Category Archives: D-F

Forever Plaid

Forever-PlaidOriginal Off-Broadway Cast, 1990 (RCA) 4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5) In its New York incarnation, Steve Ross’s “Heavenly Musical Hit” Forever Plaid was, if you’ll pardon the expression, a divine tribute to  the close-harmony-group singing of the Brill Building-era. The book is about a “guy group,” the Plaids, whose four members perished in a car crash on their way to pick up custom-tailored plaid tuxes for a gig that should have been their first big break. The date was February 9, 1964, and the Plaids were slammed broadside by a school bus filled with Catholic teens bound for Manhattan to join the studio audience for the Beatles’ debut on The Ed Sullivan Show. Now, “through the power of harmony and the expanding holes in the ozone layer in conjunction with the positions of the planets and all that astro-technical stuff,” the deceased Plaids have returned to perform the big show they never got to do. Forever Plaid ran on the Upper West Side for years. Under the direction of creator Ross, who also choreographed, the show’s original cast — Stan Chandler (tenor), David Engel (bass), Jason Graae (baritone), and Guy Stroman (tenor) — was wonderful. The recording was produced by the show’s musical director, James Raitt, with Bill Rosenfield supervising for the label; it captures the performers’ unimpeachable intonation, as well as their verve and comedic flair. The show is a rare combination of wit, hokum, double entendres, and assured musical taste, and in the hands of the original ensemble, it was even touching. The medleys combining “Gotta Be This or That” with “Undecided” (featuring Graae) and “Shangri-La” with “Rags to Riches” (featuring Engel) are standouts, but there’s not a dud track on the disc, which also includes what is surely the most clever, delicious rendition of the Hoagy Carmichael-Frank Loesser chestnut “Heart and Soul” (here featuring Stroman) ever heard. During the 1990s, Forever Plaid became a fixture in several major cities and toured the hinterlands, providing employment to an army of young Equity actors. This cast album is a wonderful souvenir of the original Off-Broadway company. — Charles Wright

Forever-PlaidLas Vegas Cast, 2005 (DRG) 4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5) Steve Ross’s feather-light revue may be more than a quarter century old, but its selection of mid-century pop songs is forever fresh. If the show’s narrative conceit isn’t also evergreen, that’s likely because subsequent revues have attempted to conjure the Plaid magic and fallen short. (The Marvelous Wonderettes comes immediately to mind, because of the misbegotten 2016 Off-Broadway revival.) Ross is famously proprietary about his franchise, and he has wisely ensured that each iteration of the Plaids — even the Christmas version — is faithful in form and execution to the original. The Las Vegas production preserved on this recording, the second Vegas run of the show, opened in February 2005 and played the Gold Coast Hotel & Casino for two years. The cast consists of Bruce Ewing (Jinx), Doug Frank (Smudge), Mark Perkins (Frankie), and Dale Sandish (Sparky), with J. Gregory Davis as the alternate for Frankie, Smudge, and Sparky. All five men perform on the recording. Admirably precise in intonation and harmony, they replicate the exuberance and naïve charm of the four pros who originated the roles in New York,  although in appearance they’re more — umm, how to say it? — mature than their predecessors. David Kanscar on piano and Ken Seiffert on bass make a glorious noise to accompany and complement the fine vocals. As conductor, Kanscar maintains the style, tempi, and dynamics of James Raitt’s expert 1990 musical direction. Produced by Hugh Fordin and Richard Martini, the recording is effectively mixed and features superb aural quality. If a second Forever Plaid is essential for only the most comprehensive collections, the Las Vegas cast recording is a fine alternate for the original. Let’s rejoice that what’s been plaid in Vegas doesn’t have to stay in Vegas! — C.W.

