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“Charlotte Sweet” & “Tales of Tinseltown”: Two New Theater CDs

Two recent recording releases showcase the enduring and circuitous musical theater career of the talented lyricist and librettist Michael Colby.

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“Charlotte Sweet” CD Cover (Art work: Frederick Marvin)

“Charlotte Sweet” CD Cover (Art work: Frederick Marvin)

Darryl Reilly

Darryl Reilly, Critic

JAY Records has recently released two lively musical theater recordings that highlight the career of lyricist and librettist Michael Colby.  One is the first reissue of a fondly regarded show from the 1980’s and the other is a new all-star concept album of a piece that has yet to have a major production.  Both showcase Mr. Colby’s accomplished and joyous talents. 

Charlotte Sweet is a whimsical musical that originally ran for 20 performances Off-Off-Broadway in the spring of 1982.  It transferred with much of the original cast to Off-Broadway’s the Westside Arts Theatre where it opened on August 12, 1982.  Despite positive reviews it played only 102 performances.  In 1983, the show was nominated for three Drama Desk Awards in the categories of Outstanding Actress in a Musical, Outstanding Music and Outstanding Lyrics.  Also that year the original cast recording was released.

Structured as a show within a show and set the in early 20th century England, a group of British musical hall performers perform the Victorian era “The Story of Charlotte Sweet.”  This Liverpool lass is a remarkably talented soprano whose romance with the dashing Ludlow Ladd is interrupted when, in order to pay off her father’s debts, she joins Barnaby Bugaboo’s Circus of Voices.  It’s a veritable freak show of performers with unusual voices where dramatic complications ensue.

Jeff Keller, Michael McCormick, Polly Pen (seated) Lynn Eldredge, Merle Louise and Mara Beckerman as the sang “Circus of Voices” in the original Off Broadway production of “Charlotte Suite” (Photo credit: Liz Wolynski)

Jeff Keller, Michael McCormick, Polly Pen (seated) Lynn Eldredge, Merle Louise and Mara Beckerman as they sang “Circus of Voices” in the original Off Broadway production of “Charlotte Suite” (Photo credit: Liz Wolynski)

Listening to this reissued cast recording is an exuberant experience and combined with seeing the many illustrative color photographs in the CD booklet gives the sense of how delightful it was onstage.  The first CD runs for 53 minutes and the second for 37 minutes, so it’s the entire sung-through show consisting of over 40 numbers.

Composer Gerald Jay Markoe’s music is an exhilarating cross between the styles of Cy Coleman, Gilbert and Sullivan and authentic melodies of the British music hall.  Librettist Colby’s lyrics are witty period piece compositions that range from comical to romantic.  The score is a marvelous confection and this recording justifies the show’s enduring appeal to many musical theater aficionados.

Mara Beckerman is dazzling as Charlotte with her grand soprano voice that’s used to great comedic and dramatic effect.  Lynn Eldridge, Jeff Keller, Timothy Landfield, Merle Louise, Michael McCormick, Polly Pen, and Christopher Seppe make up the talented company whose charming performances that are also preserved for posterity here.

“Tales of Tinseltown” CD Cover

“Tales of Tinseltown” CD Cover

Tales Of Tinseltown is a bouncy and affectionate pastiche of 1930’s Hollywood that was inspired by Kenneth Anger notorious exposé Hollywood Babylon.  The plot is a zany spoof of behind the scenes of the movie business.

It was first performed Off-Off-Broadway in 1985.  In the decades since it was optioned for Broadway and London but went unproduced.  A 2004 reading of it in New York City was followed in 2007 by a successful production at the 99-seat Actors Co-op in Los Angeles.  This release was recorded during the summer of 2015, and features a cast of several well-known performers.

Harriet Harris brings her distinctive comic gifts to the role of  the nefarious gossip columnist Adele DeRale.  The hilarious show business veteran Richard Kind is the brusque studio mogul Norman G. Neinstein.  Alison Fraser is Neinstein’s mistress, the hedonistic movie star Lulu Beauveen.  Klea Blackhurst is the brassy musical performer Bertha Powell.  Tony Yazbeck is Danny Burke, a slick song and dance man.  Jake Epstein is Elmo Green, an aspiring young Jewish screenwriter from New York City who is infatuated with the Iowa born Ellie Ash who has come to Hollywood to become a movie star and is played by Christine Bianco.   Nat Chandler who appeared in both the original Off Off Broadway production and the regional premiere at George Street Playhouse once again appears as Tony Toscanini, a Mario Lanza-type and singing plumber from Flushing.

Reized 300 -._Colby,_Harris,_Blackurst,_Katz,_Fraser,_and Lavine_- studio cast of Tales of Tinseltown

Studio photo of “Tales of Tinseltown” CD Company: lyricist Michael Colby, Harriet Harris, Klea Blackhurst, composer Paul Katz, Alison Fraser and music director Michael Lavine (Photo credit: Joe Clarke)

Paul Katz’s music is a giddy amalgam of old-time movie musical melodies. Colby’s lyrics often contain a great deal of fast-paced patter, expert rhymes and appealing intricacy.

Mr. Colby has eloquently chronicled the vicissitudes of his life in the theater in his charming memoir, The Algonquin Kid: Adventures Growing Up at New York’s Legendary Hotel.  These two recordings entertainingly document the situation of having a succès d’estime and the difficulties of following it up.

 

Charlotte Sweet (JAY Records) 

Tales Of Tinseltown (JAY Records) 

For information and to purchase, visit http://www.jayrecords.com

 

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Darryl Reilly
About Darryl Reilly (561 Articles)
A native New Yorker, Darryl Reilly graduated from NYU with a BFA in Cinema Studies. For the Broadway League, (formerly The League of American Theatres and Producers) he developed, and for five years conducted their Broadway Open House Tours, which took visitors through The Theatre District and into several Broadway theaters. He contributed to Broadway Musicals Show by Show: Sixth Edition (Applause Books). Since 2013, he has reviewed theater, cabaret, and concerts for Theaterscene.net.

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