Re-Release of the 1951 Studio Cast Recording
I guess I was wrong – again.
When I first discovered the 1989 recording of Rodgers and Hart’s Babes in Arms under Evans Haile with the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra on New World Records (NW386-2 – ASIN B0000030ES), I was so enraptured by the wit and energy of the performances of one of the brightest scores in the history of Broadway that I thought I would never need another recording of the score.
Then, in 1999 the Encores! Great American Musicals in Concert series presented the score with Hans Spialek’s sparkling original orchestrations intact which was released on DRG Records (ASID B00002EQ6J). I had another disc to treasure and I thought my collection of Babes in Arms recordings was as complete as I’d ever need.
Sony’s Broadway Masterworks – bless them – has proven me wrong as they continue their program of offering downloads of material from their massive vaults of Columbia, RCA and other labels with a release of another Babes in Arms that is also a “must have.” The 1951 studio recording of the score under the baton of Lehman Engel can now be downloaded from Amazon, or if you want a copy to hold in your hands, a made-to-order cd with printed booklet can be ordered from Amazon or from Arkivmusic.com.
Just what was Babes in Arms and why do I need three different recordings of the score? First off, forget the movie that bares this title, the Mickey Rooney, Judy Garland MGM film directed by Busby Berkeley that was the prototype of the “Hey, kids, lets put on a show right here in the barn!” school of musical movies.
You know where they got the idea – and the title song? Rodgers and Hart’s 1937 Broadway musical about … well, kids putting on a show in a barn.
That was about the only thing the movie kept, however. Can you believe they threw out “My Funny Valentine?” How about “I Wish I Were In Love Again?” Oh, and where did “The Lady Is A Tramp” disappear to?
Never mind. Lets just stick with what Messrs. Rodgers and Hart gave us!
It was 1937, about as deep in the depression as Broadway got. Ten years earlier there were hundreds of shows opening in a season and first nighters often had to pick which show to see from multiple openings. In 1937, however, a new tuner was a rare event. Babes in Arms opened at the Shubert on April 14, and Bordman and Norton’s “Chronicle of the American Musical Theatre” points out that it was the first musical to have opened since February 4!
It was an instant hit and ran at the Shubert for half a year and then moved just down the block to the Majestic where it held forth for another two months. Not bad for a show that cost to $55,000 to mount.
In addition to the three standards mentioned above and the title tune, the score included “Johnny One Note,” “Imagine,” “All At Once,” “You Are So Fair,” “Where or When?” and a gem you should get to know even if it doesn’t ring a bell for most people today, Hart’s cosmopolitan take on those who pine for the wide open spaces “Way Out West” by which he meant West End Avenue, New York.
The show was so inexpensive to produce in part because it didn’t have any big name stars. Instead, it had a ton of talented kids. Fifty, to be precise. Leading the pack were unknown sixteen year olds including Mitzi Green. As young and unknown as many of them were, they could do justice to the sparkling material and perked up many a depressed spirit in the late depression.
However, the three recordings I treasure have names you may recognize. The New World Records version from 1989 offered up the likes of Judy Blazer, Judy Kaye, Gregg Edelman and Jason Graae. The Encores! recording from 1999 starred Erin Dilly, Jessica Stone and Christopher Fitzgerald.
The newly re-released 1951 has the name to stop every musical theatre fan in his or her tracks – Mary Martin.
In his brief but informative liner notes written for this re-release, David Foil points out that the casting of the “Kids” in this recoding may not have been true to the ages of the characters they play, particularly when it came to Martin. She wasn’t a “kid” in 1951. Reference sources say she was 37. I, for one, find it next to impossible to believe that the perpetually youthful Martin, who made you believe she was a newly nubile nurse in South Pacific, a little boy who refused to grow up in Peter Pan and a teenaged postulant in The Sound of Music was ever in her 30s! Besides, her performance is so charming that only a grouch would object.
Martin’s co-star here is Jack Cassidy. He wasn’t exactly a teenager either, but at 24 he did possess a youthful sound that fit. (This was long before his big successes on Broadway – a dozen years before She Loves Me.) Mardi Bayne is youthfully bright and chipper as well. Between the three of them, they give you every reason to love the ten songs in this 12 track package (it includes an overture and a finale).
The new re-release isn’t a complete recording of the score, but then, none of the three recordings are really complete. Even the Encores! program decided to dispense with what may be Lorenz Hart’s most embarrassing public digression. It is no surprise that no one was willing to record what passed for racial wit in the 1930s. The song was called “All Black People.” Even when the show first appeared, the team that sang it, the tremendously talented young Nicholas Brothers (Fayard who was 23 at the time and Nicholas who was 16) tried to change the lyric a bit at the urging of their mother to at least speak well … changing “All dark people is light on their feet” to the somewhat less humiliating “All dark people are light on their feet.”