Footloose

Footloose-STFilm Soundtrack, 1984 (Columbia/Legacy) 3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5) Directed by Herbert Ross, with a screenplay by Dean Pitchford, Footloose is about some small-town teenagers who attack a municipal ordinance and do battle with a fundamentalist pastor in an effort to have dancing allowed at their high-school prom. (The plot was inspired by a controversy in Elmore City, Oklahoma, where the 1980 repeal of an anti-dancing law led to the town’s first sock hop in over 100a hundred years.) The film has a superb cast: Kevin Bacon as a big-city kid transplanted to a no-dancing hamlet; Lori Singer as his love interest; John Lithgow as the pinheaded preacher; and Dianne Wiest, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Chris Penn in supporting roles. Pitchford, an accomplished rock lyricist, enlisted Kenny Loggins and several others to collaborate on and perform songs for the movie’s soundtrack. Those songs include Loggins’ rendition of the title number and “I’m Free (Heaven Helps the Man),” Mike Reno and Ann Wilson doing Eric Carmen’s “Almost Paradise,” Deneice Williams singing Tom Snow’s “Let’s Hear It for the Boy,” Karla Bonoff’s rendition of “Sornebody’s Eyes,” Shalamar’s “Dancing in the Sheets,” Sammy Hagar’s “The Girl Gets Around,” Moving Pictures’ “Never,” and Bonnie Tyler’s delicious “Holding Out for a Hero.” The “remastered and enhanced” CD offers four bonus tracks: John Mellencamp’s “Hurts So Good,” Foreigner’s “Waiting for a Girl Like You,” Quiet Riot’s “Bang Your Head,” and a remix of Shalamar’s “Dancing in the Sheets.” — Charles Wright

Footloose-OBCOriginal Broadway Cast, 1998 (Q Records) 1 out of 5 stars (1 / 5) When Footloose was adapted as a stage musical, it turned out that the movie’s vintage rock songs, wonderful as they may be, were too closely identified with the performers on the film soundtrack to seem anything but odd in the hands of show-music veterans like Dee Hoty and Broadway babies like Jeremy Kushnier and Jennifer Laura Thompson. Even if their idiom weren’t foreign to this context, the songs from the film, as compared with the ones that Pitchford and Tom Snow wrote expressly for the stage version, are shoehorned, rather than integrated, into the action. On this original cast recording, the really good songs — that is, the ones from the movie — aren’t given their due, and the additional numbers don’t live up to what’s on the soundtrack. — C.W.

Follies

Follies-OBCOriginal Broadway Cast, 1971 (Capitol/Angel/Kritzerland) 4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5) To many, Follies is one of the greatest of all shows, possibly the ultimate musical theater piece. Others find it cultishly “interesting,” with a magnificent Stephen Sondheim score compromised by a problematic book. And some, especially those seeking “pure entertainment,” cannot grasp the show’s then-and-now, fact-and-fantasy structure or the juxtaposition of clever pastiche songs with those emanating from four unhappy people. In short, Follies will always be controversial, but those who love it do so with the fiercest devotion. One aspect of the show’s legend that is not open to dispute is that its original cast album is ultimately a pale (if frequently wonderful) reflection of a legendary production. All the great performers are here — Alexis Smith, Dorothy Collins, Gene Nelson, Yvonne De Carlo, Mary McCarty, and the rest — but the decision to edit this lengthy score to fit it on one LP disc was penny-wise and posterity-foolish. On the startling list of total omissions are “Loveland,” “Rain on the Roof,” and nearly all of the show’s dance music. (“One More Kiss,” originally left off the LP, was reinstated for the CD.) Furthermore, many of the songs that are here have damaging internal edits. What is present here is very fine and irreplaceable, including Collins’ aching “Losing My Mind” and De Carlo’s gutsy ”I’m Still Here,” even if both of these songs were among those cut down for the recording. Still, this condensed version of one of the most varied and intelligent scores in Broadway history allows precious little of the flavor of the original Harold Prince-Michael Bennett production to come through. (Note: The Kritzerland CD is a limited edition, remixed and remastered version of the original recording.) — Richard Barrios

