ON THE RECORD: A Time for Singing, Bravo Giovanni, and Lady in the Dark

By Steven Suskin
28 Apr 2013

Cover art
Bravo Giovanni [Masterworks Broadway]

A Time for Singing can be compared with Bravo Giovanni, a failed 1962 musical which has just now been released digitally by Masterworks Broadway. (The show is no longer in the long-lost category, having been transferred to CD by DRG in 2002.)

This was a somewhat flimsy musical comedy, built around opera singer Cesare Siepi who played a noble Roman restaurateur fighting against a large-scale eating emporium (with "homogenized tortoni," in twenty-nine flavors) run by an over-the-top George S. Irving. The whole thing is awash in pasta and vino, with good conquering bombast and the middle-aged hero getting the much-younger girl. All the while, Irving's real-life wife—Maria Karnilova, midway between creating Tessie Tura (in Robbins' Gypsy) and Golde (in Robbins' Fiddler)—dances away the night to the Black Bottom and "The Kangaroo." Yes, "The Kangaroo"—and it's wild.

Giovanni was not an earth-shaking enterprise, and it struggled to survive. Phil Rose, the ever-hopeful producer, closed the show in July after a two-month run, but—refusing to say die—quixotically reopened in September. And then shuttered again after a mere week, with who knows how much additional money down the drain.

But the cast recording of the score, by composer Hal Shafer and lyricist Ronny Graham, is full of small delights. Neither dignified nor artful, but delights just the same: "Rome," Siepi's opening number. "I'm All I've Got" and "Steady Steady," for the nineteen-year-old leading lady, a sizzling Michele Lee. Karnilova's dance sequence (including that "Kangaroo"). Siepi's two booming romantic ballads, "If I Were the Man" and "Miranda." There's even an evocative Italian-language theme song, "Ah Camminare," sung by street singer Gene Varrone.

Not the stuff of a classic, mind you; Giovanni is not the sort of prize we'll find over at Encores. But this is a flavorful score, with flavorful orchestrations by Red Ginzler (with Luther Henderson contributing the dance numbers). A Time for Singing had higher aspirations, certainly, and was presumably a better-crafted show; but the Giovanni cast album is pure fun, and I've surely listened to it ten times as much over the years.