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What You Hear Vs. What You Saw

The leap to CD can mask or enhance flaws, as two production albums show.

April 21, 2002|DON SHIRLEY



Pasadena Playhouse production

Fynsworth Alley with Varese Sarabande

Sometimes it helps to lower expectations. Since the initial production of "Do I Hear a Waltz?" in 1965, its critics--including two of its creators, lyricist Stephen Sondheim and librettist Arthur Laurents--more or less consigned it to the scrap heap in their public comments.

So it wasn't too surprising that the 2001 revival at the Pasadena Playhouse was better than many musical theater aficionados expected. It hardly could have been worse than they expected.

Listening to the recorded score of the Pasadena version of "Do I Hear a Waltz?," do I hear its faults?

Yes, but they're less apparent than they are in the theater--again, because expectations are lower for a recording than they are for a complete theatrical experience. We don't feel we have to get so caught up in the plight of American tourist Leona Samish, who is alone in Venice and tempted to have an affair with a married stranger, if we can't actually see her or anyone else.

Just on the basis of the music, the second half of the score by Richard Rodgers and Sondheim is about five times more interesting than the first half.

"Take the Moment" and the title song look back honorably to Rodgers' better scores. "We're Gonna Be All Right" and "Perfectly Lovely Couple" look forward to the jaunty-sounding but ironic lyrics of the Sondheim musicals to come. "Everybody Loves Leona," which was cut from the original production but restored for a 2000 production in New Jersey and also used in Pasadena, looks back glancingly at Mama Rose in "Gypsy" and forward to the Elaine Stritch character in "Company."

The Pasadena cast--led by Alyson Reed, Anthony Crivello and Carol Lawrence--sounds in character as well as in good voice, backed by Steve Orich's 21-piece orchestra. The production's director David Lee--better known as a co-creator of "Frasier"--wrote the informative liner notes.



Celebration Theatre production

Belva Records

Seldom is an L.A. cast album released while the show is still playing, but that's the case with "Pinafore!," which opened in September at the Celebration Theatre and has been extended several times.

Before listening to the "Pinafore!" CD, I glanced at the liner notes for a recording of the original "H.M.S. Pinafore." The operetta was the subject of "a spate of heavily adapted" American versions in its early years, I learned, but more recently, it "has proved more immune than other Gilbert and Sullivan collaborations to modernizing trends."

Well, that was then and this is now. "Pinafore!" adapter and director Mark Savage kept most of the Sullivan score and even most of the titles of the individual songs, but he radically changed most of Gilbert's lyrics and character names.

The ship in this version is part of the "separate but equal" gay navy set up in response to the failed "don't ask, don't tell" policy. The captain's son is a transvestite who has successfully convinced his supposedly straight lover that he is a she. Yet the captain wants to marry his offspring off to Sen. Barney Crank of Maryland, the admiral of the gay navy.

Savage aims his darts at politically correct liberals instead of the usual right-wing targets of gay satires. Liberals are automatically accorded the same privileges in the gay navy that Englishmen were in the original, thereby making them fair game for Savage's pen. In addition to suggesting that one ostensibly straight character is really gay, Savage also suggests the opposite about another character--which flies in the face of what happens in most dramatizations of gay issues.

On the other hand, this probably isn't a show for people with no interest in gay culture--or indeed, with no interest in Gilbert and Sullivan. Both groups may well not understand half of the jokes.

The recording comes with a complete text of the lyrics, which makes joke-appreciation even easier than it is in the theater. And it preserves the multi-octave-spanning performance of R. Christofer Sands as the transvestite, plus the performances of the amiable Michael Gregory as the captain and Debra Lane as the secretly troubled Bitter Butterball (as opposed to the original's Buttercup), and the occasionally forced sounds of Christopher Hall as Dick Dockstrap (as opposed to the original's Ralph Rackstraw). Ron Snyder is the superb musical director.



Susan Egan

Jay Productions

Susan Egan's first solo CD is called "So Far ..." because it takes us through songs from some of the key roles she has played in her career so far. However, in her song selection, she took care not to repeat any of the numbers she previously recorded for her most famous role, Belle in "Beauty and the Beast." So there are some less predictable but sterling choices here.

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