Follies-ConcertNew York Concert Cast, 1985 (RCA, 2CDs) 4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5) This concert production at Lincoln Center featured an all-star cast, and the results were dazzling if not perfect. All of the show’s strengths are clear in this nearly complete recording of the Follies score, but there are so many opportunities for big moments by stellar performers that it takes some doing to keep everything in balance. In fact, the balance is decidedly off when Elaine Stritch makes “Broadway Baby” into a weird, disenchanted cousin to “The Ladies Who Lunch.” More in line with the overall concept is a sweet memento from Betty Comden and Adolph Green, who chirp “Rain on the Roof, ” and a grand memento of operatic glories past is diva Licia Albanese in “One More Kiss.”(She’s beautifully paired with the clear-voiced Erie Mills.) Phyllis Newman as Stella is no match for Mary McCarty, nor does Carol Burnett, good as she is, offer a more definitive “I’m Still Here” than Yvonne De Carlo’s original. But Barbara Cook is up to the Dorothy Collins standard; not surprisingly, “Losing My Mind” is one of the highlights of the disc. Lee Remick is engaging as Phyllis, and George Hearn does well as Ben. In the role of Buddy, Mandy Patinkin offers his strange combination of fine singing and irritating self-indulgence. Everyone else delivers the goods acceptably, and the orchestra is no less than the New York Philharmonic, conducted splendidly by Paul Gemignani. — R.B.

Follies-LondonOriginal London Cast, 1987 (First Night, 2CDs) 4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5) Sondheim made considerable alterations to the score for this production.  The Prelude and “Bolero d’Amour” were cut, “The Story of Lucy and Jessie” was replaced by an “intellectual striptease” called “Ah,  But Underneath,” “The Road You Didn’t Take” was dropped in favor of the intricate Ben/Phyllis duet “Country House,” there was an entirely different “Loveland,” and Ben’s “Live, Laugh, Love” became his exhortation to “Make the Most of Your Music.” As for the leading performers: Diana Rigg is a predictably strong Phyllis, Julia McKenzie is a moving Sally, David Healy does fine as Buddy, and Daniel Massey is solid as Ben. Some of the featured roles are cast with the resonance necessary to any production of Follies; Dolores Gray sings ”I’m Still Here” with much of her plush vocal tone intact, and operetta veteran Adele Leigh quavers her way poignantly through “One More Kiss.” A few of the others struggle too hard to sound American, and the show as a whole seems a little reserved and earthbound. British reticence? Perhaps. At any rate, an ideal Follies may reside only in the minds of those who adore the show. — R.B.

Follies-Paper-MillPaper Mill Playhouse Cast, 1998 (TVT, 2CDs) 4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5) As production costs skyrocketed in the 1990s, a full-scale Broadway revival of Follies seemed an ever decreasing possibility. But the Paper Mill Playhouse, a  45-minutes-from-Broadway theater in Millburn, N.J., mounted a well-received production in 1998. The design values were impressive, and the casting was rich, imaginative, and crammed with Broadway/Hollywood talent: Kaye Ballard, Eddie Bracken, Laurence Guittard, Dee Hoty, Donna McKechnie, Ann Miller, Lilane Montevecchi, Phyllis Newman, Tony Roberts, and Donald Saddler. Some aspects of this revival were certainly arresting. Who, after all, was more qualified to sing “I’m Still Here” than Ann Miller, well into her seventies but still going strong? Who was a more apt “Broadway Baby” than Kaye Ballard? Who could be a more winsome Sally than A Chorus Line sweetheart Donna McKechnie? If not all of this two-CD set lives up to the highlights offered by those performers, it’s good enough to use an example of the ongoing truth that every recording of Follies is fascinating and absolutely necessary in its own way. One caveat about this one: It’s labeled “The Complete Recording,” and an appendix section does offer a wonderful array of songs written for but not included in the original production (plus “The Story of Lucy and Jessie,” which was dropped for the Paper Mill production in favor of “Ah, But Underneath”). But since most of the numbers created for the London version are not here, it isn’t truly complete. Still, why carp? The cast ranges from competent to magnificent, the atmosphere is theatrically solid, and the resonant acoustic is gracious to some of the older singers. — R.B.

