A Musical Theatre History Lost

Recently I bought quite a remarkable little piece of equipment. For under two hundred dollars I found a record player that records vinyl LPs to CD and also records audio tapes to CD. I haven’t tried transferring audio tapes to the digital age as yet, but have had a great and exploratory time making CDs of some great lost vinyl recordings.

West Side Story - Original Australian CastIn doing this little experiment, I have been able to share around to friends via mpeg files and CDs, some great music tracks that seemed lost to the CD/iPod generation. Probably the greatest joy of doing this has been digging out and exploring again some great cast recordings of shows that have never been transferred to CD. Like so many others, I have long ago packed away my old LPs into boxes under beds and into garages and bit by bit I have thrown out or given away anything I felt had little to offer or ones that had been successfully transferred to CD. This new machine has forced me to go deep into my garage and find some great vinyl recordings,many of which I had forgotten I still owned.

One type of vinyl I had been determined to keep were original Australian cast recordings of local productions of some of the great Broadway shows and also some original recordings of  Australian musicals. So very very few of these recordings have ever been converted to CD, in fact I think I could count on one hand the ones that have. (Chicago, Lola Montez and Nine come to mind, even though those CDs are long out of print). You wont find back copies of these albums for sale on Amazon, EBay or any other second hand site. To all intents and purposes, these recordings have been lost forever. This is a great shame and illustrates the lack of care the Australian theatre industry has for some of its quite recent history.

[pull_left]In the late sixties and early seventies, there was a great period where almost every Australian production was recorded for posterity[/pull_left]

In the late sixties and early seventies, there was a great period where almost every Australian production was recorded for posterity. Not every great show was recorded (for some reason, Jill Perryman’s classic Funny Girl  and  Nancye Hayes’ Sweet Charity never made it to disc), but there was still a lot of shows afforded a cast recording. I cant tell you how much of a thrill it has been to discover these albums again-the good, the bad and the ugly and transfer them onto CD.

Information gleaned from some of these recordings follows below and is part of a musical theatre history almost lost. What a shame I couldn’t put these recordings out for sale; I know a lot of music theatre lovers would love to get a copy of them. Sadly negotiating rights and dealing with equity would make it impossible and financially restrictive. But for historical reasons, here are some of the highlights from these new “CDs” I have been able to add to my show collection:

THE SENTIMENTAL BLOKE: Original Australian Cast
This is one of the rarest of all the recordings. It is a big hefty record that weighs heavily on the turntable, so you know it is over sixty years old. This was recorded in 1960, live at the Comedy Theatre in Melbourne during a performance and is a glorious and sentimental memento of Australian music theatre history. It reminds us what a great score this show still possesses and would be a perfect choice for revival by The Production Company. Edwin Ride, Patsy Hemmingway, Gloria Dawn and Frank Ward were the leads and the best song is a beautiful duet called ‘Life’s Wot Yer Make It’ that would be a delightful song to add to any concert featuring Australian musical theatre classics.

Pippin - Australian Cast Album Cover PIPPIN: Original Australian Cast 1972
Johnny Farnham, Colleen Hewitt, Nancye Hayes, Ronne Arnold. What a cast and a recording that is infinitely superior to the original Broadway cast. More complete, more lively, brighter sound. This is one that really could and should have been released on CD and after the unsuccessful revival by Kookaburra few years ago, it would be good to see this show back with the sort of cast this recording captured so effectively.

CHARLIE GIRL: Original Australian Cast 1970-71
This is a little English musical that ran for years in the west end and travelled to Australia but only played Melbourne (not because it flopped, it ran about seven months, but at the time Her Majestys in Sydney had burnt down and there was nowhere for it to go). This recording is so much better than both the original London or mid 80s revival cast recording and features three of the original Brit cast (Anna Neagle, Derek Nimmo and Peter Regan) along with local star-Johnny Farnham during his all too brief period as a music theatre star.

The Nimrod production of this classy little Oz musical was only ever captured on vinyl during its original season, but is still a joy to listen to, this is a show that should get a major local revival with a top name star cast. The score is as fresh as ever, and this recording featuring original cast including Jon Ewing, Val Bader and Drew Forsythe (in his most famous role) is a dream.

