OK, first let me set the scene here. Picture me, roughly the age of 13, perusing my already voluminous number of cast recordings, poring obsessively through the liner notes. It could have been the original cast recording of Sweeney Todd, Evita, Barnum, A Day in Hollywood/A Night in the Ukraine, The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, or perhaps even March of the Falsettos.
Of course, at the time, the recordings would have been in the form of LPs, all in a pile strewn across my bedroom floor. The great thing about LP cast albums was they often had gatefold interiors that opened to reveal adult-size production notes, pictures, essays, and synopses. And I devoured them all with the brio of a star-struck, musical-obsessed little Nancy boy. I can still remember some of the names contained therein: the Martha Swopes, the Thomas Z. Shepherds, the Goddard Liebersons, the Kevin Kellys. Who were these people? How did they come to be involved in this hallowed process? And how could I become one of them?
Cut to 2010. I'm in the midst of correcting final exams, when I get a phone call from Tommy Krasker, executive producer at PS Classics. Now, Tommy and I had been in touch off and on for years. I think he contacted me about a glowing review that I wrote of one of the shows that his label recorded, although I can't recall which show. Possibly Adding Machine, or maybe A Catered Affair. Anyway, I took the opportunity to put a bug in Tommy's ear about giving me the chance to fulfill a life-long dream of writing the liner notes for a cast recording. He was actually very positive about the possibility, but I didn't hear back from him about it, although we did continue to correspond, albeit infrequently.
So, back to the phone call. Tommy said that the person who was supposed to write an essay to accompany the upcoming PS Classics release of the obscure but delightful 1930s revue Life Begins at 8:40 was unable to meet the already-passed deadline, and would I be able to scare something up in impossibly short order?
"Can I roller-skate?!"
As soon as I hung up, I made a beeline for my theater bookcase and amassed a pile of books to begin my research. For the uninitiated, Life Begins at 8:40 was a lavish Broadway revue in the traditional of the Ziegfeld Follies and George White's Scandals. In fact, Life Begins at 8:40 was going to be another in the Ziegfeld series, the famed Shubert Brothers having purchased the rights to the Follies after the great Zeigfeld's death. But legal problems arose, and the show eventually came to be called Life Begins at 8:40. The title is a reference both to the 1932 bestseller Life Begins at 40, and to the typical curtain time for Broadway shows of the era.
The show starred Bert Lahr and Ray Bolger, five years before they would make "The Wizard of Oz" together. In a bit of additional Pre-Oz synergy, both Harold Arlen (composer) and E.Y. Harburg (lyricist) worked on the score. Ira Gershwin also contributed lyrics to the show while his brother George was busy with a little thing called Porgy and Bess. The Broadway production of Life Begins at 8:40 opened at the Winter Garden Theatre in August of 1934 and closed in March of 1935, after a then-respectable run of 237 performances.
The new CD will be the first-ever complete recording of the score from the show, and features a veritable who's who of contemporary Broadway scene, including Kate Baldwin, Christopher Fitzgerald, Montego Glover, Rebecca Luker, Brad Oscar, and Faith Prince. The recording will be released on June 8th, but you can pre-order it on Amazon or CD Universe, or you can wait and download the tracks from Amazon or iTunes. Whatever you do, please don't download the songs from an illegal file-sharing site. The good folks at PS Classics work tremendously hard, and if it weren't for people like Tommy Krasker we wouldn't have a chance to hear previously undiscovered gems like Life Begins at 8:40 and Kitty's Kisses. And if it weren't for Tommy, I might not have had the chance to fulfill a lifelong dream. So, do us all a favor, and pay for your music. In the long run, you'll be glad that you did.