Babes in Arms 1999 Studio Cast
- Where or When - Campbell, David
- Babes in Arms - Ojeda, Perry Laylon
- I Wish I Were In Love Again - Fitzgerald, Christo
- Light on Their Feet - Irby-Ranniar, Scott
- Way Out West - Anderson, Melissa R
- My Funny Valentine - Dilly, Erin
- Calhoun's Follies (Intro) - Anderson, Melissa R
- Johnny One Note Lyrics - Anderson, Melissa R
- Johnny One-Note Ballet
- Imagine - Anderson, Melissa R
- All at Once - Campbell, David
- Peter's Journey Ballet - Cahoon, Kevin
- The Lady is a Tramp Lyrics - Dilly, Erin
- You Are So Fair - Fitzgeraldd, Christ
- The Lady is a Tramp Lyrics (Reprise) - Dilly, Erin
- Finale - Company
Conductor: Rob Fisher
Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart returned from a discouraging half-decade sojourn in Depression-era Hollywood to embark on their golden period, with eight musicals opening in five years. Four of these scores remain among the best in their respective fields: the musical comedy/ballet hybrid On Your Toes; the farcical musical The Boys from Syracuse; the sophisticated-but-dark Pal Joey; and -- topping the list for all around rambunctiousness -- Babes in Arms. (And all this was before the amazing Rodgers teamed up with Oscar Hammerstein for Oklahoma! , Carousel, and more!)
These shows were all revived during Rodgers's lifetime, although the composer in each case saw fit to allow musical alterations and all-new orchestrations. Since the death of Rodgers in 1979, all have been restored (as accurately as possible) to their original musical form and recorded, with generally pleasing results. The most indispensable, perhaps, are City Center Encores 1997 production of Boys from Syracuse (DRG 94767) and, now, their 1999 Babes in Arms.
Broadway has seen any number of hit-filled musicals in its time, but Babes has one of the most glorious scores: "Where or When," "My Funny Valentine," "The Lady is a Tramp [Lyrics]," and "Johnny One-Note" are understandably well-known; "I Wish I Were In Love Again," "All at Once," "Imagine," and "You Are So Fair" are almost equally deserving. (The show is saddled with a problematic libretto, about a bunch of kids who put on a show in a barn. Encores and the Estates wisely entrusted the rewrites to John Guare, who did a fine, unobtrusive job. This Babes was staged with just the right touch and impressively choreographed by Encores artistic director Kathleen Marshall.)
This disc is sparked by the insouciant charm of Erin Dilly (in the role originated by child movie star Mitzi Green). Dilly conveys a warm personality and a sense of humor, and surely has a career ahead of her if she so wishes -- she's due on Broadway in April in Boublil-Schonberg's Martin Guerre. The disc is also buoyed by the exceptional playing of Rob Fisher and his Coffee Club Orchestra. The lively original orchestrations by Hans Spialek are full of wonderful little solos from the woodwinds and flutes, as well as some colorful work from the two pianos. All of this comes across beautifully, making this disc a joy to listen to. The rest of the cast -- including the up-and-coming Australian discovery David Campbell as Val (of "Funny Valentine" fame), Christopher Fitzgerald and Jessica Stone as the comedy couple, and Melissa Rain Anderson as the belter -- all do well; some appear to be considerably stronger on disc than they were in the theatre.
An earlier restoration of Babes in Arms -- a 1989 concert version conducted by Evans Haile and recorded at Alice Tully Hall -- is presently still available on CD (New World NW 386-2). That disc, which features fine performances by Judy Blazer and Jason Graae, is certainly commendable; but this new one -- with singers young enough to actually play these roles on stage -- takes precedence. And what a score!
Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart's Babes in Arms, a musical about the children of vaudevillians who put on a show, ran for eight months on Broadway in 1937 and was loosely adapted into a 1939 movie starring Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney that retained only two songs from the score. For the most part, record companies were not recording original cast albums or original motion picture soundtracks in the 1930s, but several songs from Babes in Arms were recorded shortly after the show opened, with "Where or When" becoming a chart-topping hit and "The Lady is a Tramp [Lyrics]" also scoring in the charts. In later years, "My Funny Valentine [Lyrics]" and "I Wish I Were In Love Again" joined the ranks of standards. In the early 1950s, Columbia Records and RCA Victor each produced studio cast versions of the show on 10" LPs (and, for what it's worth, the film soundtrack has turned up on vinyl as well). But it wasn't until New York's Encores! series of concert versions of vintage musicals revived Babes in Arms in 1999 that an opportunity for a real cast album came up. Encores! specializes in restoring original orchestrations, which in this case means that Hans Spialek's charts were heard for the first time since 1937. That helped with one of the challenges any revival of Babes in Arms faces: How to re-acquire those familiar songs from generations of nightclub performances by classic pop singers and make them sound fresh. Another advantage going back to the original score gave the revivers was that the songs are longer in their initial versions, with "Where or When," for example, having two introductory verses (for each part of what was a duet originally) that are not usually heard. But clinching the success of the production was the decision to follow the original idea of the show and cast it with new, young talent. Names like Erin Dilly, David Campbell, Melissa Rain Anderson, Christopher Fitzgerald, and Jessica Stone may not have rung any bells on opening night, but that enabled them to approach the material without the audience having any preconceptions. All those positive aspects of the revival carry over to the cast album. Snippets of dialogue and plenty of long-unheard ballet music rejoin the familiar tunes, along with some Rodgers Hart obscurities that deserve to be better known, especially "All at Once," a song about the quick maturing of children, and the hilarious comparison between the West and New York, "Way Out West" ("on West End Avenue"), which contains lines like, "There's not much buffalo, but lots of bull." Meanwhile, songs like "My Funny Valentine [Lyrics]" and especially "The Lady is a Tramp [Lyrics]" (with several extra verses) sound as good as ever. Rodgers Hart usually are remembered for their songs, not their shows, but this recording of Babes in Arms goes a long way toward making a case for them as writers of whole musicals, while re-confirming the appeal of their tunes.
William Ruhlmann, All Music Guide
Rodgers and Hart's Babes in Arms is the archetypal "let's put on a show in a barn!" musical. When Encores! decided to revive it, they picked a mostly unknown cast to match the characters' young age. Happily, the gamble paid off, especially considering the astonishing number of showstopping songs that pepper the ditzy book. Erin Dilly and Australian cabaret star David Campbell play the lead ingenues, and Dilly does well enough by "My Funny Valentine [Lyrics]" and "The Lady is a Tramp [Lyrics]." But Melissa Rain Anderson steals the show with brassy renditions of "Way Out West" and "Johnny One-Note." A 1989 recording of the musical may have stronger performances overall (Judy Blazer has brass and sass!), but more Rodgers and Hart is always better.