Posted on 3 Comments

Musicals of 1979

But Never Jam Today was a musical with music by Bert Keyes and Bob Larimer, lyrics by Larimer, and a book by both Larimer and Vinnette Carroll. This was Vinnette Carrol’s new Broadway musical about Alice in Wonderland. Her previous one closed in Philadelphia so she turned to new writers and actors. However the results were not much better and it closed after a handful of performances with no recording.

Carmelina by Alan Jay Lerner and Burton Lane was my first chance to do a recording with theater legends. I saw this show at a general public performance before the show went out of town. I then went out of town to see the show in Wilmington, Delaware. The show came to New York a few weeks later and got disappointing reviews.
I got a phone call from Chapel Music asking if I’d be interested in recording the show. I indicated that I would if I could record it under my financial terms and was told that that would be possible. I was given the actors’ names and telephone numbers and called everyone to inform them of the proposed recording. When I called Cesare Siepi, I was given an agent’s number. I called the agent and he told me that Mr. Siepi had a contract with the show’s producers that he would get $10,000 if a recording would be made. I told him that if I was Columbia Records and this was My Fair Lady, $10,000 would be fine. I told them that I had an idea of the possible sales of such a show that has so few performances. even with well known writers. and it is not possible to pay $10,000. I asked whether I could talk to Mr. Siepi. and was told that Mr. Siepi does not talk about money. And that was the end of Mr. Siepi.
I sometimes wonder if I had directly gotten ahold of Mr. Siepi if he would have had a different opinion than the agent. Burton Lane suggested Paul Sorvino whom I had worked with on The Baker’s Wife and Paul was quick to agree.
Burton did not get along with the orchestrator Hershy Kay. Burton said that although they disagreed on the way the music was arranged, he felt sure that Hershy would be willing to have the show recorded for a reasonable amount of money. However when I called Mr. Kay and he asked me if Burton was involved (to which I said “yes”), he then said, “If Burton is involved I’m going to charge YOU every penny I can because I hate that man.” I told him that Mr. Lane wasn’t paying me a dime but Hershy Kay didn’t change his tune.
I then met with Burton at his wonderful Central Park apartment – in the San Remo apartments – and suggested that Michael Starobin who had done In Trousers for me, would be a good pick. However, even though Michael Starobin had subsequently orchestrated many important musicals, he had not done so in 1979. I gave Burton a copy of In Trousers and warned him that he would not enjoy the subject matter but hoped that he would listen to the orchestrations. When I came back a week later, Burton indicated that he could not just hear the orchestrations and asked if I didn’t know anybody else. I mentioned Phil Lang who had been very kind and friendly to me but of course this would involve a lot of work and cost ten times as much as Michael Starobin might have requested. Burton didn’t care and just assumed that I would get Phil Lang.
We had to change the keys for Paul Sorvino but in a new orchestration that was not a problem. Burton asked if we could get the orchestra to read through the new arrangements. I told him that there are no rehearsals for recordings and it would cost me expensive union rates to even play through the songs once. But I did tell him that if he let me use a non-union orchestra just to hear the music, I can provide that. He said that would be fine. And we played through the songs and he was very happy.
When I called Paul Sorvino close to the rehearsal, his wife indicated that he was in Italy making a movie. I asked if he would be back by the recording date but as it turned out, Burton gave him the wrong recording date and he would not. Burton told me not to worry and that he would sing the vocals in the studio so that the orchestra would be able to follow a singer and when Paul returned in a week or two he could add the vocals in place of Burton’s.
There had been two songs Burton had not heard an arrangement for because Phil Lang had yet to arrange them. When we came to the first of them he said after hearing the unheard arrangement that those were not his chords. I went to Phil Lang and Phil Lang said that he was under the presumption that he had the freedom to choose the chords that he did and that these chords could not be changed at this recording session so Burton looked angry but just walked away. We then completed most of the recording. We only had a reprise of one of the songs left and like 15 minutes left to record this 2 and a half minute song. The union representative told us not to let Burton stop us when he hears the music because we only if we played it three or four times all the way through we could get a good version for him.
Burton could not stop himself somehow, and we never completed a good take. So I told him that I could not afford the 30 minute minimum overtime fee for the reprise and that it was his fault. He did not feel that way and he threatened me that if I didn’t do the reprise, he would try to stop me from releasing the record. It might have been an empty threat but he had a lawyer and I had none and I had to pay thousands of dollars to record a reprise.
Burton was helpful in working with Paul Sorvino when he added his vocals. But kept saying I needed to bring back the orchestra which I ignored. Eventually he said it in a nasty way and I said the orchestra’s only going to come back if you pay for it. He told me, “I only know about writing music – I don’t know about making records”.
To which I replied, “It’s about writing a check. Which you, as the owner of an apartment in the San Remo, can do if you want to.”
He left the recording studio, the engineer and I finished a few numbers that had not been mixed, and the record came out. I never heard whst Burton thought of it but he asked for two boxes of it so I guess he enjoyed it. It has also become a record that many have thanked me for doing.

