Oh Brother! (Original Broadway Cast Recording) Harry Groener, David-James Carroll (CD and Digital Download!)
Composer: Valenti, Michael
Lyricist: Driver, Donald
Carroll, David-James/Groener, Harry
OCR CD & DIGITAL
This sweet and wonderfully funny musical comedy (and its seriously fantastic cast) deserved far better than the off-handed dismissal they got from the critics in long ago 1981. As if re-setting the plot of Shakespeare's Comedy of Errors in the Middle East was such a sin? Really? Composer Michael Valenti and lyricist Donald Driver wrote a charming and buoyant score, and this cast recording proves that those of us who liked it were far from wrong (and we here at Original Cast Records remain right to have striven to record the show for posterity.)
The delightful ensemble opening "We Love An Old Story" sets the farce in motion. Delightful David-James Carroll and the great Harry Groener play twins separated at birth, getting into mistaken identity situations that involve them with a bevy of harem maidens - including remarkable Judy Kaye, Alyson Reed and Mary Mastrantonio. Those three ladies offer the appropriately named "Loud and Funny Song," (and it is both!) - and a genuine showstopper! Highlights include the hilarious "OPEC Maiden" and the slightly raunchy "How Do You Want Me?" (Remember when Broadway was always at least a little edgy? Pre-Disney. Pre-so damn much!) If you are looking for a some good laughs, or if you are in need of a great show that would be perfect for a college or community theatre production, Oh Brother! is certainly well worth checking out.
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A Musical Comedy in One Act. Book and lyrics by Donald Driver. (Suggested by William Shakespeare's "The Comedy of Errors" and the comedies of Plautus.) Music by Michael Valenti.
Opened 10 November 1981 at the ANTA Theatre and closed 11 November 1981 after 3 performances.
OH, BROTHER! takes place during a revolution in an oil rich Middle Eastern country on the Persian Gulf in a quaint resort town where its populace of merchants and revolutionaries mix Eastern tradition with Western consumerism. Into this volatile environment unwittingly stumbles a sweet old American named Lew. He is immediately surrounded by revolutionaries demanding he explain his presence.
Lew tells this story:
Years ago, travelling in the Middle East with his wife, Lillian, she gave birth to identical twin boys. At the same time a dear black woman also gave birth to identical twin boys, but she died. Lew and Lillian adopted the orphaned twin boys to raise as brothers to their own. When Lillian was well they booked separate flights for home, separate flights to lessen the chance an air disaster might again orphan any of their infant sons. Each parent took one twin from each set and departed for home. Disaster struck! The plane on which Lillian and her two charges were flying was hijacked to Iraq. Lew tried to find them, but he never saw Lillian or the two boys again. When Lew's two boys grew to manhood, curious about their lost twins they prevailed upon old Lew to let them search the world to find them. Lew consented. That was two years ago. Now they are lost and he is searching for them.
Scenes and Settings
The action takes place at the present time on the Persian Gulf.
1. "We Love an Old Story" - Revolutionary Leader, Revolutionaries
2."I To the World" - Western Mousada, Western Habim, Eastern Mousada, Eastern Habim
3."How Do You Want Me?" - Saroyana
4."That's Him" - Musica, Revolutionaries
5."Everybody Calls Me by My Name" - Western Mousada, Revolutionaries
6."O.P.E.C. Maiden" - Western Mousada, Revolutionaries
7."A Man" - Eastern Mousada
8."How Do You Want Me?" (reprise) Saroyana
9."Tell Sweet Saroyana" - Eastern Mousada, Western Habim, Arabs
10."What Do I Tell People This Time?" - Saroyana
11."O.P.E.C. Maiden" (reprise) - Musica, Women
12."A Loud and Funny Song" - Saroyana, Musica, Fatatatima
13."The Chase" - Full Company
14."I To the World" (reprise) - Western Mousada, Western Habim, Eastern Mousada, Eastern Habim
15."Oh, Brother!" - Full Company
You recall that the show played 3 official performances on Broadway (after 13 previews.) Here's Frank Rich's fatal review of the show from 1981. Oh, Frank...
THE STAGE: 'OH, BROTHER!,' A MUSICAL
By FRANK RICH
Published: November 11, 1981
''OH, BROTHER!,'' the new musical at the ANTA, desperately wants to be ''A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.'' It also wouldn't mind being ''The Boys From Syracuse,'' the musical version of ''Two Gentlemen of Verona'' or maybe even ''Milk and Honey.'' In the end - or, for that matter, in the beginning - it has to settle for being a spectacularly silly Las Vegas floor show. But ''Oh, Brother!'' tries. Oh, brother, does it try.
