For me, there's no greater pleasure than sitting down to listen to the cast recording of a beloved show. Of course, I'll buy practically anything, irrespective of whether I've seen the show. Years ago, my cousin Joanne asked me why I would buy the cast recording for a production I hadn't seen. I sputtered at first, for lack of comprehension. Why would one need to have seen a show to enjoy a cast recording, I eventually replied. I wasn't alive to see Ethel Merman in Gypsy, but I can still marvel in her clarion call of a voice on what might just be the greatest score of all time.
In deference to my cousin, I will say that cast recordings are that much sweeter when I have seen the production in question. It's one of the reasons why I'm so delighted with the new PS Classics release of Finian's Rainbow. Alas, this production of Finian's Rainbow played its final performance at the St. James Theater in January. I saw the show once at Encores (read my review) and twice on Broadway (read my review and my re-review). My take on the show itself varied, but my reaction to the score was steadfast: it's a gem. Fortunately, the good folks at PS Classics have done their usual bang-up job of preserving classic and quality shows, which now includes this nonpareil score from composer Burton Lane and lyricist Yip Harburg.
Sure, there are more cohesive and integrated scores, particularly those from some of the Rodgers and Hammerstein shows. But I'll be damned if I can think of another score from this or any period that has as many genuinely tuneful, funny, and charming numbers as Finian's Rainbow. There honestly isn't a single bad number in the bunch. Lane and Harburg run the full gamut from sweet lyricism ("Look to the Rainbow") to charm songs ("Something Sort of Grandish") to rousing production numbers ("If This Isn't Love") to wry social comment ("Necessity"). And when you've got the personable and professional likes of Kate Baldwin, Cheyenne Jackson, Jim Norton, Christopher Fitzgerald, and Terri White to sing such a gem of a score, well, all the better.
This recording of Finian's Rainbow captures so much of what made the show charming, particularly Kate Baldwin's stirring soprano voice and Christopher Fitzgerald's impish playfulness. And what a delight it is to hear Terri White's husky voice emanate from my stereo once more. In younger days, I practically wore out my LP of Barnum, particularly White's bravura take on "Thank God I'm Old."
Rediscovering Finian's Rainbow got me to thinking about other shows that feature the worth of Burton and Harburg. Both gentlemen had distinguished careers as songwriters, but neither really hit it all that big on Broadway. Harburg's other shows include the underrated Bloomer Girl, the joyous but forgettable Jamaica, and the utterly bizarre Flahooley. None of these shows was particularly successful financially, and Flahooley was a outright bomb. Lane's most memorable shows, other than Finian's, were On a Clear Day You Can See Forever and Carmelina, both of which have much to recommend them, although as a whole they're rather unfulfilling.
But as is often the case with talented creators, even their biggest flops contain diamonds in the rough. Which is one of the reasons that Kate Baldwin's new solo CD, Let's See What Happens, is such a delight. As a sort of Finian's tie-in, PS Classics has also recorded and released this compilation of musical delights, mostly from the various shows and movies that Lane and Harburg contributed to over the years. And who better to interpret these songs than the dazzling Ms. Baldwin.
Notable tracks on the CD include "That Something Extra Special," from Darling of The Day, and as definitive as Patricia Routledge is on the show's cast recording, Baldwin more than holds her own. Baldwin also charms on "Here's to Your Illusions" from the aforementioned Flahooley. Again, Baldwin proves a genuine match for another formidable lady, the lovely Barbara Cook, who performed the song on the train-wreck fascinating Flahooley recording. The Baldwin CD also unearths a few little-known (or at least unknown to me) gems, including "I Like the Likes of You" from The Ziegfeld Follies of 1934, and "Have Feet, Will Dance" from the 1957 TV musical "Junior Miss."
The CD errs on the side of the slow and contemplative ballad, and although I'm usually more of an uptempo guy, Baldwin's clean and rounded delivery make for energizing listening even on the slowest of slow songs. I really hope this woman has a long and successful career ahead of her. She's enchanting both on-stage and in the studio. It's lovely combination.