ALFRED DRAKE AT HIS FINEST, GORGEOUS MUSIC . . .
J. T Waldmann | Carmel, IN, home to the fabulous new Regional Perf | 07/23/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I've been a passionate fan of Broadway musicals since I first discovered THE KING AND I in the 50s, and I have been a zealous collector of original cast albums from the day I had enough money in my pocket to purchase one. Owning a large vinyl collection of shows, I was in no rush to replace my LPs with the more expensive CD versions. Mostly I would scrounge through the "previously owned" bins at my local shop and take advantage of the record clubs' generous offers. Eventually my financial situation improved to the point that I could replace my vinyl while at the same time acquire new and/or unfamiliar shows. As my fetish grew, I became frustrated that some major record labels, especially Sony, failed to issue some of my favorite shows in the digital format. Needless to say, I am beholden to small labels like DRG, Fynsworth Alley, AEI, etc., who have insight and courage to preserve important examples of the American musical theatre that otherwise would be lost to us.
Mark Blitzstein's brilliant JUNO is one of those "give my right arm for" shows that never made it to CD until Fynsworth Alley's marvelous reissue. (Available only on-line.) Three other favorites of mine that Columbia/Sony didn't see fit to release on CD are currently available from DRG, and I enthusiastically recommend all three: THE ADVENTURES OF MARCO POLO, ARCHIE & MEHITABEL, and KEAN. (See my reviews of MARCO and ARCHIE elsewhere.)
KEAN owes much of its magnificence to the extraordinary presence of Alfred Drake. His voice is at its absolute best in this recording, and listening to it fills me with both reverence for his brilliant talent and sadness because he is no longer with us. Prior to OKLAHOMA!, the American musical theatre had not encountered an actor/singer -- as Elisabeth Vincentelli writes in her Amazon.com editorial review -- whose ". . . command of the Broadway idiom is so complete that listening to him is both a pleasure and an education." I seriously doubt Broadway will ever see or hear his like again.
I refer you to Jaime J. Weinman's excellent review. My only disagreement is with "The Frog and the Grog," but then I find the entire score brilliant. Wright & Forrest's earlier experiences with adapting melodies of Edvard Grieg, Heitor Villa-Lobos, and Alexander Borodin are in evidence here.They have created sumptuous, soaring melodies for Drake and his leading ladies Lee Venora and Joan Weldon, as well as uptempo novely songs like "Chime In" and the aforementioned "Frog." Alas! They don't write Broadway musicals like this anymore. What a pity.
If you love gorgeous melodies and great singing, KEAN is for you. Thank you again, DRG.
P.S. Regarding a prior review, it was Clay Warnick & Mel Pahl who adapted Rimsky-Korsakov, not Wright & Forrest. The result was THE ADVENTURES OF MARCO POLO, also highly recommended.
Alfred Drake in his element
Byron Kolln | the corner where Broadway meets Hollywood | 12/27/2004
(3 out of 5 stars)
"KEAN features Alfred Drake in one of his greatest Broadway performances. The show recounts the adventures of a Regency-era actor and what happens when his stage role of OTHELLO starts to overflow into his private offstage life. The score by Robert Wright and George `Chet' Forrest (who also wrote the dazzling KISMET in which Drake played Hajj) is a beguiling mix of operetta and musical theatre.
Drake is joined by not one but two lovely leading ladies (Joan Weldon and Lee Venora) who both have their own shining moments in the score (Lee Venora's "Willow, Willow Willow" being a major highlight of the entire score). Other standouts include "Sweet Danger" and "Let's Improvise". Despite the presence of Drake and the clever Wright-Forrest score, KEAN shuttered after a relatively-short run. An intriguing show, and Alfred Drake at the peak of his formidable talents."
Wright and Forrest minus Grieg or Borodin
Gene DeSantis | Philadelphia, PA United States | 07/11/2009
(4 out of 5 stars)
"John Rice has hit on something -- and on the reason this is one of Goddard Lieberson's few flubs. The cast-album master must have been tickled by the concept; he packaged the LP in an handsome gatefold jacket with many photos. But Lieberson also hedged his bets; in his whole career he only produced one multi-disc set of a musical cast album ("The Most Happy Fella"). He must have seen "Kean"'s advance sales, too -- the show would run less than three months. But impressed he surely was with the music, much as he was with "Candide", and "Juno", and later with "Anyone Can Whistle", flops all; he recorded over 53 minutes' worth. The problem is it's frequently fortissimo, with very few quiet spots; it's also early stereo. To cram all that music on an LP Lieberson and his usually first-class engineers compressed the sound. At its worst it's distorted and unpleasant. Quite possibly (though inconceivably) the score went straight onto the session tapes that way. We don't know; DRG and Sony Music must have done the absolute minimum in vault research and refurbishment as the sound comes through without the slightest change on CD, and the liner notes are straight from the LP issue, the usual mark of indifferent licensed back-catalog goods.
Another problem is Robert Wright and George Forrest. They had this crackling good idea for a show but no Grieg or Borodin to help them out; and these first-rate adapters of others' music were third-rate creators of their own. Most of the songs are glorified recitatives, with the occasional boisterous character number copied not all that carefully from the newly-opened "Oliver!" The cast was stalwart enough to give them all a brilliant performance -- and how could they not be brilliant with Alfred Drake, one of the great singers and stage presences ever? He and his company give this material a fire and drama it probably never had on stage and almost didn't deserve away from it.
Broadway completists will want "Kean" -- so will lovers of inspired musical performances. But it all comes at a fairly high cost, even for second-tier midlist."