What Can You Say In a Love Song (That Hasn't Been Said Before?)
Let's Take a Walk Around the Block
All the Elks and Masons
It Was Long Ago
A Weekend Cruise
I'm Not Myself
I Couldn't Hold My Man
Life Begins at City Hall
PS Classics continues its forgotten musical series with a lost show by three giants of the American musical theatre: Harold Arlen, Ira Gershwin, and Yip Harburg. LIFE BEGINS AT 8:40 featuring Arlen's ebullient melodies, Ge... more »rshwin and Harburg's smart and playful lyrics, and captivating performances by an all-star cast including Bert Lahr and Ray Bolger was one of the most lavish revues of the 1930s. But it wasn't until 75 years later that the score would be heard again, in a concert presented in March 2010 at the Library of Congress. That performance featuring a full 24-piece orchestra conducted by Aaron Gandy and a cast of Broadway and recording veterans including Kate Baldwin, Philip Chaffin, Christopher Fitzgerald, Montego Glover, Rebecca Luker, Brad Oscar, Faith Prince, Graham Rowat and Jessica Stone has been stunningly preserved in this new studio cast album. Arlen, Gershwin and Harburg's witty and effervescent score (set to the original orchestrations by Hans Spialek, Robert Russell Bennett and Don Walker, faithfully restored by Larry Moore) is brought vividly to life in PS Classics' world premiere recording.« less
PS Classics continues its forgotten musical series with a lost show by three giants of the American musical theatre: Harold Arlen, Ira Gershwin, and Yip Harburg. LIFE BEGINS AT 8:40 featuring Arlen's ebullient melodies, Gershwin and Harburg's smart and playful lyrics, and captivating performances by an all-star cast including Bert Lahr and Ray Bolger was one of the most lavish revues of the 1930s. But it wasn't until 75 years later that the score would be heard again, in a concert presented in March 2010 at the Library of Congress. That performance featuring a full 24-piece orchestra conducted by Aaron Gandy and a cast of Broadway and recording veterans including Kate Baldwin, Philip Chaffin, Christopher Fitzgerald, Montego Glover, Rebecca Luker, Brad Oscar, Faith Prince, Graham Rowat and Jessica Stone has been stunningly preserved in this new studio cast album. Arlen, Gershwin and Harburg's witty and effervescent score (set to the original orchestrations by Hans Spialek, Robert Russell Bennett and Don Walker, faithfully restored by Larry Moore) is brought vividly to life in PS Classics' world premiere recording.
"Life Begins ..." All Over Again -- And Aren't We Lucky!
Michael Shepley | New York, NY USA | 06/20/2010
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Just when you think, as a Broadway fan, as a song fan, as a talent fan, that maybe there's nothing more to be mined from the past (and the present), you get a gift -- beautifully wrapped, lovingly assembled -- of a show just heard about, one with a tantalizing title, one that always seemed out of reach.
Well, PS Classics has just released "Life Begins at 8:40," containing the score of the 1937 revue with music by Harold Arlen and lyrics by Ira Gershwin and E. Y. Harburg. Theatre fans, rejoice.
It must be so much fun to be Tommy Krasker and Philip Chaffin, unearthing smudged and crumbling manuscripts and bringing them back to life, to live forever (we hope) on CD and whatever new technology is coming down the pike.
Dare we mention them again? Arlen. Gershwin. Harburg. The greatest.
"Life at 8:40" joins other CD recreations of Broadway revues ("Ziegfeld Follies of 1936" [Vernon Duke and Ira Gershwin] and "As Thousands Cheer" [Irving Berlin]) that give us a window into the musical make-up of this moribund art form. (TV has usurped it as the place for political and cultural satire.) "Life" has a helpful glossary of names and products referred to in the songs. (I was shocked when The Sondheim Review published a glossary of the references made in "I'm Still Here," but one has to realize that the popular links to the past are quickly waning, and that somebody might as well do it for musical comedy fans being born right this minute.)
Not all of the material is as amusing as it once was, performed in '37 by Ray Bolger, Bert Lahr, Luella Gear and Frances Williams. It's possible that no one, even Brad Oscar, can make a song like "Things" funny, as it was tailored for Lahr and who the hell is like him today? He was just one-of-a-kind. But Oscar is hilarious as Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia and Faith Prince very grand as Eleanor Roosevelt in the show's finale, "Life Begins At City Hall."
