At Home Abroad

Studio Recordings by the Original Broadway Cast, 1935 (Smithsonian/no CD) 3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5) Star-packed musical revue were always welcome attractions on Broadway during the Depression years.  Billed as “A Musical Holiday,”  At Home Abroad bolstered its thin and engaging overall theme — Americans traveling to foreign countries — with a fine score by Arthur Schwartz and Howard Dietz and a cast headed by Beatrice Lillie, Ethel Waters, and Eleanor Powell. The show was designed and staged with a good deal of dazzle by a gifted newcomer, Vincente Minnelli; even so, its 198-performance run was felt to be something of a disappointment. Despite this, the cast members made a number of studio recordings of songs from the score, including Waters’ insinuating “Thief in the Night” and two definitive Bea Lillie numbers, “Paree” and “Get Yourself a Geisha” — the latter with its insistent refrain, “It’s better with your shoes off.” As part of an ongoing effort to reconstruct lost musicals, the Smithsonian Institution issued an LP that collected these items and added a few numbers recorded later by Karen Morrow, Nancy Dussault, and other performers. If the score lacks the classic stature of Schwartz and Dietz’s earlier The Band Wagon, there’s still a lot to treasure here, including Eleanor Powell’s extended tap breaks in “What a Wonderful World” and “Got a Bran’ New Suit.” As always with Smithsonian releases, the accompanying notes detail the recordings with both erudition and enthusiasm. — Richard Barrios

Live and Studio Recordings by the Original Broadway Cast, 1935 (AEI) 3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5) The Smithsonian collection might have seemed the last word on At Home Abroad, but guess again. It turns out that there also exists a set of decrepit discs containing recordings of large portions of the show in live performance. Whether or not the source was a radio broadcast is unclear; although the sound quality gives new meaning to the phrase “low fidelity,” the material was skillfully transferred to the digital domain by the intrepid folks at AEI. The studio recordings by Beatrice Lillie, Ethel Waters, and Eleanor Powell noted in the review above are also included on the CD, and the patient listener will be rewarded with a very good sense of how this big and bouncy show operated. AEI obviously took great care with the project, going so far as to splice parts of Lillie’s studio version of “Dinner Napkins” into an otherwise live recording so as to get the best overall sound quality possible. Especially to be enjoyed here are Waters’ live performances of “Loading Time” and “Got a Bran’ New Suit,” which she did not record otherwise. Unfortunately, the CD booklet notes are inadequate — a chronic failing with AEI. And it’s really too bad that the original recording technology sounds as if it relied on tin cans and strings. — R.B.