Thursday, November 29, 2007

Album Droppings: Duplicatus Interruptus, or, "What Were They Thinking??"

I have proudly been making headway with the outrageous task I have given myself: to convert my huge collection of vinyl recordings to digital format. I've made it through the "G's".

But my monumental task is being interrupted, for at least several weeks. Christmas is rearing its unforgiving head, and I've had to break in order to get my Christmas Cards out. Due to my upcoming trip to LA, from which I won't be returning until the middle of December, it was necessary to dispatch my cards this week. All 109 of them. Don't even ask.

So, music duplication has ceased. But not before I marveled at several albums which must be labelled "What Were They Thinking?"

I mentioned earlier "Doonesbury the musical." Why oh why would anyone think that the very topical, very current comic strip "Doonesbury" could be translated into a standard musical comedy? In spite of having in its cast Kate Burton (Richard's daughter, and a Tony nominee lately), Mark Linn-Baker (later on TV in "Perfect Strangers"), and Gary Beach (recently a Tony winner for "The Producers"), the show is a true disaster. The creators, which included Gary Trudeau himself, placed the music in the hands of Elizabeth Swados, who never met a melody she couldn't deconstruct. (Her big claim to fame was the fluke hit "Runaways," which I bet I'll have something to say about once I get to the R's. But we're still on the D's here...). Her atonal music sinks an already shaky concept, and "Doonesbury" failed to follow in the footsteps of other comics-to-musical hits such as "Annie," "L'il Abner", and "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown."

I've run across two more "What Were They Thinking?" musicals in my collection. I've already confessed to being a Hermione Gingold fan, so when I ran across an album with her name on the cover, I pounced. The show happened in the late 50s, and was called "First Impressions." It's the musical version of (are you ready for this?): "Pride and Prejudice." Yes, somebody thought Jane Austen's novel would make a good musical. They were wrong. Gingold played the mother, and two of the daughters were played by Phyllis Newman and Polly Bergen (who's currently chewing the scenery on "Desperate Housewives"). When, in the opening number, Gingold laments the fact that she has Five Daughters who need husbands, I was reminded of Tevye and his five daughters, all of whom are more interesting than this bunch.

Perhaps the weirdest of this set of musicals was scored by none other than Charles Strauss, who should have known better. Who in the world would have thought that "Flowers For Algernon" should be a musical? This is a real corker, with a pre-Phantom Michael Crawford fawning his way through the thing as the retarded Charlie who suddenly gets better, grows up, sleeps with his doctor, then regresses to his childish state. I kid you not, there is even a vaudeville-type number between Crawford (as Charlie) and Algernon. In case you've forgotten who Algernon is, get ready: he's a mouse.

Truth be told, there is one number in this stinker which deserved some life outside, maybe in cabaret acts, called "I Really Loved You." But the ballad is rendered unlistenable by the slurred delivery of Crawford.

Wow. And yet I press on, loading these losers onto my hard drive, then burning a homemade CD. Who's the real loser, I wonder?