Comin’ Uptown by lyricist Peter Udell and composer Garry Sherman, was a black Christmas Carol that took place in Harlem. It starred Gregory Hines who was certainly good in the part of Scrooge. When I met with the composer he wanted to be paid for his arrangements which I was not willing to do so this short run musical was never recorded.

Evita by Weber and Rice was of course a big hit in London and on Broadway with Patti Lupone and has been made into a Madonna movie and been revived many, many times.

Got tu Go Disco was a terrible disco musical. I called up the producer and asked for free tickets and he never got back to me. I felt I should not have to pay to see the show so I went to the theater and asked for the producer. When I saw him, he was holding a stack of tickets and he said “I don’t know who the hell you are but here are two tickets.” The show closed opening night.

Home Again, Home Again by Cy Coleman and Barbara Fried started out of town in Stratford, Connecticut (about 30 minutes away from me) so I saw the world premier. I then read that the show which had gone up to and was now closing in Toronto. So I took a plane and saw the closing performance in Toronto and even came back on the plane with the entire cast. No recording was made but we have a quite an entertaining demo sung mainly by Cy Coleman.

I Remember Mama by Richard Rodgers and Martin Charnin premiered at the Shubert in Philadelphia and I sat a few rows behind Richard Rodgers at the first performance. The show came to town and received bad reviews and appeared to not have any chance of being recorded. I called up the Rodgers and Hammerstein organization and said I would be willing to pay for half of the cost of the show recording and Mr Rodgers or the organization would put up the other $20,000. I was told that Mr. Rogers felt that the recording industry owed him this recording. I said if I had recorded all his hit shows I would feel the same way – but he would not give me a penny. A few months later, an Ohklahoma revival came to Broadway and was a big hit. I asked who was paying to record that show and Mr. Rodgers’ representative said “Oh Mr. Rodgers is.” I then asked why Mr. Rogers would pay for a revival of Oklahoma and not what was likely to be his last show and was told that Mr. Rogers could make money off this one. He died within the year. Luckily the show was recorded by John Yap in England with some of the leads and we now sell that recording.

Peter Allen’s Up in One was pretty much a one man show with a female singer to do duets with him. It was very entertaining and his energy made the evening a wonderful experience but for some reason no recording was ever made.

Peter Pan was a wonderful revival starring Sandy Duncan and ran much longer than the Mary Martin version but no record company seemed interested in recording a new Peter Pan at the time. There were several attempts to do an album but that never happened.

Saravá by Mitch Leigh (Man of La Mancha) and N. Richard Nash starred Tovah Feldshuh. It was a musical based on a Brazilian movie and the only recording that was made was a disco version of the title song. The show closed within a few weeks.

Sugar Babies was a Harry Rigby salute to old time burlesque with old burlesque sketches and Mickey Rooney and Anne Miller. It had a very successful run but was never made into a record until Robert Sher and I recorded the show after the show went on tour.

I saw the world premier of Sweeney Todd by Sondheim at the Uris Theatre. I took my daughter, who was about seven at the time, even though I knew it was probably not going to be something terribly appropriate. I did not know how many people would be killed or how the violence would be portrayed. My daughter at that age fell asleep after about 20 minutes (like in almost every show I took her to) but in this show, whenever there was a murder, a loud whistle shrieked and woke up my daughter. At the intermission we went into the lobby to get a candy for her to eat. I looked around and I did not see any other children. So I said to her, “You may not appreciate this today, but someday you can say that you were the only child who saw the world premier of Sweeny Todd.” My daughter survived and Mr. Sondheim had a big hit which has been revived and made into a movie.

The Grand Tour by Jerry Herman starred Joel Gray and was about a jew and a nazi who, over a period of time, learned to appreciate each other as human beings. This story did not please the critics or the audience and it only ran a few months but the songs on their own are quite nice.

The Most Happy Fella by Frank Loesser was a revival that did not have a really good run, despite a very good performance by Meg Bussart. It had a short run. The producer had made a video of the show when it was in Detroit and we now have that on a DVD.

The Utter Glory of Morrissey Hall by Clark Gessner closed opening night. With the financial assistance of Clark, we made a somewhat popular recording of the cast. It is really an old fashioned operetta done tongue-in-cheek and it stars Celeste Holm. We have now also released the tryout from a college in California on DVD.

They’re Playing Our Song we believe that this has already been talked about in our 1978 blog.

Tricks was a musical from Louisville, Kentucky where it had a brief tryout and should never have come to Broadway. It of course closed opening night.

Whoopee! by Gus Kahn and Walter Donaldson tried out in the Goodspeed Opera House which led to a successful run at the Booth Theatre in New york.

3 thoughts on “Musicals of 1979

  1. I seem to remember seeing Whoopee! at what was at that time called the Anta Theater.

  2. More wonderful memories. Thanks for sharing. Count me among those who cherish Carmlina and are so glad you put up with what you did to get it recorded.

    1. I, too, love Carmelina. How could I not when it stars Georgia Brown. Too bad she was not in more musical recordings.

Leave a Reply