Broadway Cast, 2011 (PS Classics, 2 CDs)  4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5) The success of the Paper Mill Playhouse production played a sizable role in convincing Broadway that a Follies revival was, in fact, feasible. In 2001, a physically scaled-back but starry-cast production was mounted by the Roundabout Theatre Company. It did not earn a commercial recording, and nor did the well-received 2007 Encores! series presentation of the show. But the Follies discography did begin to expand again with the next Broadway production, which originated at the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. and moved (with a few cast changes) to New York for a limited run. The acclaim that greeted this production was almost drowned out by some hand-wringing over one controversial piece of casting: Bernadette Peters as Sally. Indeed, as the recording indicates, the vulnerability that has always been part of the Peters persona may not always match up with that of the crestfallen Sally, reminding us that not every wonderful performer can be a complete success in every great role. In contrast, the late, Tony-winning Jan Maxwell makes a crisp, perfectly realized Phyllis, and Danny Burstein is an outstanding Buddy. Ron Raines is satisfactory as Ben, and the various cameos are, in general, highly successful. Elaine Paige has no difficulty delivering a powerhouse “I’m Still Here,” Jayne Houdyshell is an endearing Hattie, and as Emily Whitman, Susan Watson is still a charmer more than half a century after Bye, Bye Birdie. Two outstanding turns rate special mention: Terri White’s boffo “Who’s That Woman?” is a track one can happily play over and over, and veteran Met mezzo Rosalind Elias delivers a “One More Kiss” so firm as to make a listener wonder if she’s playing the old Heidi or the young one. (That latter role is beautifully sung by Leah Horowitz.) The recording generously extends over two discs and includes ample dialog. Once again, Follies casts its riveting, too-great-to-be-perfect yet mesmerizing spell. — R.B.

National Theatre Cast, 2018 (Arts Music) 4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5) Now well into the fifth decade of its existence, Follies came back yet again in a lavish, imaginative, and rapturously-received production at London’s National Theater. This is not only the latest major production of the show (at this writing) but is also one of the most widely seen, courtesy of broadcasts in movie theaters. Visually stunning and dramatically penetrating, the NT Follies fares a little less well as a purely auditory experience. Part of the problem comes, once again, with those Brits-striving-to-sound-American inflections. As with the first London recording, only more so, the cast members on this recording work rather conspicuously to convince listeners that they’re as American as, say, Ethel Shutta. The strain, as exacerbated by those intricate Sondheim lyrics, is detectable. Nor, to many listeners, will the entirely competent cast always seem as vocally distinctive as many of their predecessors. Under the direction of Dominick Cooke, the brilliant Imelda Staunton offers a take on the role of Sally that may not be appreciated by everyone but is certainly valid and striking. The other members of the central quartet are all fine, the “turns” are well done, and Tracie Bennett is an insightful Carlotta. There’s also a glimpse of “star glow” in the casting of long-ago movie hunk Gary Raymond as Weismann and opera diva Josephine Barstow as Heidi. In this Follies, the whole matters more than the individual parts, which is as worthy a concept as any bestowed on this iridescent, endlessly meaningful work of art. — R.B.

Fly With Me

Fly-With-MeColumbia University Cast, 1980 (Original Cast Records) 3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5) It’s like dredging up riches from the Titanic: An unknown Rodgers and Hart score, their Columbia University varsity show from 1920, delivered intact. And the 17-year-old Richard Rodgers and 25-year-old Lorenz Hart are already their inimitable selves. Here’s Rodgers’ famous “wrong note” trick snuck into “Dreaming True,” thereby enhancing an already fine waltz. Here’s Hart rhyming extravagantly (“ecclesiastics,” “bombastics,” “iconoclastics,” “plastics,” and “gymnastics” in four bars of the opening number), moving the plot along, joking slyly (“Don’t love me like Salome / I’d hate to lose my head”), and going sentimental when the story calls for it. There’s also one lyric by Rodgers, and one by a young Columbia grad named Hammerstein. The score is so varied — waltzes, foxtrots, a Charleston, a rousing school song — and so frisky, it’s a marvel that it took Rodgers and Hart five more years to be noticed. Bruce Pomahac’s orchestrations, while not authentically of the period, are authentically Broadway; the socko overture alone justifies the album. But here’s the rub: This is a recording of a live performance at Columbia, and it’s clearly a varsity show with varsity talent. The undergrads seem like nice kids, but they hardly display trained voices or make the most of the material, although Avi Simon and Marci Pliskin get a nice rapport going in “Don’t Love Me Like Othello.” The silly book, set in the distant future (1970), peddles ethnic stereotypes, so you have to put up with Rod McLucas’s bad French accent, and with Peter Cromarty and Annie Laurita pretending to be Chinese (in “Peek in Pekin’). This is all forgivable. What hurts more is that many of Hart’s lyrics are unintelligible; the small-voiced performers are too far away from the microphones, and an appreciative audience sometimes drowns them out. Still, this album shouldn’t be passed up. Just settle down with a copy of The Complete Lyrics of Lorenz Hart, turn to the section that covers 1920, and prepare to be dazzled.  — Marc Miller