But there are four very choice numbers -- beautifully played with original orchestrations restored by the amazing Larry Moore -- "You're A Builder-Upper" (popularized by Ethel Merman's recording at the time), "Fun To Be Fooled," "What Can You Say In A Love Song? (That Hasn't Been Said Before?)," and "Let's Take A Walk Around The Block." Plus there are some newbies to most listeners that are very pleasing, namely "Spring Fever," "Shoein' The Mare" (particularly the dance music), "It Was Long Ago," and "I'm Not Myself."
Thanks to the Ira and Leonore Gershwin Trust and the Library of Congress, this recording joins the long line of "high-fidelity" recordings of shows that began when, in the 1950s, Columbia Records czar Goddard Lieberson began to create albums of songs from 1920s and 30s musicals that never had original cast albums. These didn't use original orchestrations, which has marred them a bit, but they utilized the talents of the time -- Mary Martin, Jack Cassidy, Portia Nelson, Barbara Ruick and many others, customarily under the baton of Lehman Engel.
Then came Tommy Krasker's Gerswhin Trust-funded recordings of early Gershwin shows, Michael Tilson-Thomas' "Of Thee I Sing" and "Let 'Em Eat Cake," Evans Haile's "Babes In Arms" and "Fifty Million Frenchmen," John McGlinn's recordings of "Brigadoon," "Show Boat," and other shows, and all of the Encores! recordings, most of them under the supervision of Rob Fisher -- all of them with crystalline sound and utilizing the Broadway talent of the day (or at least the talent that should have been on Broadway more often, if musicals were still being written for them), including David Carroll, Brent Barrett, George Dvorsky, Howard McGillin, Christoper Fitzgerald, Jason Graae, Debbie (Shapiro) Gravitte, Paige O'Hara, and the amazing, thrilling Rebecca Luker, among many others.
Musical theatre fans would be at a loss without these invaluable recordings, which also include, as a sidebar, a series of recordings by Shadowland/Rialto that featured songs from old shows and films -- (see "Early Kern," "You Can't Put Ketchup on the Moon," and "Life's A Funny Present" on Amazon) -- as well as Scott Siegal's "Broadway By The Year" and "Broadway Unplugged" series (these have nothing to do with authenticity, but they do revive great and obscure songs from their various eras).
"Life Begins at 8:40" is conducted by Aaron Gandy, who did similar honors with PS Classics' "Fine And Dandy," and it features Rebecca Luker, Faith Prince, Christopher Fitzgerald, Kate Baldwin, Montego Glover, Jessica Stone, Graham Rowat, Philip Chaffin, and the aforementioned Brad Oscar. All acquit themselves admirably; Luker is a marvel. (What can I say? I love her when she does show tunes.)
Thanks to all involved for this wonderful piece of scholarship -- down to the many photos and excellent notes by Christopher Caggiano. They've all just made something that was once ephemeral now happily tangible. Let's hope there is an audience eager enough to demand, "Keep 'em coming!""
SOMETHING SORT OF GRANDISH AND OUTLANDISH FROM ARLEN, YARBUR
J. T Waldmann | Carmel, IN, home to the fabulous new Regional Perf | 06/21/2010
(5 out of 5 stars)
"In his June 13 'On the Record' column for [...], Steven Suskin writes '. . . Harold Arlen, Ira Gershwin and Yip Harburg's LIFE BEGINS AT 8:40, a 1934 affair . . . could easily have qualified as the musical of the season if it had opened in 2009-2010. Or 2008, 2007, 2006, and several more.'
Why? If, like me, you're tired of over-amplified 'rock' musicals or physically and emotionally exhausted by overwrought, angst-ridden plots, then LIFE BEGINS AT 8:40 is for you. It's a show for those who appreciate real singing as apposed to the vocal pyrotechnics that seem to be the norm on Broadway today. It's also a breath of fresh air for those of us who long to hear well-constructed melodies and literate, witty lyrics that demand our attention. 'The fun in the lyrics almost seems anachronistic given the way Broadway has lost so much lyrical sense of humor for much of the past three decades.' [Peter Filichia, June 18, [...]] Thank you, Steven and Peter, for confirming that I am not alone in my opinion of today's musical theater. Everything passes, so they say. Let's hope.
I won't go into detail about the history of the show, because you can read Christopher Caggiano's excellent and scholarly notes in the booklet that accompanies the CD, one of the reasons you won't want to download. The sepia toned booklet contains several photographs from the original production, as well as the lyrics for all 17 songs. Inside the jewel case is a glossary 'for those lyrics that might require special explanation.' (Do you know who or what Professor Moley or Balaban Katz were?)
