Friday, December 28, 2007

Album Droppings: "One Offs"

One of my favorite British slang expressions is starting to catch on in this country. A "One Off" is a fluke, a one-time occurrence, and the term describes more than a few of my vinyl recordings. You may recall that I have given myself the outrageous task of converting my large LP collection to digital format (I had a welcome interruption with my trip to LA and various Christmas doings).

I have now, somewhat reluctantly, returned to the task at hand. I'm running across quite a few records which I purchased only because the name intrigued me. I listened to these gems exactly ONCE before relegating them to the pile, never to be played again.

They're One Offs, and for the most part, they deserve to be. Nobody has ever heard of these shows today.

Well, maybe a few people have heard of this one: "Boy Meets Boy" is exactly what it sounds like, a traditional musical comedy love story with the leading players all male. This show apparently had some life to it, as it had a London and New York production, as well as the LA production which was recorded. I suppose it may have been fun to see, but it's not all that entertaining to listen to, and even the liner notes confess that it was recorded "under difficult conditions by an inexperienced but enthusiastic cast." Maybe so, but we've had "La Cage" and "Falsettos" since this slight piece, set in the roaring 20s, made its debut, so the novelty of same-sex couples in a musical has worn off. And this score isn't getting any respect on EBay; the CD release is being offered for only 99 cents.

The liner notes for "In Gay Company" proclaim that this revue was a long-running hit in New York, LA, and DC, with accompanying press quotes to prove it. The cast includes one lone woman surrounded by a handful of gay boys, singing a bunch of songs about, well, being gay. Not very interesting. This recording preserves the cast which ran the show in LA, at the Backlot Theatre, which was actually a cabaret space perched behind the legendary Studio One disco back in the 70s and 80s. I remember seeing a very different revue there, starring two of my favorite Broadway Ladies, Nancy Dussault and Karen Morrow, belting out show tunes and having a ball. Now, that dynamic revue would be worth having...

In June, 1977, the citizens of Dade County in Florida, led by former Miss America and Orange Juice Queen Anita Bryant, voted to repeal local ordinances which guaranteed fair housing and employment for gays. The vote sent shock waves through the Gay Rights movement. A scarce two months later, the Callboard Theatre in West Hollywood presented their musical revue, "Joseph McCarthy is Alive and Living in Dade County." The recording includes several long sketches as well as some listenable songs, all by somebody named Ray Scantlin. The comedy, being topical, does not hold up well in retrospect, but it's kind of fun to hear such routines as "The Schtick Center for the Control of Effeminacy," and a game show which yanks people out of the closet called "Rat on a Fag." The liner notes hold up better, which contain fake quotes from Norman Mailer, Dr. Joyce Brothers, and Brenda the Queen of England.

You've never heard of anybody on any of these recordings except one: Amanda McBroom appears in the "Dade County" show, singing two songs which she did not write. That same summer of '77, she penned "The Rose" and was forever relieved from ever appearing in things like this again.

I'm sure I'll come across many more One Offs as I slog my way through my album collection, but here's one more that's not even a One Off. It's a None Off. I own a copy of the original cast album of William Finn's "In Trousers" which I never even opened. For 25 years or more, this record has been in my collection without my ever having unsealed the thing. I'm sure I know why. I bought the album, didn't have time to listen to it, then attended an LA production of the show. It's a one-act, lightweight piece, but has the distinction of being the first appearance of "Marvin," Finn's alter-ego who goes on to greater glory in "March of the Falsettos" and "Falsettoland." In this prequel (is it a prequel if the composer actually wrote it first?), Marvin struggles with his failing marriage and the realization that he'd rather be spending his time with a man.

Anyway, I caught the show in a bare-bones production in some basement theatre in LA, starring Bill Hutton (the original Broadway "Joseph" of Technicolor Dreamcoat fame), and I guess I was not all that impressed. Like I mentioned, I never even unsealed the album.

Kind of interesting to note that the first "In Trousers" starred a very young Chip Zien, who was so impressive in "Into the Woods" many years later. When the second and third Marvin stories finally hit Broadway in "Falsettos," Zien was no longer playing the protagonist but was instead playing Mendel the psychiatrist. Finn is nothing if not loyal to his friends. Alison Fraser appears on this early recording as Marvin's wife Trina, and she remained in the role through all subsequent versions of the trilogy.

I've just reread the above notes, and let's face it, this set of One Offs is, shall we delicately say, pretty fey. It reminds me of Oprah's oft-told story of watching TV as a child. Whenever a black performer showed up, she would jump up and down and shout "There's black people on TV! There's black people on TV!"

When I was browsing through record stores as a kid, and I ran across anything gay, I certainly didn't jump up and down and shout. I held my breath, and bought the thing.

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