ON THE RECORD: Robert Goulet Sings Kiss Me, Kate and Brigadoon

By Steven Suskin
06 Apr 2014

Through the vagaries of downloading, the first of the 29 tracks I heard were "I Hate Men" and "Always True to You in My Fashion" — which turn out to be the very most unfortunate items I could have started with. "I Hate Men" is a perennial favorite in performance, thanks to Porter's mixture of pseudo-Elizabethan music with a harshly shrewish lyric and the opportunity for slam-bang staging. (One suspects that Stephen Sondheim's "Worst Pies in London" were fermented here.) Elliott adds then-contemporary electric guitars, and it sounds like just what you might imagine it sounds like. More damaging is that the point of the song — purposely and almost violently mismatched music and lyric — is lost, leaving a gleefully sustainable joke-of-a-song without its joke. "Always True to You in My Fashion," too, gets a pop-rock overhaul presumably for audiences who wanted something modern-sounding but not too modern; this was well into the age of Aquarius, but Lawrence Welk-friendly. (Some, but not all, of Porter's lyrisc are cleaned up, like when Lois sings "how in heck can you be jealous when you know baby I'm your slave.")

Things are at their best when they let Goulet let rip with "I've Come to Wive it Wealthily in Padua" and "Where Is the Life That Late I Led," two numbers that are presented more or less as Porter intended them. "Wunderbar," from Goulet and Lawrence, also works well (with an amusingly schmaltzy arrangement). Elsewhere, most of the songs are presented in '60s style; this works all right with Goulet's reprise of "So in Love," but otherwise makes this recording sound far more dated than the original 1948 cast album.

Brigadoon is less tricked up and, not coincidentally, more effective. This one presumably had author Lerner in consultation, which surely restrained studio fixings (although the show was severely truncated to fit a 90-minute slot). Setting the tone for the production — or the recording, at least — is the presence of Sally Ann Howes as Fiona. Howes starred in the 1953 London premiere of Lerner & Loewe's Paint Your Wagon, was the first replacement for Andrews in the Broadway production of My Fair Lady, and played Brigadoon in the 1962 City Center revival. Thus, her TV Fiona is imminently stage-worthy. Goulet follows suit, although some "pop" slips into his renditions of the big ballads. "Almost Like Being in Love" is amusingly set; Bob starts off with a somewhat juiced-up version, but when Sally Ann comes in for her half they immediately slip back to the Broadway version. This also happens, to a lesser extent, with "Heather on the Hill."

Outside of Goulet, director Fielder Cook (who won an Emmy for his efforts) and conductor/arranger Irwin Kostal seem to have stayed always true — in their fashion — to the original; such items as "Come to Me, Bend to Me," "I'll Go Home with Bonnie Jean" and "Waiting for My Dearie" retain the flavor of the show. The cast included Peter Falk in the non-singing role of the hero's best friend Jeff; Marlyn Mason — soon to star in How Now, Dow Jones — as Meg (albeit without her solos); Thomas Carlisle doing very nicely as Charlie Dalrymple; and ballet star Edward Villella in the featured dancing role of Harry Beaton (which he had performed with Howes at City Center, with the original Agnes de Mille choreography).

Howes and, occasionally, Goulet provide the highlights of this Kiss Me, Kate/Brigadoon twofer, but listeners unfamiliar with these two indispensable scores are warned that they won't get much of a sense of them from this recording.

(Steven Suskin is author of "Show Tunes," "The Sound of Broadway Music: A Book of Orchestrators and Orchestrations," "Second Act Trouble," the "Opening Night on Broadway" books, and "The Book of Mormon: The Testament of a Broadway Musical." He also writes the Aisle View blog at The Huffington Post. He can be reached at Ssuskin@aol.com.)