The King and I
As this is my favorite Rodgers & Hammerstein score, I have every version that has
ever come my way. Most have their good points, but I use one as a coaster.
The Original Broadway Cast Recording (MCA) - On its initial Decca LP
release, this sounded like the
microphones and performers were miles apart, but the digital CD
remastering cleared up that deformity. The sound is now warm and rich, and those of us who
never saw Gertrude Lawrence in action can get some sense of what made her such an
audience favorite. Her audible charm makes her infamous vocal shortcomings irrelevant. Yul Brynner's
raw magnetism is already in place, Dorothy Sarnoff sings a rich "Something
Wonderful," and Doretta Morrow and Larry Douglas are excellent as the doomed
young lovers. Drawbacks include the strange absence of any children Anna sings
"Whistle a Happy Tune" alone and "Getting To Know You" with an
adult chorus. "Shall We Dance" is abridged; a tragic loss.
This recording is of great historical value, but not the most satisfying version.
- The Original London Cast Recording (DRG) has Herbert Lom (best remembered as the crazed
police commissioner in the
Pink Panther movies) giving a solid but uninspired performance
as the King. Valerie Hobson is a fine Anna musically, but not compelling. The supporting cast is good, but
too many things are either shortened or missing. .
- The Soundtrack (Capitol) is a mixed bag. Many of
these tracks are clearly not the one's used in the actual film, so
more of a studio cast than a soundtrack. Marni Nixon and Deborah Kerr
share the role of Anna. Judge for yourself who sings what, but Marni handles the
legit bits beautifully, and Kerr is a charmer. Brynner is at his best
here, but the supporting cast ranges from okay to awful. The talented Rita Moreno could
not be more more miscast as Tuptim. "Shall We Dance" sounds
great, with its trademark BOOM, BOOM, BOOM! There are several tracks for
numbers that did not make it into the film. My advice is to skip this CD
and relish the visual ravishment of the film itself.
- The RCA Studio Cast Recording offers a poorly directed performance by
Theodore Bikel as the King and some new but uneven orchestrations by the great Philip J.
Lang. What makes this version collectible is Barbara Cook's radiant Anna,
a role she performed to great acclaim at NY City Center. Opera stars Jeanette Scovotti, Daniel Ferro and
Anita Darian provide excellent support.
- The Lincoln Center Cast (RCA)
is quite worthwhile overall. Metropolitan Opera star Rise Stevens is wonderful as Anna, and Patricia Neway
(the original Mother Abbess in Sound of Music) sings the finest
"Something Wonderful" on record. Lee Venora and Frank Poretta are
first rate in
the love duets, but Darren McGavin is only passable as the King lots of bluff
enthusiasm, nothing more. This was the first recording of "The
Small House of Uncle Thomas Ballet".
- The 1977 Broadway Cast is one of the most vividly theatrical cast
recordings ever. Brynner's finest performance as the King
previously unrecorded bits of dialogue, plus the heartbreaking final scene.
Constance Towers is a great Anna, and the supporting cast is fabulous.
I have ever heard matches Martin Vidnovic and June Angela's soaring "We Kiss
In a Shadow" and "I Have Dreamed." It was not mere publicity when Richard
Rodgers called this his favorite King & I cast. For the first time,
"Shall We Dance" is recorded with all the dialogue, and I dare you
not to be enchanted. The sound is excellent, the chorus & orchestra flawless,
and you gotta love the kids! Easily the most satisfying King & I
on CD pity the "Small House" ballet could not be included.
- Virginia McKenna played Anna when Brynner's tour reached London, and she
recorded her solos she does a good job, but this LP is very hard to
- The Angel Studio Cast repairs a longstanding oversight by casting
Julie Andrews as Anna. After imagining this performance for decades, I was not
disappointed Andrews is pure magic. What
a pity she never played the role on stage or screen!
The film orchestrations sound even better here than on the soundtrack thanks to
conductor John Mauceri and The Hollywood Bowl Orchestra -- the "Shall We Dance"
arrangment gets a definitive reading here. Ben Kingsley is
good as The King, clearly having a lot of fun. Lea Salonga and Peabo Bryson are not my
kind of casting for the young lovers, but they are not nearly as bad as they might have been.
