Once again, PS Classics comes to the rescue of aficionados who have a few blank spaces in the Gershwin section of our theatre shelves.
That’s “shelves” — the plural form of this column’s title. Multiple shelves would be required for any collection sizable enough to have reached the point where gaps in the Gershwin collection are driven by the lack of availability rather than the financial limits of the collector.
Among the gems that should be on the Gershwin shelf are the fabulously entertaining restorations of 1924’s “Lady, Be Good!,” 1926’s “Oh, Kay!,” 1927’s “Strike Up the Band,” 1930’s “Girl Crazy” and 1933’s “Pardon My English.” All were lovingly restored by Tommy Krasker and released as a joint project of the Library of Congress’s Music Division and the Leonore S. Gershwin estate’s Roxbury Recordings.
These aren’t the only restorations of Gershwin musicals demanding space on the shelf. There are also the Carnegie Hall concert productions of 1925’s “Tip-Toes” and “Tell Me More” under Rob Fisher and the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s package deal, 1931’s “Of Thee I Sing” which became the first musical ever to win the Pulitzer Prize (although the award went to the people who wrote words but not to George Gershwin who ‘only’ wrote notes!) and its 1933 follow-up, “Let ‘Em Eat Cake” under Michael Tilson Thomas.
But the mother load was the Library/Roxbury collection which was made available on the Nonesuch record label in the early 1990s. Now, there is one we have to add. There is a story behind the new release of a different version of “Strike Up The Band.”
In December of 1990, Krasker took Brent Barrett, Rebecca Luker, Jason Graae and a few others into BMG Studio A to record “Strike Up The Band” with an orchestra under the baton of John Mauceri. They really had two scores to record. One was the score for the original production, which tried to reach Broadway in 1927 but flopped out of town. The other was the heavily revised version which finally made it to the Times Square Theatre on Broadway in 1930 where it ran for a healthy 191 performances.
Funding for the restoration effort had made it possible to recreate (or at least approximate) both versions of the score. Not only did they have a cast of notable Broadway performers, they had reconstructed charts fashioned by the best orchestrators in the business and even had dancer/choreographer Randy Skinner come up with tap extravaganzas danced for the microphones.
Frustratingly, there wasn’t enough space on the two-disc set they had to work with. As a result, while the 1927 version was released in its entirety, there was only room for less than 30 minutes of the rest. Krasker chose six of the 24 tracks to fill out the disc but it has tantalized collectors ever since that the full score — all 76 minutes of it — has been sitting in the vault lo these twenty years.
Now Krasker is the president of his own record company — PS Classics. They have released fifteen Broadway cast albums since their first, the 2003 revival of Maury Yeston’s “Nine” along with London, off-Broadway and regional casts as well as reconstruction recordings that are treasured items on anyone’s theatre shelf.
With the support of the Ira and Leonore Gershwin Trusts and the Library of Congress, Krasker has repackaged and released the full score of the 1930 “Strike Up The Band.” If you already own the 1927 version and the other reconstructions available today, you will want to add this to the collection. If, on the other hand, you might be new to this particular area of recorded musical theater treasures, this could well be your introductory disc. It lies somewhere between the two extremes of the Gershwin brother’s output — it has some of the jazzy flippancy of the frothy fun shows of which “Lady, Be Good!” is probably the best example, and the bite of the political satires of which “Of Thee I Sing” is indisputably the masterpiece.
Now, if someone would just come up with a reconstruction of the Gershwin’s “Funny Face” as it was when Fred and Adele Astaire opened in it on Broadway in 1927 we could feel our Gershwin shelf is close to complete.