CD Review: HAMLISCH UNCOVERED (Various Artists on Broadway Records)

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by Tony Frankel on February 6, 2018



One of composer Marvin Hamlisch’s first gigs was that of rehearsal pianist and assistant vocal arranger for the original production of Funny Girl on Broadway in 1964, a job which he found through the aid of Liza Minnelli, who recorded one of Hamlisch’s early songs (“Travelin’ Man”) on her first album. It was in this fecund atmosphere at the tail end of Broadway’s Golden Age, playing piano for Brabra Streisand, that Hamlisch truly cut his teeth. So when you listen to Hamlisch Uncovered – a collection of newly recorded songs from never-recorded scores – you shouldn’t be surprised at the astounding number of cuts, both ballad and up-tempo, that stick in your head long after the CD is over. And considering the generous output of 20 tracks – most accompanied by piano but all with a bounty of boffo Broadway talent – it’s amazing how catchy his music is, even though Hamlisch had no signature style and worked with a slew of different lyricists.

Here, you will get songs from seven shows: The original version of Smile (lyrics by Carolyn Leigh, not Howard Ashman – who wrote the book and lyrics and directed that 1986 Broadway flop); a 2010 workshop production of Ballroom (lyrics by Alan & Marilyn Bergman, who collaborated with Billy Goldenberg on the original 1978 Michael Bennett flop, and wrote with Marvin “The Way We Were,” arguably one of cinema’s greatest songs); his final musical, The Nutty Professor (lyrics by Rupert Holmes), which opened in Atlanta four days before his death in 2012 at 68; a 1976 TV movie The Entertainer, which (with lyrics by Tim Rice) is unrelated to the Scott Joplin rag in Hamlisch’s Academy Award-winning adaptation score for The Sting; and three with lyrics by frequent collaborator Craig Carnelia: A tryout from a never produced version of Woody Allen’s Bullets Over Broadway; demos — some sung by Carnelia and Hamlisch (at the piano) — from Nora Ephron’s play with music about McCarthy and Hellman, Imaginary Friends; and several songs cut from Sweet Smell of Success, the 2002 Broadway show that tried so hard but just couldn’t get it right.

From the latter, Kelli O’Hara – the then-unknown who starred in the original — contributes her perfect soprano and awesome acting chops to two beautiful ballads (“That’s How I Say Goodbye” and “A Different World”). Also exciting is that Klea Blackhurst and Marissa McGowan – original cast members of The Nutty Professor — pickle their performances for posterity in the nostalgic “While I Still Have the Time” and the appealing “Step Out of Your Shell.” The songs from Imaginary Friends may have slowed down the action on stage, but they’re great as standalone numbers, especially the tuneful “Fig Tree Rag” and the opulent and touching “Words Fail Me” (sung by Lisa Brescia). And while Ballroom may never be perfected, the bittersweet ballad “This Is More Than a Ballroom” is given a tender rendition by Steven Brinberg, doing his best Barbra. The most fascinating song is the album’s bouncy and catchy opener, Smile’s “Typical High School Senior” the vamp of which will be recognized by any musical theater aficionado – it’s the same from A Chorus Line’s “Nothing.”

Carnelia also contributed the liner notes with Michael Lavine, who plays piano so well on some of the tracks that you would swear there were four hands (the clarity comes courtesy of mixer/master Chip M. Fabrizi, who produced with Carnelia and Lavine). This well-produced album, just released on Broadway Records, is, I suspect, just the tip of Hamlisch’s unused song iceberg (some, Carnelia writes, aren’t here due to legal reasons). While anyone would be glad to have Hamlisch Uncovered in their collection, as repeat visits are easy, the pain of losing this Emmy-Grammy-Oscar-Tony-Pulitzer winner (who shares that descriptive with only one other writer, Richard Rodgers), is palpable.

Hamlisch Uncovered
Various Artists
Broadway Records
20 tracks | 70:13
released January 26, 2018
available at Broadway Records, Amazon and iTunes

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