WORTHY, IN SPITE OF ITS SHORTCOMINGS . . . . .
J. T Waldmann | Carmel, IN, home to the fabulous new Regional Perf | 10/27/2005
(3 out of 5 stars)
"Don't let the 3-star rating discourage you from buying this album. If you're a serious student of the American Musical Theatre and/or a collector of Broadway musicals, this is a must, in spite of my low rating.
No plot summary appears in the liner notes, so I dug out my old LP only to discover none exists there either. Therefore, the following synopsis is courtesy Music Theatre International, the show's publisher:
"Gerry Siegal and Sally Nathan, a young suburban Chicago couple, decide to get married... thereby setting off a marital World Ward III! Between Sally's Uncle/Mother/Father Alfie Nathan and Gerry's extensive extended family, the couple's wedding arrangements could prove more difficult than anything their marriage might ever present. It's the biggest family feud since the Montagues and Capulets, as caterers, dressmakers, rabbis, florists, photographers and a domineering wedding planner are put through the proverbial wringer in the looniest wedding this side of `Father of the Bride!'
"An early work by John Kander (`Cabaret,' `Chicago'), James Goldman (`Follies,' `A Lion In Winter') and William Goldman (`Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid,' `The Princess Bride'), `A Family Affair' is a neurotic, tuneful, wickedly funny and universally appealing picture of what really goes into the smiling wedding portrait in the family album."
With music by John Kander, book by James Goldman, lyrics by William Goldman, a stellar cast (stand-up comedian Shelley Berman, Academy Award winner Eileen Heckart, Larry Kert, Rita Gardner, Broadway veterans Morris Carnovsky and Bibi Osterwald), and direction by Harold Prince, why did it last for only 65 performances?
Well, for one thing, the music isn't very original, and definitely not the caliber of Kander's later shows with Fred Ebb, especially their score for KISS OF THE SPIDER WOMAN. It seems that, this being Kander's first show, he is relying too much on formula: the lover's optimistic duet ("Anything for You"), contrapuntal ensemble piece ("My Son the Lawyer"), a march ("Right Girls"), a fight song ("Football Game"), prerequisite waltz ("Now Morris"), the look-back-and-reflect-on-my-wasted-life soliloquy ("Summer Is Over"). Other songs are derivative. Compare "Harmony" with "Quarrel-tet" from WHOOP-UP (1958), and Alfie's show-stopping, "Bolero"-inspired "Revenge" would not have been out of place in JACQUES BREL IS ALIVE AND WELL AND LIVING IN PARIS. Was it necessary to include the embarrassing telephone schtick, al la "Inside Shelley Berman," near the end of "Revenge"? What motivates Gerry's suddenly cruel, ultra-macho (though well-sung) "What I Say Goes"?
HOWEVER, the incredible cast triumphs over less-than-stellar material. Shelley Berman is a surprisingly good singer; Morris Carnovsky is brilliant in his final Broadway show, a career that began in 1922; Rita Gardner is wonderful, even if she isn't given as much to sing as in THE FANTASTICKS or CELBRATION; Larry Kert is in better voice even than in WEST SIDE STORY; and I can never get enough of Eileen Heckart. Having her "Tillie Siegal" preserved on CD is reason enough for this reissue. Thank you, DRG.
The show boasts many "firsts" in the history of Broadway. It was the first musical score for John Kander, Harold Prince's first directorial effort (a producer of many hit musicals in the 50s and 60s, Prince would later direct CABARET, FOLLIES, SWEENEY TODD, PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, EVITA, and COMPANY, among others), Eileen Heckart's first musical role, Linda Lavin's Broadway debut, James Goldman's first musical book, brother William Goldman's only set of Broadway lyrics, and the first original cast album to be recorded on 35mm magnetic film.
"Through this method of recording a signal to noise ration and reduction of hiss has been achieved that was never before possible. Practically all flutter has been eliminated resulting in the most lifelike tone quality ever achieved. This is, in fact, the most perfect method of reproducing actual music and vocal sound possible." (- from the original LP jacket) Well, something must have happened to the original masters, because the CD has sonic problems, especially in regards to Miss Gardner's voice. Her voice is distorted most of the time, horribly so on "Anything for You." I'm sure DRG would have solved the problem had it been possible to do so.
All in all, I urge you to add A FAMILY AFFAIR, with all its faults, to your collection. After listening to it, I dare you to avoid humming "I'm Worse Than Anybody," the show's final song. Do you know of any other song lyric that includes "schlemiel"?
It could have been so much more...
Byron Kolln | the corner where Broadway meets Hollywood | 12/07/2006
(3 out of 5 stars)
"While the songwriting team of John Kander and Fred Ebb gave us some of the all-time great theatre scores ("Cabaret", "Chicago", "Kiss of the Spider Woman"); they also wrote some middling failures like "Flora the Red Menace", "The Happy Time" and A FAMILY AFFAIR.
A FAMILY AFFAIR (featuring a book by James Goldman) starred Eileen Heckart and Shelley Berman, two performers with little experience in musicals. It's certainly a novelty hearing acclaimed actress Eileen Heckart croaking her way through "My Son the Lawyer" and "Summer is Over". Stand-up comedian Berman reveals a reasonable tenor voice in his numbers.
Filling out the supporting roles are tried-and-true musical theatre veterans Rita Gardner ("The Fantasticks"), Cathryn Damon (who'd later get a bigger role in the duo's "Flora the Red Menace"), Bibi Osterwald ("The Golden Apple"), and Larry Kert (the original Tony in "West Side Story").
While the score isn't the best ever written by the team, songs like "Right Girls", "Wonderful Party", "Anything For You", "What I Say Goes", and "Now Morris" are quite enjoyable. "Summer is Over" is a quiet little 11 o'clock number for Heckart's character of Tilly Siegel. By all accounts, the show wasn't much to write home about, and it shuttered after 65 performances.
The sound quality on this 1962 cast album is average, with hiss and flutter evident throughout the recording. Because this was one of the first (and last) cast albums preserved on 35mm magnetic film stock, the stereo fidelity of the recording has badly-deteriorated over the years, creating a harsh sonic tone on this CD premiere (refer to Mark Andrew Lawrence's review).
Nevertheless, die-hard collectors will want this title, and we should thank DRG for bringing it back into the catalogue. [DRG 19068]"