Ambassador

Original London Cast, 1971 (RCA/Stage Door) 2 out of 5 stars (2 / 5) The original London cast album of this Henry James adaptation is also the de facto original Broadway cast album, since the West End’s two leads, Howard Keel and Danielle Darrieux, reprised their roles in New York not long after the show’s quick demise in London, and they carry the bulk of the musical program. James’ favorite, theme, the clash of American ingenuousness and European worldliness, gets a thorough working-over in this story of a New England milquetoast named Lambert (Keel) dispatched to Paris by a dominating widow to retrieve her philandering son. Instead, Lambert falls under the spell of Paree and, more specifically, of a fascinating countess (Darrieux). The globe-trotting narrative was simplified for the stage, which the score reflects. Don Gohman’s melodies are attractive, if a bit derivative, and Hal Hackady’s lyrics strive diligently to pull James’ ideas together into a cohesive package. Some terrible comedy songs — e.g. “What Can You Do With a Nude?” — were mercifully left behind in London but made it onto the recording.  Andrea Marcovicci, who introduced the affecting “Love Finds the Lonely” in her Broadway debut, isn’t heard here; her London counterpart, Isobel Stuart, is capable, but Marcovicci must have been heartbreaking. Keel is hardworking but miscast as a milquetoast. Darrieux has very little voice, so she tries to compensate with charm, and succeeds only halfway. The most vivid performance here comes from Margaret Courtenay as the horrifying harpy who sets the plot in motion. She’s no singer, but it’s a great character, and Courtenay has every character nuance under her right corset. Some fine theater songs are scattered about — “Tell Her,” “The Right Time/The Right Place” — yet they fail to convince us that a Henry James musical is a good idea. While one admires the creative team’s ambition to write a soufflé that’s also serious, the results sound more like Gigi with a hangover.  — Marc Miller