Friday, November 11, 2011

Sweet Bye and Bye (CD Review)

The CD of the Sweet Bye and Bye is a complete and total treat. The people at the invaluable PS Classics have not only presented us with the world premiere recording of a musical by Vernon Duke and Ogden Nash, but they have done it with class, including an 11-musician orchestra (conducted by Eric Stern), a strong cast, and a thick booklet with lyrics, a history of the show, a synopsis, great pictures, and an Al Hirschfeld illustration.

Sweet Bye and Bye closed out of town in the mid-1940s because librettists S.J. Perelman and Al Hirschfeld had one show in mind and composer Duke and lyricist Nash had another. For this CD, producer Tommy Krasker assembled a version, cobbled out of eight distinct generations of the book, reflecting Duke and Nash's preferences. And, since none of the original charts exist, he hired Jason Carr to do the orchestrations (Carr's work is fresh, bright, and true, it seems to me, to Duke's sound).

Sweet Bye and Bye takes place in 2076. While the creators present a charming vision of the future, with televisors and revolving comfort stations, their focus was clearly on satirizing the 1940s, which they saw as a time of rapacious businesspeople, dishonest advertising, too much focus on appearances, and lost values. Hmmm, does that remind you of any other decade?

The plot, such as it is, is simple: Solomon Bundy, a tree surgeon who is totally out of touch with the ever-changing world, inherits a candy company. He becomes a businessman with the help of Diana, a "personality consultant." Diana falls in love with him despite herself, but he breaks her heart by turning into a run-of-the-mill self-centered executive. Along the way we meet greedy businessmen ("Our Parents Forgot to Get Married"), yes men ("Yes Yes"), a self-important company manager ("Ham That I Am"), gossiping secretaries ("I Says to Him"), and an Eskimo chief (you see, Bundy chases after Diana by parachuting over the North Pole . . . okay, the book isn't the strong point).

Many of these songs are funny and smart. The main love song, "Too Enchanting," is lovely. And how can you fault a score that includes "Eskimo Bacchante"? There is a tendency toward too many list songs that offer no character or plot development, and sometimes the lyrics get just plain silly, but they also include gems such as "Executive weasels hate ethics like measles." And it's so much fun hearing a "new" score from the 1940s that it feels churlish to criticize. This glass is way more than half full!

The cast is led by the wonderful Marin Mazzie, who imbues her numbers with texture, personality, and build, offering character development even when the song doesn't. Other performers include Philip Chaffin, Danny Burstein, and Jim Stanek, as well as "special guests" John Cullum, George Engel, Edward Hibbert, and Rebecca Luker.

Sweet Bye and Bye, whatever its faults, is a treasure.

(press copy)

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