Fly, Blackbird

Fly-BlackbirdOriginal Off-Broadway Cast, 1962 (Mercury/no CD) 2 out of 5 stars (2 / 5) The cast album of this virtually forgotten musical is especially notable for two of its principal cast members: Avon Long, whose lengthy and distinguished career included stage performances and recordings of the role of Sportin’ Life in Porgy and Bess; and Robert Guillaume, whose Broadway appearances in Kwamina, Purlie, and the 1976 production of Guys and Dolls preceded his fame as the star of TV’s Benson. Written By C. Jackson and James Hatch,  Fly Blackbird concerns the struggle for civil rights in America as seen from the differing points of view of an older black man and members of a younger generation. Long’s character counsels patience in achieving racial equality and eliminating discrimination, while his daughter (Mary Louise), her boyfriend (Guillaume), and the other young people take an activist approach. The song titles — “Everything Comes to Those Who Wait,” “Now,” “Mister Boy,” “Old White Tom,” “Wake Up,” etc. — pretty much tell the story. One of the highlights of the score is “Natchitoches, Louisiana” in which a black police officer (Leonard Parker) and a white prison matron (Helon Blount) learn that they may have a lot more in common than was at first apparent. Jackson’s lyrics are sometimes a bit pedestrian but sincere, and they’re set to attractive if not especially memorable melodies by Hatch. — Michael Portantiere

Floyd Collins

Floyd-CollinsOriginal Off-Broadway Cast, 1996 (Nonesuch) 5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5) In telling this bleak, based-in-truth story of a Kentucky man trapped in a cave and the media circus that surrounds him and his family during the ordeal, composer Adam Guettel  — the grandson of Richard Rodgers, and a poster boy for the new wave of American musical theater composers — married bluegrass and classical strains to create an utterly unique  sound that echoes with Appalachian authenticity. Some “old school” enthusiasts may not appreciate Guettel’s musical audacity, whether it’s the yodeling in “The Call” or the meandering gorgeousness of “Daybreak.” But the title folk ballad, the rollicking “Riddle Song,” and Floyd’s intensely moving spiritual vision “How Glory Goes” have won over even some of the most hardened purists. As for Guettel’s lyrics, they’re colloquial and character-perfect. (Additional lyrics were contributed by Tina Landau, the author of the show’s book.) This excellent recording preserves the performances of an outstanding cast including Christopher Innvar in the title role, the clarion-voiced Jason Danieley as his brother Homer, and the incomparable Theresa McCarthy as their touched-in-the-head sister. Bruce Coughlin contributes excellent orchestrations that make use of acoustic guitar, banjo, and harmonica in concert with more traditional musical theater instrumentation. — Brooke Pierce

Flowers for Algernon

Flowers-editOriginal London Cast, 1980 (Original Cast Records) 1 out of 5 stars (1 / 5) The musical Flowers for Algernon — or, as it was actually titled onstage, Charlie and Algernon — is based on the Daniel Keyes novel about a mentally retarded man, a mouse, and an experimental intelligence-increasing procedure that they undergo together. Charles Strouse’s score contains one terrific song (the title number, a song-and-dance duet), another that could be described as pretty (“Whatever Time There Is”), and two that might be called interesting (“The Maze” and “Charlie”). But on the whole, it’s rather boring and occasionally unpleasant. No better are the lyrics, by David Rogers, who also wrote the libretto. As Charlie, Michael Crawford is utterly annoying for the first half of the disc; once the character achieves a higher level of intelligence, Crawford mercifully lightens up on the squeak factor in his voice. A few of the songs are almost saved by Cheryl Kennedy’s singing (her role is that of Charlie’s doctor/love interest) and/or Philip J. Lang’s orchestrations, but only almost, and the album’s sound quality is weak. The London production was no hit, and a later Broadway version with P.J. Benjamin and Sandy Faison was even less successful. — Seth Christenfeld

