on December 7, 2009 to lay down all 20 tracks for the recording. It is a good thing they didn’t do it two months earlier. Let me explain:
Because of a potential conflict in my schedule, I wasn’t at all certain I’d be able to get to New York to review this show when it had its official opening on October 29, 2009, but I very much wanted to see it. I was in New York, however, the first weekend that the show was in previews. While I couldn’t do a review based on a preview performance, I purchased a seat to what turned out to be the third preview performance of the show.
As it turned out, however, I was able to get up to do a formal review after the show opened but before its disappointingly early closure on January 17, 2010.
The difference between the two experiences was striking. There were practically no changes in the notes the orchestra played, the words the cast said or sang, the set on which they performed, the costumes they wore, or the dance steps they executed. Yet the first time I saw the show it was strained and nearly charmless – a fatal flaw for a musical based on that indefinable element that Yip Harburg was so capable of creating that we call charm. The second time out, a magic spell was cast over the entire hall and it seemed to me as if all seventeen hundred people in the sold out audience were entranced.
Why the difference? The first night, the cast was working awfully hard to make each line, each movement, each glance and each note work. You could almost see the sweat of their labor of love. The material was fabulous but the tone was strained.
A month later, those same people went through the same motions with an ease and confidence that comes of knowing just how good your performance really is. No one strained to land a big note. No one punched a punch line. No one struggled for attention. As a result, the qualities of the material – yes, the charm of the piece – shone through and sparkled all night long. What a delight!
This recording was made after they found the key and most of the charm shines through, saved for posterity even if ticket sales weren’t strong enough to keep the production going for more than a few months. The loveliness of Kate Baldwin’s soprano as Irish lass Sharon McLonergan, the ability of Jim Norton to deliver the delightful logical illogic Harburg gives to her father to justify stealing the pot of gold from the leprechaun played by the impish Christopher Fitzgerald, and the strong silkiness of Cheyenne Jackson as self assured Woody Mahoney who falls for lovely Sharon all flow apparently effortlessly.
As we’ve come to expect of PS Classics, the packaging is useful and complete. It’s visual effect is a bit darker than the show itself, and with a rather pompous article by John Lahr on the history of the show, it doesn’t really capture the glow that emanated from the stage. But the recording does. Thanks to this recording, I can tell you the precise moment that the spell caught me – at 1 minute and 57 seconds into the overture the orchestra lets loose with the tune for “If This Isn’t Love” and I was captured. It happened in the theater. It happens on the disc … again and again.