Drat! The Cat!

Drat-OBCOriginal Broadway Cast, 1965 (Blue Pearl/no CD) 3 Stars (3 / 5) It’s a cliché among cast album collectors to hear a good score of a flop musical and ponder, “Why wasn’t this a hit?” But the recording of this eight-performance 1965 tuner is truly mystifying in that respect. Released in 1984, it’s taken from a live tape, and the audience is plainly having a marvelous time. Ira Levin’s daffy book concerns a bumbling cop pursuing a seductive jewel thief in circa-1890s New York. The snatches of dialogue on the record are met with appreciative chuckles and outright guffaws. Milton Schafer’s score is tuneful and spirited, and Levin’s deft lyrics go heavy on the comedy. Elliott Gould’s rendition of the one hit song, “She Touched Me,” wins what sounds like a thunderous ovation. Even Joe Layton’s comic ballet “The Upside-Down Thief’ elicits gales of giggles. Best of all among the cast is a teenage Lesley Ann Warren as the diamond-pinching heiress; she’s a giddy delight in “Wild and Reckless,” a charmer in the tongue-twisting “Holmes and Watson” duet with Gould, and quite the pensive balladeer in “I Like Him.” Jane Connell turns up as Warren’s mother, making her inimitably odd noises in the waltz ensemble “Dancing With Alice” and raging engagingly at Jack Fletcher in “It’s Your Fault.” The score and the performances are super. I would have upgraded my rating of the recording if it weren’t for the sound quality, which is pretty wretched overall. — Marc Miller

Drat-StudioStudio Cast, 1997 (Varèse Sarabande) 3 Stars (3 / 5) The good folks at Varèse Sarabande assembled a top-drawer cast and a full orchestra to give Drat! The Cat! the recording it deserved, and this CD improves on the above album, but not in all respects. Certainly, the sound is a dozen times better; there are superior liner notes by Peter Filichia, and an appreciation by author Ira Levin. Jason Graae, in the role created by Elliott Gould, makes a fine lead, and is even disarming in a hidden “bonus” track. There’s luxury casting all around: Judy Kaye, with an intentional spoof of an Irish accent, is the cop’s widowed mother; Elaine Stritch is his lady love’s harpy of a mama; and Jonathan Freeman is the object of Stritch’s considerable scorn. The recording retains the original orchestrations of Hershy Kay and Clare Grundman, and it includes lots of lead-in dialogue. On the debit side: As Alice, the jewel-thief “cat” of the title, Susan Egan weighs every line carefully and sings excellently, but there’s little of the giddy, naughty rich girl in her portrayal. For all of its assets, this Cat album lacks a certain theatrical spark. But you can’t really go wrong with either recording, even if the original has a very slight edge. — M.M.