If you’re a theater or movie lover, there are some must-have CDs for you this autumn.
Remember those great Doris Day movies, the ones where she shows off her smile and her spunk and gets Rock Hudson at the end of the picture? Even those of us who love these classic flicks tend to forget that before she was an underrated actress, she was a popular band singer. Her newly released CD, DORIS DAY: WITH A SMILE AND A SONG, is sheer easy listening heaven. The big band accompaniment is delightfully romantic, but free of the usual “sweet saxophone” brand of schmaltz. “Secret Love,” is one of my favorites; Day can belt without pushing the sound. Also easily recognizable are “I’ll See You In My Dreams,” “Our Love Is Here To Stay,” and “My Romance.” I have a special weakness for “Que Sera, Sera,” which seemed to be played everywhere, all the time, when I was a kid. Incidentally, the movie in which it was introduced, “The Man Who Knew Too Much,” starring Day and James Stewart, is an Alfred Hitchcock humdinger. Try to catch it on TV next time it plays.
Another oldie but goodie blonde singer, Dinah Shore (mwahhh!) headlines CALL ME MADAM, which features “Members of the original cast.” The story is loosely based on the life of Perle Mesta, a Washington socialite and Democratic fundraiser who was named Ambassador to Luxembourg in 1949. This musical, originally produced on Broadway in 1950, is a natural for this election year, and why a show isn’t being mounted right now is beyond me. Shore is, of course, not Ethel Merman, the original Sally Adams, but she brings her own brand of warmth and folksiness to a character who’s supposed to be originally from Oklahoma. The story is largely a satire based on America’s penchant for giving away money to other countries. I didn’t remember that the Eisenhower theme song of 1952 was actually a play on “They Like Ike,” from this show. I like the full blown orchestration, although I could live without the narration at the beginning. Politics and partying have always gone together, and “The Washington Square Dance” is still topical today. The lyrics to “Welcome to Lichtenburg” are especially clever, and anyone old enough to remember music from back-in-the-day will be delighted to hear the old favorite “You’re Just In Love.”
No one’s hotter right now than Megan Hilty. I’m not a big fan of her TV show, “Smash.” It usually leaves me rolling my eyes and saying “Oh, come on,” at the way things actually aren’t in the world of Broadway. But Hilty’s the real deal, and if anyone had any doubts about her chops, she banishes them here, in the CD from the New York City Center Encores! Production of GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES. Hilty plays Lorelei Lee, the role originally made famous on stage by Carol Channing. Most people associate the part with Marilyn Monroe, who memorably belted out “Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend” in the movie version. Here, Hilty more than holds her own; her “Little Girl From Little Rock” is shrewd, not dumb. She knows what she wants, and she knows how to get it. Don’t miss the fabulous Rachel York as Dorothy. Her full, rich voice and sense of timing add immeasurably to the recording.
I was never a big Ricky Martin fan, until I saw him play Che in the Broadway production of EVITA. His professionalism and charisma are in the Hugh Jackman class of magnetic performers who are also immensely talented. Yes, the songs have been done before, sometimes to death. But this CD, which also stars Argentine actress Elena Roger in the title role, and Broadway vet Michael Cerveris as Juan Peron, is well worth adding to your collection of Broadway musicals CDs.
WORKING, the Broadway musical presented in 1978, has had several incarnations, and is thought by many aficionados to be one of those shows that just never got a fair chance. Contributors to the work include Stephen Schwartz (book, lyrics, and music), James Taylor, and Mary Rodgers. Based on the 1974 bestselling book by Studs Terkel, the show features people working in different professions; some are happy, most are not. Especially effective is “Millwork,” a Joni Mitchell sounding lament by a worker who knows she’ll never escape. There’s a country twang to “Brother Trucker,” and “Cleanin’ Woman” has gospel elements. I really appreciated both “The Mason,” and “It’s an Art,” which are more upbeat. And it’s ultimately uplifting to hear the cast sing about the pride of having “Something to Point to.” Well worth a listen.
Just for fun, there’s a new CD of the old chestnut, THE DESERT SONG, Sigmund Romberg’s classic musical, with lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II. This recording was originally made in 1959, and features the captivating voice of Giorgio Tozzi, who was, at that time, a star at the Metropolitan Opera. Long unavailable, the dramatic opening, Spanish flavor, and taste of “Morocco” make this CD enjoyable listening.
Keep in mind that with the holidays right around the corner, any- or all- of these unique CDs would be a great gift.
Michall Jeffers is an accomplished Cultural Journalist, a music lover, and an avowed bibliophile. She writes extensively, both in print and online. Her eponymous cable TV show is syndicated throughout the tri-state area, and features celebrity interviews, reviews, and commentary. Michall is a voting member of both Drama Desk and National Book Critics Circle. www.michalljeffers.com