October 2, 2012

A Whole Lot Of Broadway

The problem with compilations of musical theater scores is that any theater fan already owns a bunch of discs that might be compiled, while anyone who doesn’t have any one of them probably isn’t interested.

Ah, but there is one possible exception.

Suppose, for a second, you are a dyed-in-the-wool fan of classic musicals, and you’ve just discovered that some youngster in your life – a son, daughter, granddaughter, nephew, cousin, next door neighbor’s kid, carpool partner’s godson … heck, your postman’s neighbor’s paperboy – has been cast in his or her school play and fallen, however briefly, in love with musical theater. You want, in the worst way, to encourage this recruit to the obsession that he or she at least momentarily shares with you.

What better way than to make a birthday gift, a holiday gift, or even an opening night gift of some recordings of Broadway scores?

Broadway Masterworks, the label that has inherited the responsibility of making available the catalog of what used to be Columbia Records and RCA Victor – two labels that captured some of the greatest scores over the golden age of the Broadway Musical – has just issued a compilation with the not-unreasonable title “Broadway In A Box.”

If you can spring for something like $112.68 (the current price on Amazon) or even $109.99 (the current price on ArkivMusic.Com) for a gift, this box offers a fabulous selection of some of Broadway’s most seductive and satisfying scores – 25 albums in all. If you assembled your own gift box, purchasing the same 25 albums, it would run you nearly $275.

Exactly what is in this big box?

Seventeen of the albums are original Broadway cast recordings ranging from 1949′s South Pacific through 1987′s Into The Woods. In between came such indispensable titles as My Fair Lady, The Sound of Music, Fiddler on the Roof and A Chorus Line.

The others are either Broadway revival recordings such as Anything Goes, Guys & Dolls and The Man of La Mancha (in the production that featured the glorious voice of Brian Stokes Mitchell) or Lincoln Center re-stagings of the likes of Oklahoma!, Carousel, The King and I and Show Boat.

There’s the unalloyed optimism of Annie (“The sun will come out Tomorrow!”) and the horror of homicidal insanity of Sweeney Todd, the romance of star-crossed lovers of West Side Story and the idealism of Arthur’s round table in Camelot.

The collection ranges from the comedy of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying to the tragedy of Nazi Germany’s Cabaret and from a portrayal of the hypocrisy of the cult of celebrity in Chicago to a portrait of the driving ambition of the ultimate stage mother in Gypsy.

There’s the dark underworld of Dickens’ London in Oliver! and the lighter-than-air ambiance of Thornton Wilder’s Yonkers in Hello, Dolly contrasted with the modern angst of Company and the flamboyance of the hippie movement of the 60s in Hair, the American Tribal Love-Rock Musical.

The box comes with a booklet with information on each show and an overview essay by MasterworksBroadway.Com columnist and well-known author on all-things-Broadway, Peter Filichia. He manages to survey the highlights of the 25 scores in a way that puts the art of the musical theater score in perspective in an intriguing and entertaining way.

My own life-long obsession with show music comes from a similar contribution by a father who loved recorded music and an uncle who wanted to encourage my interest. I recall countless afternoons in my uncle’s “music room” which was well stocked with albums that introduced me to the glories of many of the albums in this box.

Whoever chose the 25 albums for this compilation did a fine job although, inevitably, there are favorites that are unaccountably missing – where’s Ragtime?

The danger involved in giving such a treasury is, of course, that the recipient may want more and you – seeing a chance to cement a love affair with the art form you treasure – may need to come up with another box of 25. Masterworks Broadway hasn’t said anything about a sequel, so you might have to compile your own … and pay individual prices rather Master Work’s discounted group rate. For now, take the 25 they offer. 

It’s a great start for any new devotee.

Broadway in a Box
25 discs
Packaged with a booklet featuring notes on the collection and information on each show.
ASIN: B008E16LS2