It is now six years since aficionados of the classic Broadway musical mourned the tragically early death of John McGlinn, who did such exhaustive work creating definitive recordings with authentic orchestrations and vocal arrangements. We can thank EMI (now Warner Classics) for signing John Wilson who has continued in the tradition but with a focus on the film musical.
The first two albums, That’s Entertainment and Rodgers and Hammerstein at the Movies, were delightful romps and this latest is likewise. Wilsons’ reconstructions of the souped-up Hollywood orchestrations are delivered by his hand-picked band in period style with swoopy strings and fruity saxes, but with just enough British reserve to avoid going over-the-top in glitz; one can still visualise a knowing campy twinkle in the eye.
His casting of singers is impeccable; genuine Broadway style voices with no nasty modern pop-vocalist mannerisms or plum-in-the-gob operatic diction – oh, how nice it is to hear every delicious Porter lyric clearly enunciated in a natural idiomatic style.
Most of the program is from the 1950s, so the opening number from Silk Stockings makes an apt curtain raiser as a paean to the technological innovations of that decade with Anna-Jane Casey and Matthew Ford channeling Janis Paige and Fred Astaire.
The reworking of numbers from stage to celluloid wasn’t always successful, especially when hampered by miscasting, but some of these recreations do improve on the originals. I much prefer Casey and Ford’s Let’s Do It over Sinatra and annoyingly cutesy MacLaine. Ditto with Casey’s witty Always True To You In My Fashion over Ann Miller’s guying, and Matthew Ford is far more “hepcat” in Now You Has Jazz than Bing Crosby whose smarmy presence has always made High Society (1956) off limits for yours truly.
Kim Criswell, a veteran from the McGlinn years, does a few star turns here; a perfectly judged rendition of Josephine and a raunchy show stopping My Heart Belongs To Daddy in the vampy incarnation as cooed by Marilyn Monroe in Let’s Make Love (1960). I’ve long regarded Criswell as the finest belter of our time and it is interesting to compare her with Anna-Jane Casey who is starting to turn my head.
It is a treat hearing these great songs with their lush sound-stage orchestrations in all their glory, thanks to a vivid full-range recording in “glorious stereophonic sound”, and while these may be faithful recreations, the vocal performances are not mere impersonations.