LA CAGE AUX FOLLES: Original Australian cast
Probably the best local recording of them all. It captures the excitement of the mid 80s production better than the rather staid original Broadway cast and features the amazing voice of Keith Michell, the glorious Jon Ewing and a supporting cast that included a very young Todd McKenney.

ANNIE: Original 1979 Australian Cast
This is the classic cast of Hayes Gordon, Jill Perryman and Nancye Hayes and the recording reflects the talents of this great group. Again a cast recording that tops the original Broadway and (I am sorry to say) has some better sung performances than the recent very rushed live recording of the current version.

Evita - Original Australian CastEVITA
A very adequate version by the original Oz cast headed by Jennifer McGregor Murphy in top voice along with John O’May as an exciting Che.

Two monumentally and historic albums with the first Australian casts of both and what terrific recordings they both are, especially Rocky which has an energy and wickedness about it I have not heard on any other recording.

It’s important to note there were a few other great cast albums of this period that were released on CD. Chicago – the early 80s version by the Sydney theatre Company was a spectacular recording with Nancye Hayes, Geraldine Turner and Judi Connelli and Nine – which would get my vote as one of the best (if not the best) of all Australian cast recordings. A full fluid orchestra and a top drawer cast including John Diedrich, Nancye Hayes, Pieta Toppano, Caroline Gillmer and Alison Jiear that gave the Maury Yeston score a distinctive theatrical sound.

I also uncovered some other curious recordings; Dingo Girl and Ned Kelly – two obscure Australian musicals, which are still part of our recent theatrical history. Then there are the lesser cast recordings; Julie Anthony as Maria in the 1983 The Sound Of Music is funny to listen to, but very rushed and full of unnecessary heavenly ensemble voices – the album illustrated the inadequacies of that actual production. I found plenty of terrific Reg Livermore recordings from his many live shows of that era, most of these tracks have been re-released on CD in recent years. Interestingly, the cast album of Barnum starring Reg was not one of his career highlights. Again the very inadequate cast album (muffled and poorly recorded) seemed to reflect the disappointing nature of this production.

Possibly the most amusing discovery from these lesser albums is the 1983 cast album of West Side Story – again very rushed, sometimes the singers are even a little off pitch, this one was thrown together in a hurry by KTel (remember KTel products?) but it features a young chorus girl who got her first break by singing ‘Somewhere’ very effectively, ten years before that same chorus girl had her biggest break in another (and much better) production of WSS when she played Anita – I speak of Caroline O Connor.

Of the major commercial recordings made for CD most are now also out of stock, some may be able to be obtained thru Middle Eight Music, but they are less rare as they were given a release direct to CD. I am thinking here of cast recordings of shows such as “42nd Street”, “:The Wizard of Oz'(live recording), “Shout”, “The Sound of Music”(McCune/Waters/Draxl version)(live recording), “Big River” and the recent “Annie”(live recording).

With all the fun I have had sending these old vinyls to CD, I feel it is sad that unless a lot of other people race out and buy a converter record player, these recordings meant to be passed down from generation to generation and be permanent preservation of our commercial theatrical history, will be lost forever.

Now, can some smart reader suggest how one could go about getting a grant to get these recordings professionally restored and re-recorded on CD for future generations, before they are gone forever?

Note: This column really only deals with Australian cast albums that were released on vinyl LP only. I have mentioned here a couple of LPS that were later re released on CD (Chicago etc), but have not included any Australian cast albums that were released only on CD. By the beginning of the 1990s Australian cast albums became a true rarity and in the last twenty years only a handful of cast recordings were made and many were live recordings rather than the superior (but much more expensive)studio recordings. I do not include small independent CD releases here either(ie HatpinLove Bites etc).

14 thoughts on “A Musical Theatre History Lost

  • Great piece about some lost treasures. One samll nitpick: Jennifer Murphy was or evita..not Jennifer McGregor (who was brilliant in Venetian Twins).