Marilyn Horne sings a lovely "Something Wonderful," and there are
dialogue cameos. For Andrews fans, this version is a treasure.
- The 1996 Broadway Cast (Varese Sarabande) makes minor changes in the
score, but the key material is intact and deftly handled. This fresh and
thoroughly engaging recording succeeds in most every department.
Donna Murphy was a sumptuous Anna, and movie star Lou Diamond
Phillips is that rarity, a King who
can stand free of Brynner's shadow. The supporting cast is quite fine, making this a
worthy addition to the R&H catalog.
- The 1996 London Cast (Varese Sarabande) uses the same arrangements as the
'96 Broadway version. Elaine Page fans will enjoy her Anna, but others may find
it less than compelling. The rest of the cast is capable. Your call.
- The 1999 Animated Soundtrack is a total disgrace and now
sits in my coaster collection. Superb Broadway singers
Martin Vidnovic (The King) and Christiane Noll (Anna) labor against mindless cuts and
gooey orchestrations. The Rodgers & Hammerstein Organization must have
this, and shame on them for it. Don't even take this CD for free.
The King & I verdict: The 1977 Broadway cast is the most
satisfying recording, but the Angel studio version rates thanks to Julie Andrews.
Critics have hated this show for decades, but what of it?
Audiences the world over have long since taken Kismet and its glorious
score to their hearts. It certainly is one of the most frequently
recorded Broadway scores. Based on themes by Borodin, it has proven irresistible to
opera singers and conductors for half a century.
- The Original Broadway Cast recording is sensational despite some
time constraints. Alfred Drake was Broadway's top musical leading man,
and his glorious Hadj remains definitive. Richard Kiley and
Doretta Morrow are great in the romantic leads. As Lalume, Joan Diener milks every ounce of
sexual innuendo from the lyrics, and her campy soprano gimmicks are
The sound on this recording has a warmth and immediacy that
stood out on vinyl as well as it does on CD. Last but far from least, there isn't
a finer orchestra on any cast album the overture is a wow. No serious show lover's
collection is complete without this one.
- While the MGM Soundtrack is not bad, it simply can't stand up to the
competition. Howard Keel (who also took Alfred Drake's role in the delightful film
version of Kiss Me Kate) had a spectacular voice, but he does not give Hajj
much dramatic nuance. Most of the score is intact, but the performances are
never more than competent. Unless you knew someone in the cast, I can't imagine this
recording being of much interest.
- The Lincoln Center Theatre cast was headed by Drake, who gives another
dazzling (if comically broader) performance as Hadj. The supporting cast is good, most notably Lee
Venora's Marsinah, but the sound is not as warm as the original cast recording. And
why the hell did they use a blah Borodin medley in place of the original overture?
- The London Mantovani studio recording would probably never have been
remastered for CD were it not for the presence of opera superstars Robert Merrill
and Regina Resnik in the leads. Merrill tends to overact, so Resnik's bawdy and
vocally stunning Lalume walks off with the recording. The supporting cast
of minor opera stars is capable, but Mantovani's syrupy
orchestrations make this recording more a curiosity than a necessity.
- The Angel studio version matches movie star Gordon Macrae with
Metropolitan Opera soprano Dorothy Kirsten, and the results are
disappointing. Both stars had gorgeous vocal equipment but lacked the
required sense of
- The Sony studio cast recording is a solid bit of work. Samuel Ramey is
the best Hadj since Drake, and his powerhouse baritone thunders cheerfully through the
score. Jerry Haddley is easily the best Caliph on CD "Stranger in
Paradise" and "Night of My Nights" have never sounded better. On the
other hand, Dom DeLuise (whom I usually adore in anything) is miscast as the Wazir.
- The TER studio version has its flaws, but is second only to the
original cast version in its value to collectors. All the leads (mostly British opera
stars) are vocally gifted, but two things set this recording ahead of the pack. First,
Judy Kaye's sensuous Lalume is one of her best performances on record. Second,
several fascinating numbers from Timbuktu (a black version of Kismet that
ran briefly in 1975) are included and they are gorgeous to hear. "In The
Beginning Woman" (an Eartha Kitt showstopper on Broadway) works beautifully when
sung by Rosemary Ashe and a reprise of "Stranger in Paradise"
proves a knockout.
