Recorded show music comes in many guises. One genre that can be thoroughly enjoyable when done right is the live recording of a club act of show songs. A fine new release that falls in the “done right” category is Kate Baldwin’s act recorded last March at Feinstein’s, the Broadway-themed nightclub on New York’s Park Avenue.
Baldwin’s theme (the best club acts are all built on a theme) is the exquisite skills of lyricist Sheldon Harnick. The disk captures Baldwin’s ability to deliver both the musical and the lyrical strengths of a song, while encapsulating her survey of Harnick’s wonderful word work.
It isn’t a one way act of admiration, however. With her at the microphone is none other than Harnick himself, sounding hail, hearty and vibrant just shy of his 87th birthday. She sings. He sings. They sing. It is enchanting.
Most of the material is, of course, from the shows he wrote with Jerry Bock. They burst on the Broadway scene with Fiorello!, which won them not only the Tony Award for Best Musical of 1960, it earned the Pulitzer Prize for Drama too! Ten years later they wrapped up their collaboration with The Rothchilds. In between came such gems as She Loves Me and their pièce-de-résistance Fiddler on the Roof.” (If you want more information on their partnership, check out Philip Lambert’s “To Broadway, To Life! – The Musical Theater of Bock and Harnick” published by the Oxford University Press, which we reviewed last January.
Baldwin’s club act opens with a rendition of the title song from “She Loves Me,” the show that gives her act and the album its cute but not too cute title “She Loves Him.” Accompanied by a trio of very supportive musicians, she gives the song a fresh appeal. On piano is Scott Cady who provided most of the arrangements heard on the disc. Andrew Sterman handles woodwinds with exquisite taste and John Beal is the bassist who is as satisfying with a bow as with plucked strings. (Listen to his bow work on “Sabbath Prayer”!)
Two other numbers from “She Loves Me” demonstrate both the range of Baldwin’s delivery and the touch Harnick can bring to a private, inner-thoughts song (“Will He Like Me?”) or a conversational story song (“A Trip to the Library.”) At the other extreme, Baldwin uses “When Did I Fall in Love?” from “Fiorello!” to show off her ability to soar with purity.
When Harnick joins Baldwin at the microphone, the recording raises to a new level of delight. He’s brought with him some lyrics never recorded before for the Fiddler On The Roof standard “To Life” and the result is a fine duet. Then he takes over for his own solo, a charming, lilting “If I Were a Rich Man.” Returning to the duet format, they share a song that was cut from Fiddler On The Roof “Dear Sweet Sewing Machine.”
Record producer David Frost wisely keeps the patter between songs to a minimum and places it in separate tracks. Baldwin’s chief charms are as a vocalist and not a standup comic. Listen to the disc the first time from start to finish, but subsequent playings will be best if you program your player to skip the tracks of her chit chat (2, 4, 7, 10, 14, 16, 19 and 21).
They wrap it all up with a duet on the anthem from The Rothchilds, “In My Own Lifetime,” which gives us one last chance to listen to Sterman’s tasteful support on flute, and then a lovely final rendition of “Sunrise, Sunset.” It all ends sooner than you want. But isn’t “always leave them wanting more” a time honored creed of show business?
[As remarkable as Brad Hathaway’s column is, it is made even more remarkable by the fact that since September, Brad has been writing from the road as he and his wife Teddie wend their way across the country to their new home on a houseboat in California. This he sent from Idaho.]