BLURBING MY LATEST BOOK:
Q: Reviewing the world of show albums in one book? Isn’t that too much for one person?
A: Yes, so I left out a lot. For example, I included Oklahoma!’s original cast—but not the Nelson Eddy Columbia studio cast, simply because Eddy, the rowdy Lochinvar of the Jeanette MacDonald MGMs of the 1930s had become fat and happy by his Columbia years. Dull.
Q: So, you skipped the dull CDs?
A: I skipped what I didn’t care about. The book is five hundred pages, but if you take time with some titles—Porgy and Bess, for instance, or On the Town—you just won’t have room for everything. How complete is complete, really? It’s a bigger field than you might imagine.
Many years ago, I knew an ex-military guy who was so masculine and commanding that, whenever he came over, the Vienna Fingers would atomize in their wrapping in fear. Once, he was talking about being in a firefight, and I asked if he had ever killed anyone. He said, “I killed everyone.”
And he meant it, but only metaphorically. You can't kill everyone, and you can’t be complete. There’s too much world, too much content. And this isn’t a reference work, while we’re at it. It’s a chat, impulsive and friendly.
Q: And the reviews are on the long side?
A: Only some. When you’re doing the various versions of Candide, you need space just to tell what numbers are in what recording, because that is one overstuffed score. What other musical has two songs about syphilis?
Q: How short do the reviews get?
A: Some of them are just a sentence or two. With Here’s Love, what do you say beyond “Run and hide”? Then, too, how much do you have to impart about something as basic to this field as the original cast of Company? Would anyone interested in a discography of the musical not already know about that show and its strangely distinctive original cast album?
Because Hal Prince was one of the great casting directors—in show after show, his first people can’t ever be bettered. And in Company’s case, he wanted not musical-comedy types but New Yorkers you might nod to in the elevator of your apartment building. The performers who opened that show looked and moved and sounded like somebody's neighbors. Isn’t that what “company” means? Not magical creatures in a Tolkien epic but the kind of folks you could have gone to high school with. (True, Elaine Stritch was, unlike the others, wildly colorful. But can there be Sondheim without Stritch?)
Anyway, sometime during the run, one of the replacements was George Wallace—formerly one of the great Broadway baritones, as you can hear on Pipe Dream and New Girl in Town. He had started in a ghastly B movie called Radar Men from the Moon, and now he looked like one. But he had still had that wonderful voice. Prince dropped in to check on the show and gave Wallace a note: “George, you’re singing too well.”
Q: How would you characterize the tone of your criticism?
A: It’s not criticism. It’s enthusiasm. I look for things to praise, because my readers love musicals and I love musicals. That’s where we meet. If you get into burning things down, it’s a bad date.
Q: So, you love everything?
A: Well, I called one disc “a disgrace.” But I’m not tactful. You don’t want to be so restrained that you have to ask your audience to “Please clap.” I don’t respect restraint. Some people think it’s praise, but if you believe strongly in the power of the arts to enlighten and inspire us, you have to talk up, not down. One of the great celebs of Western Civ, Goethe, ended his masterpiece, Faust, with the words—this is a very rough translation, now—”fucking ennobles us.”