One of the chipper-est and most enjoyable revival recordings of recent days makes you happy just listening to its up-tempo, uniquely pop sound. No Broadway musical ever sounded like this before Burt Bacharach and his song writing partner Hal David took a crack at musical comedy. Too bad they didn’t keep at it! It would be great to be able to revive more Bacharach shows (other than revues using his pop songs).
Bacharach’s unique sound was well known from such pop song hits as “I Say A Little Prayer” and “A House is Not a Home” which were both chart toppers for Dionne Warwick before the debut of Promises, Promises in 1968. The show added a hit “I’ll Never Fall in Love Again” to his catalogue. The revival adds both of Warwick’s hits mentioned above to the show, in part in order to beef up the role of the female lead for Kristin Chenoweth.
Masterworks Broadway’s release of the current revival captures much of what is good about the production now playing at the Broadway Theatre in New York, including the ingratiating Broadway debut of Sean Hayes, the lilt of the voice of always enjoyable Kristin Chenoweth, and even a hint of the pleasure of Katie Finneran’s Tony Award winning performance.
The cover of the package is the logo the show has been using with individual portraits of Hayes and Chenoweth. You’ll find a better shot of the two of them which reflects the charm of the show on page 22 of the booklet (shown here).
Another eleven photos fill the 36 page booklet which also provides the full lyrics and credits. Unfortunately, it does not include a detailed synopsis that would allow you to understand the function each of the songs plays in telling the story. Instead, a single paragraph explains just the set up for the events that transpire on stage. This is a pity as the result is a package that simply gives no hint of the pleasures of Neil Simon’s clever book based on Billy Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond’s screenplay, “The Apartment.” Without it, it is difficult to understand the reason that Finneran took home a Tony for Best Supporting Actress in a Musical. (Trust me, she deserved it.) The disc does, however, give a true taste of Tony Goldwyn’s bland performance as the dastardly boss when he sings his one solo, “Wanting Things.”
The real reason to want to have this CD is to hear Bacharach’s music performed by this cast with this particular nineteen-member pit orchestra using new orchestrations. In an age when we so often bemoan the downsizing of forces in orchestra pits (shame on the producers of the current West Side Story revival who have just removed even more string players from the pit under the assumption that the audience won’t notice!) and we even have to put up with revivals of musicals without orchestras while the cast picks up instruments to toot when not singing, it is astonishing to find one revival where an orchestra of reduced size produces even better support than did the original.
How did they do that? They brought in the same man who created the original orchestrations forty years ago, Jonathan Tunick. Apparently, the inestimable Mr. Tunick, the first-ever winner of a Tony Award for orchestrations who is so well known for his ability to create lush charts, has learned some new tricks in the last four decades! This is not to say that his original charts were somehow lacking. Actually, the originals are superb and make imaginative use of unusual techniques, most notably the placement of four vocalists in the orchestra to add a vocal richness to Bacharach’s nimble side and sub rhythms and riffs. A side-by-side comparison of the original Broadway cast album to this new recording reveals that Tunick, while reducing the number of players. actually increased the liveliness of what was already a thoroughly lively as well as lovely score.
Tunick does some amazing things behind the vocals. There is a little descending bass line played by a reed on the first and third “little secret” in the title triplet of “It’s Our Little Secret” that is so right for the moment, but then Tunick has the fabulous sense of taste not to over-do it by excessive repeats. His blend of guitar and piano behind Chenoweth on the interpolated “I Say A Little Prayer” brings the pop sound into the theater. He’s not infallible, however. There is an awkward transition to the “button” on “Knowing When to Leave” that draws the focus away from the vocal and toward the orchestra at just the wrong moment.
No such stumble affects “Where Can You Take A Girl?” with its superb joining of voices and reeds in the break, or the build for the torrent of happiness that is “She Likes Basketball.”
Masterworks Broadway added one trumpeter to the show’s 18-piece orchestra (not counting the four “orchestra voices” who vocalize as part of the band) under music director/conductor Phil Reno. It is difficult to conceive how these charts could be played better.