Flower Drum Song

FDS-OBCOriginal Broadway Cast, 1958 (Columbia/Sony) 4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5) Although Flower Drum Song doesn’t have the substance of most of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s other shows, it features one of the team’s most enjoyable scores. The book — by Hammerstein and Joseph Fields, based on C. Y Lee’s much grittier novel — presents an affectionate portrait of an assimilating Chinese-American middle class and its attendant generation-gap problems. Miyoshi Umeki shines as Mei Li, the Chinese picture bride who finds a new life in America; her renditions of the poetic “A Hundred Million Miracles” and “I Am Going to Like It Here” are marvels of delicacy. Larry Blyden, in a 1950s version of nontraditional casting, is Sammy Fong, the thoroughly Americanized nightclub owner who doesn’t want to marry her; he adds some Broadway zip to “Don’t Marry Me.” Pat Suzuki livens up the proceedings as nightclub star Linda Low, sashaying through “Grant Avenue” and the politically incorrect “I Enjoy Being a Girl” (“I talk on the telephone for hours / With a pound and a half of cream upon my face!”). As Wang Ta, the faithful Chinese son who chafes at parental strictures, Ed Kenney offers a persuasive rendition of “Like a God.” Juanita Hall as the fun-loving, Americanized matron Madame Liang delivers “Chop Suey,” a witty inventory of American culture circa 1958 (“Hula hoops and nuclear war / Dr. Salk and Zsa Zsa Gabor / Harry Truman, Truman Capote, and Dewey / Chop Suey!”). Arabella Hong, as the lonely seamstress who bears unrequited love for Wang Ta, sings the operatic “Love, Look Away.” The show is lively, dated, and slightly silly. — David Barbour

FDS-LondonOriginal London Cast, 1960 (HMV/Angel) 2 out of 5 stars (2 / 5) As Mei Li and Sammy Fong, Yau Shaun Tung and Tim Herbert aren’t as distinctive as their Broadway counterparts. Surprisingly, this recording really comes to life in the nightclub numbers “Grant Avenue,” “Fan Tan Fannie,” and “Gliding Through My Memoree,” all of which are even bolder than before. Yama Saki gives a vivacious performance as Linda Low; with her strong belt and aggressive manner, she brings a great sense of fun to her songs.  While this recording is no substitute for the original, it’s a nice supplement to it. And it’s amusing to note one textual change: On the Broadway album, in “Gliding Through My Memoree,” the nightclub singer tells a chorus girl to say something in Irish, and she replies, “Elin Go Blah!” On the London album, the same request is met with “Blendan Beehan!”  — D.B.

FDS-soundtrackFilm Soundtrack, 1961 (Decca) 1 out of 5 stars (1 / 5) Ross Hunter’s film adaptation of Flower Drum Song is a camp classic. You know you’ve departed from reality in the first scene, when Mei Li and her father emerge from a shipping crate (smuggled in from China) looking perfectly coiffed and made up. It gets sillier from there, with a grotesquely overblown dream ballet attached to “Love, Look Away” (the vocal dubbed by Marilyn Horne). The “Sunday” sequence is equally blown up. The film score disappoints in eliminating “Like a God,” and the running time of the soundtrack album is padded with instrumental tracks. Umeki and Hall, retained from Broadway, are still charming. Jack Soo is fine as Sammy Fong, and B.]. Baker, dubbing Linda Low’s songs for Nancy Kwan, provides lively vocals. A CD bonus track features Rosemary Clooney singing “Love, Look Away.” — D.B.

FDS-revisalBroadway Cast, 2003 (DRG) 4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5) In David Henry Hwang’s new, politically corrected libretto for Flower Drum Song, Mei Li is an escapee from Communist China who takes refuge in a San Francisco-based Chinese opera theater run by Ta’s father. Madame Liang is now an enterprising press agent who turns the theater into a nightclub that panders to Western audiences with “exotic” shows. Thankfully, Linda Low is still belting “I Enjoy Being a Girl,” and all in all, this disc presents a luxuriously sung version of a delightful score. Lea Salonga’s sweetly seductive voice and powerful belt are tailor-made for Mei Li’s numbers, and Jose Llana is more than a match for her as Ta, especially in “Like a God.” As Madame Liang, Jodi Long leads a zesty version of “Grant Avenue” and partners amusingly with Randall Duk Kim (as Ta’s father) in “Don’t Marry Me.” As Linda, Sandra Allen has plenty of oomph. Don Sebesky’s inventive new orchestrations make extensive use of Chinese harmonies, and he really goes to town in the nightclub sequences, turning “Fan Tan Fannie” into a production number with an irresistible pop beat. Despite the fact that some of the numbers are overextended here, this is probably the most accessible recording of this score for modern ears. — D.B.