This musical is not without its resources. The cast, though often wasted, is an able one, full of talented, appealing young performers. ''Oh, Brother!'' also introduces to Broadway a composer, Michael Valenti, from whom we'll want to hear again. Though there's nothing startling about Mr. Valenti's music, he writes solid, at times pretty, show tunes. His score is in good hands, too. The voices are sprightly, as are Jim Tyler's orchestrations and Marvin Laird's conducting and vocal arrangements. What's more, ''Oh, Brother!'' may be the only current Broadway musical that is discreetly amplified: we hear music instead of an electronic buzz. Let other producers note that this show's sound system was designed by Richard Fitzgerald.
The rest of ''Oh, Brother!'' - its book, lyrics, direction and ''staging'' - is the work of Donald Driver. With the exception of the lyrics, which are adequate, Mr. Driver's contributions encase the show in cement. It is his idea to reset a Plautus-Shakespeare longlost brothers farce in the contemporary Middle East, and a most misguided idea it is.
What's funny about the Middle East today? Not much - unless you want to be completely tasteless. Mr. Driver allows himself to be tasteless once -when he drags on Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini for burlesque gags - but otherwise he avoids pointed allusions to present-day Middle East headlines like the plague. It's hard to blame him, but why bother to set a show in a region where there's no room, right now, for humor? Thanks to its concept, ''Oh, Brother!'' is crippled before it even begins.
Because he can't bite any satirical teeth into his topical setting, Mr. Driver loads the show instead with hoary double-entendre gags and stale parodies of Hollywood's old Arabian Nights movies. These mirthless jokes wouldn't make it into the worst sketches of a Mel Brooks film or ''Sugar Babies''; some of them look and sound as though they were culled from 15-year-old back issues of Mad magazine. Nor does the farcical plot bail the book out. Unlike Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart, who wrote the superlative libretto for ''Forum,'' Mr. Driver doesn't know how to pace or build his convoluted story of mistaken identities - it's all conveyed frenetically in the same numbing shriek.
The direction is of the same style. Mr. Driver has staged this show at a speed that kills. ''Oh, Brother!'' runs one hour and 45 minutes with no intermission, and the actors are running the whole time. Energy is one thing -a relay race is another. Whiplash direction, much of it modeled on ''Three Stooges'' comedies, is not a substitute for well-written fun. After a while, we look forward to the musical numbers not only because we want to hear Mr. Valenti's score, but also so those poor schnooks on stage will have a chance to catch their breath.
The choreography, which puts great store in the humorous possibilities of belly dancing, is at a college revue level. There isn't much room for it, in any case, because the routine unit set, by Michael J. Hotopp and Paul De Pass, limits flat stage space to a downstage strip slightly larger than a beach towel. That's unfortunate, because there are some very nimble dancers on hand. Given a few small opportunities, Harry Groener reminds us of the charming, lighter-than-air Will Parker he contributed to the last Broadway revival of ''Oklahoma!'' Alan Weeks, short and compact, could have been Gene Kelly to his Ray Bolger.
Among the other likable cast members are Joe Morton, Mary Mastrantonio, Larry Marshall and David-James Carroll. Richard B. Shull, that amusing character actor who looks like a bloated fish, gets to contribute a few skillful slow burns in the role of a middle-aged tourist. Judy Kaye, while getting campier each time out, remains a big belter with a sure comic sense. Though she can't quite stop this relentlessly frantic show, perhaps nothing short of a Camp David pact could.
OH, BROTHER!, book and lyrics by Donald Driver; music by Michael Valenti; directed and staged by Mr. Driver; scenery designed by Michael J. Hotopp and Paul De Pass; lighting designed by Richard Nelson; costumes designed by Ann Emonts; musical director, vocal and dance arrangements by Marvin Laird; produc- tion stage manager, Nicholas Russiyan. Pre- sented by Zev Bufman and the Kennedy Center, with the Fisher Theater Foundation, Joan Cullman and Sidney Shlenker.
At the ANTA Theater, 245 West 52d Street.
Revolutionary Leader ......Larry Marshall Revolutionaries ......Mark Martino, Steve Bourneuf, Michael-Pierre Dean, Steve Sterner and Eric Scheps
Bugler ......Sal Provenza
Revolutionary Women .......Alyson Reed, Pamela Khoury, Kathy Mahony- Bennett, Geraldine Hanning, Suzanne Walker and Karen Teti
Lew ......Richard B. Shull
A Camel ......Steve Sterner and Eric Scheps
Western Mousada ......Harry Groener
Western Habim ......Alan Weeks
Fatatatatatima .......Alyson Reed
Eastern Habim .......Joe Morton
Eastern Mousada .......David-James Carroll
Saroyana .......Judy Kaye
Musica ......Mary Mastrantonio
Balthazara ......Bruce Adler
Ayatollah and Revolutionary .......Thomas LoMonaco
Lillian ......Geraldine Hanning