Orchestrator Hans Bialek ("On Your Toes," among many others) has been given a special grant by the National Endowment for the Arts to restore, and where necessary replace, the orchestrations for about 50 Porter, Gershwin, Rodgers and Hart and Kern shows that he worked on, an archeological task of particular interest now with the revivals of "Toes" and "Show Boat" on the boards.
Bialek, who celebrated his 89th birthday recently with a big ovation after a performance of the show in New York, is "the last living link" with a large chunk of American musical history, said John McGlinn, who is working with him on the project.
McGlinn should know, as he has been the musical consultant/editor for the "Show Boat" revival, for which the Houston Opera Company made a conscious effort to recreate the sound of the original 1927 production. (The show, incidentally, opened last week to generally good reviews.) For McGlinn, what began as a personal excavation project turned into a job when he heard about the Houston Opera's production, including the discovery of six new songs found in a pile of old sheet music by a man in California.
The original orchestral score is lost, he said, but the Hammerstein archives possessed the music for individual instruments. Over a period of three months McGlinn pieced them all together to create a whole score, sometimes lifting up pieces of paper that had been pasted over parts that had been cut. The finished work was about 1,600 pages long and restored one half hour of music.
Through a friend McGlinn heard about a copy of the piano score used by the original conductor and orchestrator, Robert Russell Bennett (he died six months before McGlinn began his research). The owner of the manuscript, who insists on remaining anonymous and will not reveal any information about how he or she came to acquire the score, flew McGlinn to St. Louis to examine it. This score turned out to be very valuable, enabling him to restore several chunks of music. It also contained stage directions that shed light on the original production.
The six songs he discovered are not, sadly, better than the songs that replaced them. "But they're still Kern, and they're interesting. If they make a record of the authentic revival of the score, these songs would make a good appendix record," McGlinn said.