"VERNON DUKE'S SINGLE GREATEST BROADWAY ACHIEVEMENT" . . .
J. T Waldmann | Carmel, IN, home to the fabulous new Regional Perf | 08/11/2006
(3 out of 5 stars)
"An LP of the 1964 revival of CABIN IN THE SKY has been in my collection now for 42 years, and I was thrilled when I read that DRG would issue a CD version. The show features the standard "Taking a Chance on Love," perhaps Vernon Duke's most popular composition, and other fine songs like "Do What You Want To Do," "Honey in the Honeycomb," "Not So Bad To Be Good," and, of course, the title song. The lyrics are by John La Touche, who later contributed the book & lyrics for THE GOLDEN APPLE and some additional lyrics for CANDIDE.
A reworking of the "Faust" legend, CABIN IN THE SKY is a musical fantasy "about the tug of war between good and evil in the rural South." ". . . a pious black woman named Petunia . . . prays so hard over her dying good-for-nothing husband's body that the Lord decides to give Little Joe six more months to earn his place in heaven. The Lord's General and his counterpart form the Other Place, Lucifer, Jr., do battle for Little Joe's soul, while their earthly representatives, Petunia and the sexy seductress Georgia Brown, duke it out for his body." (Martin Denton's review of the 2003 Musicals Tonight! presentation)
Opening to positive reviews at the Martin Beck Theatre on October 25, 1940, the original Broadway production starred the legendary Ethel Waters as "Petunia," Dooley Wilson as "Little Joe," Katherine Dunham as "Georgia Brown" (she also choreographed the show), and the great Todd Duncan as "The Lawd's General." (Duncan was Gershwin's original "Porgy" and also played "Stephen Kumalo" in Kurt Weill's LOST IN THE STARS.) A very successful film version was released by MGM in 1943 with Ethel Waters reprising her Broadway role but with Eddie "Rochester" Anderson, Lena Horne, and Kenneth Spencer in the other parts. It also featured Duke Ellington and his orchestra and Louis Armstrong as "The Trumpeter." Trivia note: CABIN IN THE SKY was the first movie directed by Vincente Minnelli.
Musically, this 1964 Off-Broadway revival is a mixed bag. Rosetta Le Noire is a fine "Petunia," even though she's vocally weak on "Taking a Chance." Tony Middleton has a lot of fun as "Little Joe," and Ketty Lester is a sexy, sultry, seductive "Georgia Brown." However, Sam Laws does not possess the vocal weight to make "The General" a powerful presence. The original orchestrations (and Hugh Martin's vocal arrangements?) have been jettisoned in favor of new "big band" arrangements by Sy Oliver, a major mistake in my view. Rather than sounding "theatrical," it's more like a black "Steve & Eydie" Las Vegas show. Capitol's Full Dimensional Sound is excellent.
The CD booklet reprints Vernon Duke's notes from the original Capitol LP. Unfortunately, it does not include a plot synopsis.
Kenneth Jones calls CABIN IN THE SKY ". . . perhaps Vernon Duke's single greatest Broadway achievement." Perhaps. But I'd like to hear it with my dream cast: Audra McDonald , Brian Stokes Mitchell, Vanessa Williams, and Willard White. AND the original vocal & orchestral arrangement, of course.
Not a definitive recording of this score.
Mark Andrew Lawrence | Toronto | 08/10/2006
(2 out of 5 stars)
"The 1964 off-Broadway revival was a dispirited affair that folded quickly. Capitol half-heartedly recorded the cast album but sales were minimal and it was soon deleted. A previous CD release by Broadway Angel has been out-of print for 10 years now.
You'd think DRG's reissue would be welcome, but the revival (and cast album) totally misses the charm of the original. No full original cast album was made of the 1940 Broadway production though star Ethel Waters recorded four songs on 78 RPM records. The m-g-m film version is well performed but only retains three songs from the stage show. So, for now, this is the only recording of the complete score yet it is so poorly performed the recording can hardly be called a mixed blessing.
CABIN IN THE SKY is no longer staged and it is unlikely we will ever be given a full definitive recording.
DRG has used the original LP artwork on the cover and reprints the liner notes from the LP jacket, so collectors who did not get the previous CD release will want this.