Final Kismet verdict: The original cast recording is essential to
any cast album collection. If you want more, the TER 2-disc is the most comprehensive
and lots of fun.
Kiss Me Kate
Cole Porter's masterpiece, this score has received its richly deserved share of recordings
over the years. Well, one or two are thoroughly undeserved or as Porter might say,
"Too Darn Not!"
- The Original Broadway Cast on Sony/Columbia is a treasure, with Alfred Drake and
Patricia Morrison socko in the leads and Lisa Kirk unbeatable as Lois. I doubt
anyone will ever top Drake's "Where is the Life" or Morrison's
"So In Love." These performances
are still wondrously alive after half a century. The entire cast is super, but
tragic that "Brush Up Your Shakespeare" was so severely edited. One of the best cast
recordings of all time for buffs, ownership is NOT optional.
- The Reunited Original Broadway Cast (Broadway Angel) was recorded
by Capitol a few years
after the original to take advantage of that new invention, stereo. Same leads,
but not nearly as vital, and the sound quality does not noticeably improve on the monaural
original. Still fun, but the first version is far superior.
- The MGM Soundtrack shows that even Hollywood could get these things right now and
then. Everyone in the cast actually sings, so none of the usual dubbing
resulting in a lively and enjoyable version. Howard Keel and Kathryn Grayson were at their peak, and Ann Miller is a hoot as Lois. The film is wonderfully enjoyable, and a special
treat if you can catch it in its rarely-seen original 3D format. It is fascinating to hear
the lyrics that got "cleaned up" and even more fun to hear which ones slipped
by the censors.
- The Royal Shakespeare Company Cast (First Night) An RSC version
of this show sounds like an intriguing
idea after all, this show is based on Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew
but the results
are just plain awful. Paul Jones and Nichola McAuliffe are execrable in the leads, and no one
in the supporting cast has the slightest idea how to handle musical comedy. All copies of
this one ought to be burned, as a warning to other presumptuous Royal Shakespeareans.
- The 1990 Angel Studio Cast is proof that Thomas Hampson should be shot. Who ever
told this pompous ass he had any business singing showtunes? He's brilliant in
grand opera but
ruins every Broadway score he records so enough already! Josephine
Barstow is not much better as Lilli, but at least she has some sense of the right style. The
real fun here comes from a delicious supporting cast. Kim Criswell is possibly the best Lois
on record, George Dvorsky is a charming Bill, and the dependable David Garrison and Robert
Nichols have a ball with the first-ever uncut recording of "Brush Up Your Shakespeare." John McGlinn
conducts ably. If you don't mind the price tag for this two CD set, you can just skip the
lead tracks and enjoy the featured jewels.
- The 1999 Broadway Revival Cast was justifiably acclaimed, but this CD captures both
the best and worst of this production. On the down side, the new Don Sebesky orchestrations
are sometimes garish, and Amy Spanger's Lois doesn't sound nearly as good as it looked on
stage. While Brian Stokes Mitchell may not be totally comfortable with the killer high
notes, he is great fun to hear, and Marin Mazzie is exquisite as Lillie. Michael Berresse is
the best Bill ever recorded, and the supporting cast is super throughout. Special kudos to
Lee Wilkof and Michael Mulheren for their definitive "Brush Up Your Shakespeare" one
of the funniest moments Broadway had seen in far too many a season.
- The 2003 London Revival was closely based on the NY revival,
and issued no CD -- but did turn out a handsomely produced live DVD
performance with excellent sound. Brent Barrett and Rachel York sing the
heck out of the leads, Nancy Anderson is a knockout as Lois, and Michael
Berresse repeats his acclaimed performance as Bill. The sometimes hyper-kinetic
staging can be a visual distraction, but its great to have a time
capsule memento of this incarnation.
The final Kiss Me Kate verdict: The Original Cast is easily the best, but most
fans will want the 1999 NY Revival version too.
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