Masterworks Broadway: Forgotten Musicals Live Again in Cast Recordings

Who Cast J.R.?

By , Columnist
It's easy to relive the glories of film and music from past decades. Just switch on your computer or TV, and there it all is - online, on DVD and Blu-ray, on Spotify, on YouTube.

Theater, like dance, is different, evanescent, lost as soon as it's over. You could record video of a performance of a play, but that can't replace being in the theater with the actors. In fact it's that live experience that has kept theater around as a vital art for thousands of years.

Broadway musical soundtracks represent one partial exception. Often recorded with the original cast, they give you the sound if not the sights, the music if not the full drama of the show. In some cases, these soundtracks may be the only way to recapture something of the original, long-forgotten show. And there's a lot of great music from shows that didn't become hits or even make it to Broadway. But when there's a lack of broad popular interest, you're not too likely ever to even hear about it, much less get a chance to hear it, amid the cacophony of the latest Beyonce, Britney, or Book of Mormon.

Masterworks Broadway is bringing out some of these worthy obscurities. Case in point: before Dallas, even before I Dream of Jeannie, Larry Hagman -- son of Broadway legend Mary Martin -- starred in the brief Broadway run of a show called The Nervous Set. That 1959 beatnik musical produced the hit songs "Ballad of the Sad Young Men" and "Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most." Even fans of those jazzy standards might be hard pressed to identify the show that featured them, or even that they had a theatrical connection in the first place. (The music is by Tommy Wolf, the lyrics by Fran Landesman).

The Mad Show Playbill.jpgAnother now mostly-forgotten musical getting a new lease on life from Masterworks Broadway is The Mad Show, a 1966 Off-Broadway revue based on (you guessed it) Mad Magazine. This one starred Linda Lavin, Jo Anne Worley, and Paul Sand, with Joe Raposo, later of Sesame Street fame, as the Piano Player. It lasted a lot longer - 871 performances. Among the lyricists were Mad's own Larry Siegel and Stephen Sondheim, the latter's semi-anonymous contribution being a parody of "The Girl From Ipanema" called "The Boy From…"

The Nervous Set and The Mad Show will be available via digital download on August 9th.

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Jon Sobel is a freelance writer, web editor, theater and music critic, marketing writer, and musician. His newest project is the blog Park Odyssey, where he is visiting and blogging every park in New York City - over a thousand of them.

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