Monday, July 23, 2007

The Broad Way

Will Finn, forgetting that I am always right about everything, takes issue with my post about the Li'l Abner movie:

Boy oh boy do i have to disagree... i love/hate this old movie for all its intense corniness and it is one of my favorite guilty pleasures. i have seen it more times than i could count... i have a fascination with Al Capp that is filled with simultaneous revulsion. i can't exactly explain it but the cheap, flat-footedness of the movie captures it for me. I almost wouldn't want to see it look better, (which I'm sure it could have).

As for the soundtracks, i can't vouch for the orchestration, (i don't have a great ear for that sort of thing) but i have to prefer the vocalizations of Imogene Lynne (overdubbing the gorgeous Leslie Parrish) as "Daisy Mae" way way WAY over the horrible hoarse croaking of Edie Adams in the Broadway one. Given that the rest of the main characters (with the execption of "Mammy Yokum") are right off the stage version, i don't see what much difference it makes. i wish like crazy there was a CD of the movie--"I'm Past My Prime" is wonderful. Compare those two tracks back to back and get back to me.

Will is right that Edie Adams was disappointing on the original Broadway album. She was actually a terrific singer, better than she usually got to show in her Broadway and TV appearances -- Leonard Bernstein wrote a coloratura part for her in Wonderful Town that she tossed off effortlessly, but which everyone else who has played the part of Eileen has pretty much crashed and burned on. But by her own admission she didn't like the part of Daisy Mae as written in the show (it's not much of a part, she was right about that) and she isn't in good voice on the cast album.

Which brings up a sticky point about Broadway cast recordings in general: a lot of them have the singers in poor or tired voice. This is because of the way they were recorded. Because of a combination of two factors, union rates and the need to get the album out as quickly as possible, most Broadway cast albums are recorded in one marathon session on the first Sunday after the opening. The producer can and does try his best to schedule the recording in such a way as to make sure that each performer gets some rest between numbers (and the overture is usually recorded last, after the singers have gone home). But you've got performers who've been rehearsing for a long time, have just gotten through the difficulty of opening the show, and will soon go back and do more stage performances. And you're asking them to record, for posterity (tm), all their musical numbers from the show in one day. It's a wonder that these albums don't sound worse than they do.

Now, here's the thing: I like the way Broadway albums sound. And I think a lot of Broadway buffs do too. Yes, the performers sometimes sound hoarse. Yes, there are mistakes that the producer doesn't have time to correct. (On the Li'l Abner album, in "Put 'Em Back," you can hear one of the girls start to sing at the wrong time; it was left in because there wasn't time for a re-take.) Yes, the style of these albums is relentlessly loud, brash and driving. But all that kind of describes a Broadway show as well. And there's something exhilarating in the intensity that performers bring to a cast recording, when they don't really know for sure if the show will last and they've spent an immense amount of time and energy getting it to this point. That's why the original cast recording of My Fair Lady, recorded a week after the premiere when it was only just starting to sink in that they were a smash hit, has a vitality that was never replicated on any other recording.

Broadway cast recordings are raw and kind of desperate; they contradict the stereotype of Broadway musicals as over-polished, over-careful. And by comparison, movie soundtrack albums just seem too slick. This is also why I prefer the rougher orchestrations of Broadway shows to the lush big-orchestra sound that most of these movies (not Li'l Abner) were treated to in the movies. Rodgers and Hammerstein just sound less syrupy with canny use of a relatively small orchestra, than with Alfred Newman's over-use of a huge orchestra.


Will Finn said...

well at least i made my point about Imogene Lynn as 'Daisy Mae's' lovely movie singing voice. BTW, she was also the vocalist in all the Tex Avery 'Red Hot' cartoons. nothing against Edie Adams, who i usually like. your indication that she didn't like the role explains a lot...

In the case of most other stage v.s. screen version recordings tho you might be suprised to hear that i agree with you, and growing up in the pre-ipod/walkman era with an older brother majoring in musical theatre arts, i still know many shows by heart(both in stage & screen versions). MY FAIR LADY & CAMELOT are vastly superior on the B'way albums v.s. the wheezy, atrocious Andre Previn film versions. i have a nostalgic preference for the original decca recordings of OKLAHOMA & GUYS&DOLLS too. And for all the versions of Bernstien's CANDIDE that have been done, nothing beats the original with Rbt Rounseville, Barbara Cooke, William Olvis & Max Adrian.

MUSIC MAN is a toss-up for me, the filmscore has a slight edge for me, due to the unusual richness of the orchestration and my personal pref. for 'Being in Love' instead of 'My White Knight'.

Jon88 said...

My memory may be playing tricks, but it seems to me that James Naughton sang in a character voice onstage in "City of Angels" but abandoned that for the recording. Perhaps he didn't want people to think he really sang like Humphrey Bogart. (I'm exaggerating.)

Will Finn said...

Before i forget: a few other notable B'way albums that trump their movie versions hands down:


The soundtrack albums are not only unlistenable, the movies are unwatchable! Something went horribly wrong in the 1960's and seventies.

i have enjoyed a lot of shows on stage but one of the reasons i think they usually flop as movies is because there is something heroic about singing live that doesn't compare to watching an edited film of someone lipsync to a pre-recorded song. we have become so subconsciously spoiled by excellent pre-recorded music that the least we expect from it is quality. singing live though is a real talent and you either got it or you don't.

Anonymous said...

I like mistakes on cast albums. On the Ethel Merman "Gypsy," someone knocked over a music stand or something during the overture. On the remastered CD, they edited it out. I hate that!

Jenny Lerew said...

God, what a great post(another that I come late to--someone linked to my blog from this older page).

Thanks for taking up Edie's end vis a vis her singing voice; I think her Eileen is wonderful and I agree with her(and you)about Daisy Mae in the show-meh!

Also, completely brilliant points about Broadway recordings, a POV that virtually no one acknowledges or references but that is true and important, about how they're made and the excitement of their "rawness".
Just great stuff!
PS Gee, Will-I never knew you were such a Broadway fan. Do I have stories for you!