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

By Steven Suskin
14 Oct 2012

Megan Hilty and Rachel York
photo by Joan Marcus

As an added bonus we get the vocal arrangements by Hugh Martin. Martin — who in his spare time was composer/lyricist of Best Foot Forward, "Meet Me in St. Louis" and other musicals (and author of such songs as "The Boy Next Door" and "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas") — more or less created the art of the Broadway vocal arrangement. Blondes was, arguably, his supreme achievement in this field. Listen to the chorus sections of "It's High Time," "Bye Bye Baby," "Sunshine" and "It's Delightful Down in Chile" and you'll see what I mean.

This is not merely a lost art; in Blondes, Martin had 16 singers at his disposal, allowing him to write in eight-part harmony with each part doubled. A Broadway musical with 16 full-time singers, mind you, usually had an equal complement of 12 or 16 full-time dancers; for Blondes, de Mille negotiated for 22. Within a dozen years, musicals started employing what we refer to as dancer/singers; the stronger the dance needs, the less likely you were to have people who could sing intricate eight-part vocals. Today you're lucky to get an ensemble of 16, altogether.

So yes, everything sounds fabulous on the new CD, with strong performances contributed by Rachel York as Dorothy Shaw, the girl who loves what she's doing when she's doing it for love; Aaron Lazar as the sheltered Philadelphia millionaire Henry Spofford (singing the love ballads); Clarke Thorell (now playing Rooster in Annie on Broadway) as Lorelei's fiancée, Mr. Esmond; Stephen R. Buntrock as button king Josephus Gage; and Simon Jones as Sir Francis Beekman, who doesn't — ultimately — get to take Lorelei down to Chile.

But there is a weak link, and a big one. Ms. Hilty got through the stage production very nicely, thank you; but the recording exposes the fact that while Carol Channing was Lorelei Lee — and Marilyn Monroe, in her own way, also was Lorelei Lee — Megan Hilty is merely playing a role. Larger than life is what Lorelei needs to be in order to cause the whole Gentlemen Prefer Blondes soufflé to rise, and Hilty doesn't quite fill Lorelei's costumes. She also doesn't seem to understand the nature of the humor. It has nothing to do with stardom; Hilty came to Encores! as a TV celebrity (NBC's "Smash"), while Carol was relatively unknown when she took the stage in 1949. Consider "Little Girl from Little Rock" and "Diamonds," both of which were written with built-in encores. Hilty more or less earned said encores on stage at Encores!, but listening to the CD you wonder why she is back on the next track, still singing.

So here we have a new, state-of-the-art and musically impeccable recording of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, and it is highly entertaining and most welcome. But Gentlemen Prefer Blondes without boffo perfs of "Diamonds" and "Little Rock" is not quite what we hoped for.

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(Steven Suskin is author of "Show Tunes" as well as "The Sound of Broadway Music: A Book of Orchestrators and Orchestrations," "Second Act Trouble," the "Broadway Yearbook" series and the "Opening Night on Broadway" books. He also pens Playbill.com's Book Shelf and DVD Shelf columns. He can be reached at Ssuskin@aol.com.)