It has taken more than a quarter-century, but RCA has finally released all the numbers recorded on Sept. 27, 1964, by the original Broadway cast of "Fiddler on the Roof." In the new compact disc remastering of the classic Broadway album, the engineers and editors have quietly slipped in the "Wedding Dance" (a self-explanatory title) and "The Rumor," an object lesson in how a piece of gossip changes character as it passes from mouth to mouth. Both numbers were taped five days after the show's opening (when it had become clear that a hit had been born), but never made it to the original-cast LP.
One could speculate, at great length and not without anguish, about the material -- like these two numbers but perhaps of greater substance -- that slumbers unreleased in the vast and ancient vaults of the Radio Corp. of America. But we were talking about "Fiddler on the Roof," one tip of the iceberg. There is no plan to issue an LP of the digital remastering, so those who want these two numbers will have to hear them on the CD (RCD1-7060). They will also hear the familiar voices and music sounding fresh and new in a recording that contains all the information available on the master tape.
In later revivals of "Fiddler on the Roof," Zero Mostel's performance sometimes fell below the standard he set for himself at the beginning. He went a bit stale, and at the same time developed too healthy a respect for his importance (or Tevye's) in the production. As a result, he began hamming up the role and stealing the show, inflicting significant damage on a work of art that is serious, delicately balanced and rather subtle in some of its performance requirements. In this 1964 recording, you can hear him at his best, and it is a performance well worth the special durability implicit in the CD format.
At the same time, some points that went more or less unnoticed in the 1960s have acquired a new meaning -- for example, the presence (in the role of Hodel) of Julia Migenes. That sweet child of the '60s has since evolved into Julia Migenes-Johnson, an operatic femme fatale who has become internationally famous (or infamous) in the title roles of the Metropolitan Opera's "Lulu" and the movie "Bizet's Carmen." "Swiftly flow the years," as the song says.
Even with the two added numbers, the CD edition runs a bit under an hour. If it had been known a quarter-century ago that the more spacious CD medium would one day be available, RCA might have taped the complete score, including the Chava sequence ("Little Chavaleh"), which expresses the wry joy of parenthood as pointedly as "Sunrise, Sunset," and Tevye's monologue "They gave each other a pledge," which includes the delicious line "On the other hand . . . there is no other hand."
These are, emotionally and dramatically, better material than such numbers as "Miracle of Miracles" and "Now I Have Everything," which stick out awkwardly from the texture of the show and seem to be in it because the Broadway recipe required that kind of number. But now we are quibbling; at its best, "Fiddler on the Roof" is musical theater of operatic quality, and it sounds better than ever in the CD format.
Another Broadway show of operatic caliber -- one that has had operatic productions, in fact -- is also out on compact disc from RCA: "Sweeney Todd," available in highlights on RCD1-5033. In the excerpting of this tightly knit show, some good things have inevitably been left out, notably the dramatic "City on Fire," the pretty "Green Finch and Linnet Bird" and the comic "Pirelli's Miracle Elixir."
But in this case excerpting heightens impact, tightening the focus on the repellent but powerful image that makes this show unique: cannibalism as a metaphor of society. Recognizing that Stephen Sondheim's lyrics are as important as his music, RCA includes the text, in small but readable type. The chillingly perfect performances of Len Cariou and Angela Lansbury have not faded at all with the passage of time, and the clarity of the CD medium is ideally suited to the show's hard-edged brilliance.
The full text is also included with the CD original-cast recording of Sondheim's latest hit, "Sunday in the Park With George." And the digital sound does full justice to the expert performances of Mandy Patinkin and Bernadette Peters.
No show of Sondheim's depends more completely on performance style for its full impact than "A Little Night Music. The most stylish production it has ever had was the London original cast with Jean Simmons, Hermione Gingold and Joss Ackland, and that is the one RCA has chosen to perpetuate in the CD medium. The result, on RCD1-5090, is stunning, catching exactly the almost-too-clever, wistful, sadly comic flavor Sondheim put into this unique show.
After the deep humanism of "Fiddler on the Roof" and the capricious brilliance of Sondheim, Rodgers and Hammerstein tend to sound slightly bland and formula ridden. But their work caught the pulse of middle America, and two items already available on CD give Rodgers and Hammerstein a serviceable representation and will undoubtedly prove inspiring to those who are attuned to the special R&H flavor. "Oklahoma!" on RCD1-3572 is performed by a Broadway cast -- not the original one, but a capable one, including Laurence Guittard, Christine Andreas and Mary Wickes, all of whom perform with the proper reverence for a theatrical classic.
In the CD format, the original sound track of "The Sound of Music," starring Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer, retains all the substantial and familiar values that helped make this one of the most popular movies of all time -- though a video disc recording would be even better, since Alpine scenery is an integral part of the film's appeal. Even the clarity and wide dynamic range of CD do not quite compensate for the absence of Theo Bikel's voice, which was one of the glories of the Broadway cast album, but this is a neat package that should make many people happy.