In today’s theatre world, in which it seems every musical gets an original cast recording, it’s difficult to fathom that some notable musicals from the past slipped through cracks, album-wise. But there are more than a few cases where shows missed the bus on the road to audio immortality. Here are a few of the more remarkable among the “silent shows.”
1. 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue
The celebrated names of lyricist Alan Jay Lerner and composer Leonard Bernstein weren’t enough to get this short-lived 1976 Broadway effort recorded for posterity. Neither was the presence of Broadway veteran Ken Howard, playing the President. The show lasted only seven performances and remains Bernstein’s least-known stage work.
2. Big Deal
Any musical directed and choreographed by Bob Fosse was a big enough deal to get an album—except the one actually called Big Deal. This 1986 musical, based on the movie Big Deal on Madonna Street, was Fosse’s last hurrah; he died the next year. It received five Tony Award nominations, and the same number of Drama Desk nominations and actually won for choreography in both cases. But it only lasted 69 performances on Broadway. The fact that the score was composed of old standards, instead of original songs, probably subtracted from any great need to record the show.
3. Carnival in Flanders
This 1953 musical, based on the 1935 film La Kermesse Heroique, had a score by the noted songsmiths Jimmy Van Heusen and Johnny Burke and was directed by the film legend Preston Sturges, who also wrote the book. The cast was headed by John Raitt and Dolores Gray, with Gray winning a Tony for Best Actress in a Musical for the show's six performances. “Here’s That Rainy Day” has survived the score and become a standard.
4. Charlie and Algernon
Charles Strouse had been a name composer for two decades when he gave Broadway Charlie and Algernon, a musical based on the classic science fiction novel Flowers for Algernon, about a man who undergoes medical experiments to increase his intelligence. (It is also the source of the film Charly.) The Tony organization seemed to acknowledge Strouse’s status by nominating the score of the show for an award. But the music labels didn’t see enough there to give the show a cast recording. Their decision may have been influenced by the fact that the show’s 1979 world premiere London production, which starred Michael Crawford, had already been put on wax.
5. God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater
Today, composer Alan Menken can be assured there will be a permanent recording of every show he lays his hand to. But there’s one show that escaped the grasp of history. That’s this 1979 effort by him and his first writing partner, Howard Ashman. Based on a 1965 Kurt Vonnegut work, it debuted Off-Broadway three years before the team broke through with Little Shop of Horrors. The show debuted at WPA Theatre and got good reviews, transferring to a short commercial run. But an album, it didn’t get until an Encores! Off-Center production starring Santino Fontana.
Happy End is a musical by Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht, with a book written by Elisabeth Hauptmann. It debuted in Berlin in 1929 as the follow-up to the composers’ international smash The Threepenny Opera. A few of the songs became Weill-Brecht standards, including “Surabaya Johnny” and “The Bilbao Song.” The show, however, didn’t get to Broadway until 1977, in a production that featured a young Christopher Lloyd and Meryl Streep. The show received three Tony nominations, including Best Musical, but the short-lived Broadway staging did not live on as a cast album. However, a 1988 studio-cast album was recorded, as was a 2006 San Francisco production. And Lotte Lenya released a 1960 record in which she sang all the parts.
7. Love Life
Kurt Weill didn’t have a lot of luck where Broadway recordings were concerned. This large-cast collaboration with Alan Jay Lerner—directed by Elia Kazan, no less—had a decent run of 252 performances during the 1948-1949 season, and won star Nanette Fabray (as one half of a married couple who never age) a Tony Award. This wasn’t necessarily a slight against the show. Love Life was a victim of circumstances. There was a musicians’ strike during the entirety of 1948, which prevented the show—and any other show—from being preserved on record. The musical featured the original Lerner lyric for “I Remember It Well,” a song later featured in the film Gigi.
Magician Doug Henning had an unexpected smash with the Stephen Schwartz musical The Magic Show. That seemed to merit a follow-up. And a follow-up he got in 1983. Merlin was penned by Hollywood composer Elmer Bernstein and lyricist Don Black and it had a first-rate co-star in Chita Rivera. There were five Tony Award nominations, including Best Musical, but the run was only 199 performances, a fraction of the run of The Magic Show, and Merlin released no cast recording. It is best remembered today for having had a remarkable number of previews, while the show was being fixed, and for being an early credit in the career of Nathan Lane.
The career of the composing team of Nancy Ford and Gretchen Cryer was on the upswing, with an Off-Broadway hit to their credit, when they were given their Broadway debut in 1973 in the form of Shelter. But Broadway success wasn’t in the cards. The show was poorly received and ran for only 31 performances. Columbia Records release only two songs from the score as a single. More of the score was recorded in 1997 in connection to an Off-Broadway resurrection.
Timbuktu! was the legendary Eartha Kitt’s first Broadway appearance in two decades, and she won a Tony nomination for her performances. But the 1978 show did not win a cast recording. The George Forrest-Robert Wright show was a retelling of their previous hit, Kismet. This time the action was set in Mali. There was a studio cast album in 1978, but the only member of the Broadway ensemble to participate was Kitt. Others included Isaac Hayes and Johnny Mathis.
11. Where's Charley?
Where’s Charley?, a 1948 hit written by Frank Loesser and starring Ray Bolger, fell victim to the same strike that prevented Kurt Weill’s Love Life from getting an original cast recording—though Bolger himself did manage to record a couple of songs from the show. The show was a massive success, running two years and winning a Tony for Bolger. It is particularly well-remembered for the song “Once in Love With Amy,” which brought the house down every night. The audience often sang along with the song, it was so popular. A later 1958 London staging was recorded.