I definitely will praise the entire enterprise: Aaron Gandy's conducting, the Hans Spialek/Robert Russell Bennett/Don Walker original orchestrations, the marvelous uncredited vocal arrangements, the spot-on performances by the entire cast, and - most especially - Harold Arlen's music and the inspired, often sublimely ridiculous, lyrics of E.Y. Harburg and Ira Gershwin - two of the four best lyricists ever to write for the theater. (By 1934, Lorenz Hart worked exclusively with Richard Rodgers, and Stephen Sondheim was only four years old.)
For those who enjoy hidden treasures, you'll hear the composers incorporate popular melodies and/or lyrics of the times: Rudy Vallee's 'My Time Is Your Time,' and Kate Smith's 'When the Moon Comes Over the Mountain,' for example, as well as 'The Man I Love' from the Gershwins' 1927 musical STRIKE UP THE BAND, and 'Stormy Weather,' a Harburg tune with lyrics by Ted Koehler, introduced by Ethel Waters in 1933. If the Gershwins could pay homage to Gilbert & Sullivan in 1927, so could Arlen and his collaborators in 1934 with 'My Paramount-Publix-Roxy Rose' and the incredible finale, in which 'Dictator' Fiorello La Guardia appoints Jimmy Walker to be Commissioner of Reprises. (Can you see what's coming?) Perhaps more fascinating are references to songs yet to be published: '[I Got] a Gal in Kalamazoo' (1942), and 'That Old Devil Moon' (1947). Have I mentioned Harburg's grandish rhyming wizardry? Pun intended.
Even though the show was tailor made for Ray Bolger, Bert Lahr, Luella Gear, and Frances Williams, this dream cast - Kate Baldwin, Philip Chaffin, Rebecca Luker, Faith Prince, et al. - makes it sound as if it were written for them. Some of the highlights are 'I Couldn't Hold My Man,' 'Let's Take a Walk around the Block,' 'It Was Long Ago,' and the wonderfully naughty 'Quartet Erotica' and 'C'est La Vie' - a Noel Coward salute containing the lyrics: 'When a Lesbian was an islander and not your/Wife's best friend.' Then there's . . . Oh, heck, they're all delicious!
A critic for Time Magazine called the original production 'the season's first first-rate entertainment.' If it opened next season on Broadway, or the season after, or the season after that, the statement would probably still hold true. Don't miss this recording, and God bless you, Tommy Krasker."
Life begins at 8.40 - OBC recording on cd
Natwest Master Card | London -United kingdom | 07/23/2010
(4 out of 5 stars)
"an excellent revival of a brilliant Musical Comedy by the great Harold Arlen- the original score remains intact, and catches the musical period of the 30's- without the usual attempt to "update" it- thankfully !!! More please ..!"
A wonderful old revue
Howard Gradet | Reisterstown, MD United States | 07/08/2010
(5 out of 5 stars)
""Life Begins at 8:40"--even the title is a sophisticated joke--is the real deal--a smart, funny, melodic 1934 revue by Harold Arlen, Ira Gershwin and Yip Harburg that is lots of fun to listen to. None of the songs became standards, really, unlike the shows/revues that the Gershwin brothers wrote for, so if you're looking for classic songs look elsewhere, but in "Life Begins at 8:40" you can hear the seeds of what Arlen and Harburg would become: the composer and lyricist who, between them, would write such shows and movies as "Wizard of Oz," "Finian's Rainbow,""A Star is Born," "St. Louis Woman," and "House of Flowers."
The opening number sets the tone--"At exactly 8:40 or thereabouts..." From the first line you know you gotta pay attention to the words. There are several numbers here that will make you sit up and listen closely, and some real surprises, too. In "Things," Brad Oscar does a good Bert Lahr impersonation (Lahr sang this in the original), and you see the beginnings of the song that Arlen and Harburg wrote for Lahr in "Wizard of Oz," "If I Were King of the Forest." "Quartet Erotica" could have been written by Tom Lehrer 30 years later; the liner notes don't indicate whether the joke at the end was original or added for this recording, but I wouldn't be surprised if it were original. "C'est La Vie" is a clever precursor of some of the risque craziness in the "New Faces" revues of the '50s. This is sung by three people becoming a menage a trois: "Me for you and you, And you and you for me" and "Duets are made by the bourgeoisie, oh, But only God can make a trio." Pure Harburg, pure joy.
The cast is impeccable, and could not be improved upon: Kate Baldwin and Rebecca Luker have two of the best voices on Broadway today; Montego Glover just won a Tony for "Memphis." Christopher Fitzgerald, Faith Prince and Brad Oscar are comic Broadway royalty.