No For An Answer

No-for-an-AnswerOriginal Cast, 1941 (Pearl/AEI) 3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5) Marc Blitzstein’s follow-up to The Cradle Will Rock failed to coalesce and ran for only three performances — yet it earned a cast recording, with Blitzstein at the piano. Billed as a “new American opera” but closer to a pro-union revue with a few plot threads, No for an Answer is innovative in form and passionate about the plight of the disenfranchised. Some of the songs sound decades ahead of their time in their unusual construction; consider “Francie,” a hummed melody with spoken interjections but virtually no lyrics. The score is not easy listening, and Blitzstein’s agitprop concert production employed few real singers, but the social anger and commitment to reform come through. The writer’s satirical gifts are fully apparent as well: “Penny Candy,” “Dimples,” and “Fraught” are sneaky parodies of the pop pablum of the day. It’s a mostly no-name cast (future movie director Martin Ritt is in the chorus), but one soon-to-be famous performer stands out. That would be Carol Channing, then an undergraduate at Bennington. In her two numbers, she sounds like nothing you’ve ever heard — she doesn’t even sound like Carol Channing — but her comic style is already assured and assuredly bizarre. — Marc Miller