Florodora

FlorodoraOriginal London Cast, 1900-15 (various labels/Opal) 2 out of 5 stars (2 / 5) The blurb on the CD cover calls this “the world’s first-ever original cast album!” Well, the cast of the 1899 success did enter the Gramophone Company recording studios in 1900 and did commit several songs to wax, including the famous sextet “Tell Me, Pretty Maiden.” But the tracks found on this compilation album range in sound quality from barely audible to unlistenable; indeed, several sound like messages from extraterrestrials. Nearly all are performed to tinny piano accompaniment. Few of the lyrics by Paul Rubens and Frank Clement can be deciphered, and those that can aren’t any great shakes. Still, allowing for the otherworldly quality of the audio, one can tell that Leslie Stuart’s melodies have a nice lilt, and this is a valuable document of the performance styles and stars of the day — stars such as Ada Reeve and Kate Cutler. There’s a goofy track of Louis Bradfield dueting with himself in “Tell Me, Pretty Maiden,” affecting a falsetto for the women’s parts. The album is filled out with solo piano recordings of music from the show, and a track from a 1915 revival that sounds more modern. As an archaeological dig, the CD is a noble attempt and occasionally pleasant listening. — Marc Miller

FlorodoraConcert Cast, 2013 (Comic Opera Guild; available through comicoperaguild.org) 3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5) The indefatigable Comic Opera Guild had a go at Florodora in 2013, and its recording has one enormous advantage over the “original cast” cylinder tracks: You can hear it. The score is presented more or less complete, and it must be said that Leslie Stuart wrote some good imitation Victor Herbert. The choral work is downright ragged at times, and among the principals, only Natalie Emptage achieves anything like a characterization. But if you want to hear what an utterly typical comic-operetta score sounded like back in the day, or what passed for lyrical wit in 1900, you could do a lot worse. (A double-CD set of this performance,  including all the dialogue, is also available, but I’ll pass.) — M.M.

Flora, the Red Menace

Flora-BroadwayOriginal Broadway Cast, 1965 (RCA) 3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5) John Kander and Fred Ebb’s first show together tells the story of Flora Meszaros (Liza Minnelli), who is thrilled to get a garment-district job during the Depression and even more thrilled to find a boyfriend in Harry Toukarian (Bob Dishy). She isn’t thrilled to find that he’s a Communist, but Flora doesn’t seem to experience much more than mild embarrassment over this state of affairs. There are three wince-inducing songs here (“Knock, Knock,” “Palomino Pal,” and “Hello, Waves”), but ”A. Quiet Thing” and “Sing Happy” are stunners, especially as delivered by Minnelli when she was young and full of potential. Don Walker’s orchestrations enhance the songs, and the overture — which was actually the entr’acte in the theater — is swingin’. — Peter Filichia

Flora-Off-BroadwayOff-Broadway Cast, 1987 (JAY) 2 out of 5 stars (2 / 5) More than two decades after the failure of Flora, Kander and Ebb — and new book-writer David Thompson — reworked the show for a revival at the Vineyard Theatre, where it was staged in the manner of a Federal Theatre Production of the 1930s. The recording of the revised version would be the reference for any new production, but if you’re only interested in hearing the score, you need not buy this disc, which is quite inferior to the original album. Granted, three of the show’s silliest songs have been excised, and it’s nice to have an extra snippet of a song before “A Quiet Thing,” a verse for “Dear Love,” and some good dialogue leading into “Sing Happy.” But Veanne Cox and Peter Frechette are limp substitutes for Minnelli and Dishy. While John Kander himself plays the piano, his solo accompaniment can’t compare with the original disc’s lush, full orchestra. “The Kid Herself’ track makes it clear why the song was dropped from the original production. Worst of all, a most annoying thematic melody, which would have been a chore to hear even once, interrupts the action six times! — P.F.