    • Yes I did notice that today when I read it back. I have asked Erin to change it.Jennifer Murphy now does such an amazing job at AIM.

  • I remember many of these shows and still have the cynics from them. I recently bought the cd of the original cast recording of La Cage aux Folles and can’t wait to transfer my record of the cast from the Palais to mp3 as it was outstanding!
    I heard that a film was made of that production. Anyone know if that’s true?

    • I heard the same thing from a guy who worked backstage for that production, but was never able to find out any more. In my opinion, that show was absolutely outstanding and I was thrilled to be able to translate my lp of the Original Australian cast recording to mp3 as the cd I have of the Broadway cast was nowhere near ours in quality. Also, from what I have seen, the choreography and dancers of the version we saw twice at t Palais in St Kilda far outshone any clip of other productions I’ve seen since. I would do a great deal to get a copy of any film made of that stellar production.

  • Wasn’t there a cast album of THEY’RE PLAYING OUR SONG with Weaver & Waters? Did it ever make it to cd?

    • Yes there was, I didnt mention all the shows that were recorded during that time and I do have that LP but it has never been released as a CD

      • It was [because I have a copy] was released on CD it is one of the few shows that have Original Broadway, London, Australian Recordings also I Love My Wife hasn’t been released on CD

  • To mention one very recent WORLD PREMIERE production: Dr Zhivago – A New Musical! Anthony Warlow headed a STELLAR cast of VERY talented Australians. In the back page of the program was a full page ad urging people to pre-order their Australian Cast Recording….. Only to have it announced months later that the project had been shelved due to legal reasons…. Something like they needed over 20 signatures on the documents and they only got x-1! GRRRRRR No wonder Australian Cast Recordings never happen any more!

  • I have many of the records you mention plus others, as we used to go to every new musical back then. Price precludes us from continuing that practice these days.
    I recently dragged them all out of storage and am busy transferring them to my iPod so I can enjoy them all again.

  • Edwin Ride The Sentimental Bloke was my father. I have some memorabilia if anyone’s interested

  • great article les… i have so many aussie cast albums. as ANNIE on the 1979 album as well as being on the cast recording of NINE – i have to mention that both those were recorded in a day or two with mostly one take due to budget constraints and we still nailed it (although i had a terrible cold doing ANNIE and they made me record all my stuff first thing at 9am before the others came in and can still here my adenoids vibrating as i sing – toborrow toborrow i lub ya toborrow!!) fyi – i have both shows on CD if you want a copy!! x

  • Les, you mention the fact that Jill Perryman’s ‘Funny Girl’ was not recorded but I have a CD of a live recording of a show called ‘Leading Lady’ I did with her & Brian Davies [a three hander] in Sydney & Melbourne in the mid 70’s on which she sings a couple of FG numbers i.e. ‘Don’t rain on my parade’ & ‘People’. There are also some other interesting numbers for music theatre buffs including one of her hits from a Philip Street revue – ‘The world is my ashtray’, ‘Comedy tonight’, ‘Bring in the clowns’, ‘Razzle Dazzle’, ‘If they could see me now’ + my version of ‘The Theatre Cat'[from ‘Archie & Mihitabel’] and Brian’s classic version of ‘Your a Lady’.
    The show was written by John McKellar of Philip Street revues fame & the recording was made & broadcast by the ABC.
    Philip Scott was musical director/accompianist. Can give you a copy if you’d like as of Australian music theatre history interest.

  • One of the greats no one has mentioned is the Australian Cast of Anything Goes with Geraldine Turner, Simon Burke, Marina Prior, Peter Whitford, Grant Dodwell and Jacquie Rae. 1990s production that played at the glorious State Theatre in Sydney and around the country. Was released on CD. Produced by Mike Walsh.

  • Les
    A very good friend of David Ravenswood was in many musicals over his career and is now retired. He has asked me if it is possible to get the cast recording of La Cage Aux Folles which he appeared in with Keith Michele. Would you have a copy or know where I can obtain one.
    I does not matter what format it is in. Cheers Paul


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