Sunday, April 08, 2012

The times, they were a-changin'

Who: Masterworks Broadway
What: Julie and Carol: Live at Carnegie Hall and Julie and Carol: Live at Lincoln Center (Original Soundtracks)

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The combined release of the original soundtrack recordings of Julie and Carol: Live at Carnegie Hall and Julie and Carol: Live at Lincoln Center on Masterworks Broadway is a historically significant event, and not just because of the importance of the two stars, Julie Andrews and Carol Burnett.

When the first of these two CBS television specials (the Carnegie Hall) was recorded in 1962, Andrews (age 27) and Burnett (age 29) were rising Broadway stars. Ms. Andrews had two solid hits behind her (The Boy Friend in 1954 and Camelot in 1961) and one blockbuster (My Fair Lady in 1956) while Ms. Burnett had burst upon the scene in Once Upon a Mattress in 1959. At a time when Broadway was still a major source of hit songs, that meant that both were also rising national celebrities. Their music director, Irwin Kostal, was also a product of the theatre scene, as was their scriptwriter, Mike Nichols (known then primarily for his work with Elaine May).

By the time the Lincoln Center concert was broadcast in 1971, the landscape of American pop culture had changed dramatically. Thanks to radio, recordings and (according to some) payola, Broadway had been eclipsed in the music world by the pop/rock singer/songwriter and elsewhere by film and television. Andrews had largely abandoned theatre for movies (as had Nichols and Kostal) and Burnett for television. Broadway would have its ups and down, but it would never be the force in popular culture that it once was.

You can hear the difference in the big medley numbers in each show. For the 1962 Carnegie Hall concert, it’s a “History of Musical Comedy”, a ten-minute whirlwind tour beginning with some vaudeville era classics and culminating in “A Boy Like That” from West Side Story (music by Leonard Bernstein, age 44) with Andrews as Maria and Burnett abandoning her comic persona to play it straight as Anita. For the 1971 Lincoln Center show, by way of contrast, a thirteen minute “Medley of the 60s” features songs by The Beatles, Sonny and Cher, Glen Campbell, Joni Mitchell, The Fifth Dimension, and Petula Clark. The times, they were a-changin’.

Historical significance aside, however, Julie and Carol is an entertaining look at a pair of musical theatre giants at the peak of their powers. I was especially taken with “You’re So London”, in which Ms. Andrews and Ms. Burnett make fun of their contrasting public faces; Ms. Andrews’s lovely elaboration of “Oh Dear What Can The Matter Be”; and “From Russia: The Nausiev Ballet”, a loopy parody of Russian folk ballet. Some bits that clearly relied heavily of sight gags (such as a ballet send-up from the Lincoln Center show) fall a bit flat on the recording, but on the whole this is a welcome addition to the catalog.

Julie and Carol: Live at Carnegie Hall and Julie and Carol: Live at Lincoln Center is available for purchase now on CD (as specially priced two-disc set) and digital download exclusively via The double set will be available from all retailers and digital service providers on May 8, 2012.

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