ON THE RECORD: Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, the Encores! Cast Recording

By Steven Suskin
14 Oct 2012

Megan Hilty
photo by Joan Marcus

The stage success led directly to a highly popular film version, which paradoxically weakened the afterlife of the musical. Blame Marilyn Monroe, who used Lorelei as a vehicle to permanently establish her persona. Monroe's Lorelei was as different from Channing's as Channing herself was different from Monroe. While Carol played the show in New York and on the road for four years, that is nothing compared to the reach of the sixth highest-grossing film of 1953. The seductive sex goddess of the film is worlds away from the satirically cartoonish stage Lorelei. It is the Marilyn version, though, that the audience at large is at least peripherally familiar with.

This has left the musical — despite its better-than-average material — as something of an orphan. Lorelei has twice brought her diamonds back to Broadway, with drastically diminished returns. First, Channing — in search of something to do after a decade in Hello, Dolly! — returned to the role in 1974. At the age of 53. This resulted in a significant amount of rewriting; some necessary, some unwise, and all damaging. Lorelei, they called it, at the Palace. Matters worked out even less well in 1995, when a (good) summer stock production from the Goodspeed Opera House was inappropriately transferred to the Lyceum.

And so Gentlemen Prefer Blondes was consigned to the shadows, with an unfair stigma of being too old-fashioned and too creaky for modern-day comfort. Not so, it turned out. Thus it was that the show received near-unanimous hosannas when after 60 years it frolicked its way onto the City Center stage. They don't write 'em like that anymore, was the popular sentiment. And yes: they don't write 'em like that, indeed.

Megan Hilty and Simon Jones
Photo by Joan Marcus

There was a slight problem at Encores!, which under the circumstances was thoroughly glossed over by the score, the comedy, the remarkable musical arrangements et al. Lorelei Lee was conceived in satire, created for the musical stage as a lovable cartoon by Ms. Channing, and recreated for the screen as a sex kitten by Ms. Monroe. What we got was Megan Hilty, who was satisfactorily entertaining but no more. Not much of a problem, though, to audiences who crammed into New York City Center during the week-long run and bathed in what Mr. Robin might have called the "tingling glow" of the musical.

The Encores production of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes is now brought to us by Masterworks Broadway, and it is in fine form. The music sounds great. Don Walker's orchestrations, which are present but diminished on the 1949 original cast album, are now very much audible and guess what? They sound terrific, with music director Rob Berman and the Encores! orchestra giving full value

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