The original cast album of To Broadway With Love, the Great White Way’s contribution to the 1964 World’s Fair, is being re-released for digital download this month in the Masterworks Broadway series. Conceived and directed by Morton Da Costa, the show is a review of the history of the musical theatre over most of the past century that highlights songs from a variety of shows from as far back as the minstrels and the Ziegfeld Follies, up to mid-century blockbusters like South Pacific and Carousel.
Original material for the production was the work of composer Jerry Bock and lyricist and Sheldon Harnick, who went on to be best known for the score to Fiddler on the Roof. The show played at The Music Hall in the Texas Pavilion.
Program notes indicate that there were two alternating casts used for the show and while one cast recorded this album, the other was performing on stage. While the cast is made up of the typical troop of talented singers and dancers, none of the names stand out from the crowd. There were no budding Patti LuPones or Bernadette Peters on stage in Rod Perry, Don Liberto, and Millie Slavin. Talent? Yes. Big name stars? No.
As far as the music goes, it runs the gamut from the nostalgic to the obscure, from the famous show stopper to newly written ephemera. Classic moments have the company doing “Another Op’nin,’ Another Show” from Cole Porter’s Kiss Me Kate and Irving Berlin’s “There’s No Business Like Show Business” from Annie Get Your Gun. Millie Slavin does a great job with “Speak Low” from One Touch of Venus by Kurt Weill and Ogden Nash, and with George M. Cohan’s “Over There.” She can even make old chestnuts like “Rose of Washington Square” sound good. Bob Carroll and Guy Rotondo have fun camping up Bock and Harnick’s “Beautiful Lady.”
Less successful is Don Liberto’s “Yankee Doodle Boy” from Cohan’s Little Johnny Jones, perhaps because he has to compete with memories of Jimmy Cagney. The problem is that songs like this and “Mary’s A Grand Old Name” and “Buckle Down Winsocki” may have been nostalgic back in the ’60s, but in 2011 there are very few of us left who know what to be nostalgic about.
Some of the newer material written for the show is problematical as well. “Remember Radio” is filled with allusions—Lum and Abner, and Duffy’s Tavern—that will more than likely be meaningless to anyone under age 70. There is even one to Amos and Andy which could never fly today. There is also a long medley projecting ideas for possible new shows which misses the mark with things like “Popsicles in Paris” and “Mata Hari.”
The To Broadway With Love ensemble numbers which open and close the show work much better, but even they can’t stand up to the likes of Berlin and Porter.
In general, this is the kind of musical pastiche that seems to have been put together to keep the tourists happy for an hour or so while they rest their weary feet from a day’s trek through the grounds of the Fair. It combines parts nostalgia, a lot of patriotism and just a touch or two of camp. It’s a pleasant professional piece, but it surely doesn’t have the magic today it may have had back in the ’60s, if it even had it then.