When it comes to cast recordings, everyone thinks musicals—and why not? Records, cassettes, CDs, and digital audio downloads are and have always been overwhelmingly for music.
But did you know that many plays have also received original cast recordings? These albums often preserved the performance of the entire text by the complete original cast, meaning they are a true historical record of classic theatrical literature.
You’ll notice the bulk of these recordings come from the 1960s, when record labels—particularly Columbia—started investing in spoken word records and specifically Broadway play albums. It’s a trend that more or less fell out of practice as time went on, but with the Off-Broadway Vineyard Theatre’s new partnership with digital audiobook provider Audible on the horizon, it may just be on its way back in again.
Here, in chronological order, are seven plays that received original cast recordings:
1. Waiting for Godot
Beckett’s Waiting for Godot is a classic of the theatre; the work has played Broadway four times, with such stars as Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Nathan Lane, and Bill Irwin. The play concerns two tramps waiting perpetually for Godot, an enigmatic figure in a blurred universe where time, place, and memory defy conventional logic. The pair sit and muse and come across three other characters, but (spoiler alert) Godot never arrives.
Godot’s first Broadway production came in 1956, in a production that featured Bert Lahr (of Cowardly Lion fame), E.G. Marshall, Alvin Epstein, and Kurt Kasznar. This cast recorded their entire performance for release as an album, one that luckily remains available today. A CD version of the recording is available, or you can find it on streaming services.
2. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Edward Albee’s 1962 play won four Tony Awards (including Best Play), received a movie adaptation, and has been revived on Broadway three times. The play takes place in the home of a college professor and his wife, the daughter of the college’s president. The couple invite a younger academic and his wife over for drinks after a late-night party, and as the alcohol flows, the secrets start to come out.
The original Broadway cast recorded the entire play—all three hours of it—for release as an album in 1963, a few months after they opened on Broadway, preserving the Tony-winning performances of both Uta Hagen (who would go on to become a legendary acting coach) and George Grizzard. Though the recording was out of print for many years, Masterworks Broadway re-released the recording digitally and on CD in February 2014.
Sidebar: Elaine Stritch, who was matinee Martha during the original run, recorded her performance for BBC radio in 1974, which you might just be able to find on a certain streaming video site.
Murray Schisgal’s Luv was a successful play when it opened on Broadway in 1964; it won three Tony Awards, including one for director Mike Nichols. A dark comedy, the story is about a neurotic man who has a failed suicide attempt who then comes between a husband and wife. The work was adapted into a film starring Jack Lemmon, Peter Falk, and Elaine May in 1967.
The Broadway cast, including Alan Arkin, Anne Jackson, Eli Wallach, and Michael O’Keefe, all preserved their performances for an album released in 1965. The album is out of print now, but you can find it on YouTube.
4. The Subject Was Roses
In Frank D. Gilroy’s The Subject Was Roses, a mother and father struggle for the love of their son, who has recently returned home after serving overseas. It won both the Tony and Pulitzer in 1965, and enjoyed a healthy 832-performance run on Broadway.
A 1968 movie adaptation captured two of three original Broadway cast members—Martin Sheen and Jack Albertson (who would go on to play Grandpa Joe in the 1971 film Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory)—but the entire cast recorded their performances for an album in 1965, including Irene Dailey. Unfortunately, the album has never been issued on CD or as a digital download.
5. The Boys in the Band
This work is one of the earliest plays to depict and center on openly homosexual characters; The Boys in the Band premiered Off-Broadway in 1968, a little over a year before the Stonewall riots. It was a hit, too. The original production ran for more than 1,000 performances—still one of Off-Broadway’s longest running plays ever—and was adapted into a feature film in 1970.
The performances of the original cast, including Kenneth Nelson, Peter White, Leonard Frey, Cliff Gorman, Frederick Combs, Laurence Luckinbill, Keith Prentice, Robert la Tourneaux, and Reuben Greene, have been extremely well-documented. They all recorded an album of the complete play in 1968, and then reprised their performances for the film adaptation, as well. Sadly, the album of the stage version is now out of print, but if you have access to an LP player and a good used record store, it can still be found today.
6. The Real Thing
Tom Stoppard’s The Real Thing, about a married playwright who falls in love with a married actress, came to Broadway in 1983 with an all-star cast. Glenn Close and Jeremy Irons co-starred as Annie and Henry (the actor and playwright, respectively). The supporting cast included Christine Baranski, Peter Gallagher, and Cynthia Nixon. Irons, Close, and Baranski all went on to win 1984 Tony Awards for their performances, with Mike Nichols winning for his direction and Stoppard winning Best Play.
The entire original Broadway cast recorded their performances for Nonesuch records in 1984. While out of print, it can be found in used record shops.
Written by Michael Frayn (Noises Off, Democracy), Copenhagen was the hit play of 2000. Based on actual events, Frayn’s drama imagines a meeting between German physicist Werner Heisenberg, his Danish mentor Niels Bohr, and the latter’s wife, Margrethe, during World War II. Heisenberg and Bohr worked together to unlock secrets that could lead to the building of an atomic bomb, the possibility of which they argue the pros and cons. The play won three Tony Awards, including Best Direction of a Play (Michael Blakemore), Perormance by a Featured Actress in a Play (Blair Brown), and Best Play.
The entire original Broadway cast, including Brown, Philip Bosco, and Michael Cumpsty, repeated their performances in a two-disc recording of the complete play, released by record label Fynsworth Alley in 2001. Though out of print, you may be able to find used copies.
WATCH CYNTHIA NIXON RE-CREATE HER HISTORY-MAKING EXPERIENCE FROM THE ORIGINAL PRODUCTION OF THE REAL THING:
Logan Culwell-Block is a musical theatre historian, Playbill's manager of research, and curator of Playbill Vault. @loganculwell
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