Thursday, July 7, 2011

PS Classics and Six New "Classics"

Have I told you about PS Classics before? I feel sure I have. PS Classics has been around for 100 albums by now. They restore, revive and reimagine "the heritage of Broadway and American popular song" by offering recordings of some vintage and/or "lost" shows (like their brand-new "studio cast recordings" of "Sweet Bye and Bye," a 1946 musical from Vernon Duke and Ogden Nash that "crashed and burned during its pre-Broadway try-out," and "Strike Up the Band 1930," a fresh version of the Gershwin classic) as well as new cast recordings of select recent Broadway shows (like 2010's "Sondheim on Sondheim" and "La Cage aux Folles.")

They also do solo albums from Broadway stars and "songbooks" like "Sondheim Sings" and (my favorite) "The Maury Yeston Songbook."

I'm happy to get the new stuff, but even happier to discover vintage material I didn't know existed, like "Kitty's Kisses," a bright 20s romantic comedy that brings to life a kind of show that has pretty much disappeared from the scene, and "Fine and Dandy," a show with music by Kay Swift, one of Broadway's first female composers and rumored love interest of George Gershwin.

Each and every one of these recordings uses amazing Broadway stars, with people like John Lithgow, Kathy Bates, Martin Short, Audra McDonald, Danny Burstein, Raul Esparza, Gavin Creel, Laura Benanti, Cheyenne Jackson, Christopher Fitzgerald, Kate Baldwin, Brent Barrett, Rebecca Luker, Beth Fowler and Christine Ebersole showing up in the PS Classics catalog.

Since PS Classics has also released otherwise uncovered material like Michael John LaChiusa's "First Lady Suite," parts of which showed up at Illinois Wesleyan last spring, we can all thank them for the chance to dig deeper and enhance our theater-going experience.

And right now -- or between June and August, at any rate -- PS Classics is putting out six cds, from the afore-mentioned "Sweet Bye and Bye" and "Strike Up the Band 1930" to Jason Robert Brown and Marsha Norman's "The Trumpet of the Swan," an "eloquent, witty and graceful" musical version of E.B. White's classic children's book, "Boom!" an album full of songs from the 60s and 70s performed by sisters Liz and Ann Hampton Callaway, Kate Baldwin singing Sheldon Harnick songs in "She Loves Him," and "A Minister's Wife," a new cast album from Joshua Schmidt.

In Tommy Krasker and Philip Chaffin's last "About Us" column, the two guys behind PS Classics wrote: "We handpicked these six from the dozens we considered green-lighting this past year. We feel a genuine passion for each one; they're labors of love."

If "the heritage of Broadway and American popular song" interests you, I can pretty much promise you'll love PS Classics right back.

Click here to start looking for albums to add to your collection. Come on, you know you want that "First Lady Suite" and you're dying to find out about "Kitty's Kisses."


  1. Thanks for this post, Julie. PS Classics does such good work, and is so deserving of everyone's support. (When they had a separate nonprofit arm for their restoration projects, I used to make a substantial donation every year, as soon as I got my tax refund.) I hope everyone who reads this buys a slew of their titles (and don't make copies for friends!).

    "A Minister's Wife" is especially interesting, as a musical version version of Shaw's "Candida" that got some especially appreciative reactions from people I trust. I look forward to hearing it.

    If I was required to name the dozen PS Classics releases most essential to my life, I would list these:
    Fine and Dandy
    Life Begins at 8:40
    Finian's Rainbow
    Sweet Bye and Bye
    Kitty's Kisses
    Greenwich Time (Rebecca Luker)
    Opposite You (Marin Mazzie & Jason Danieley)
    Where Do I Go from You? (Philip Chaffin)
    The Maury Yeston Songbook
    WIndflowers (The Songs of Jerome Moross)
    Jule Styne in Hollywood

    But that just reflects my taste and biases, and I might pick another dozen another day. As Julie said, this company does nothing half-heartedly, and they haven't put out a mediocre piece of work yet. Nor will they ever, I bet.

  2. I would definitely pick Nine, Fine and Dandy, Finian's Rainbow, Kitty's Kisses and the Maury Yeston Songbook. I have to think about the others.

    I noticed that Kate Fry is on the "Minister's Wife" recording -- I think I saw her at Chicago Shakes in Two Gentlemen of Verona (with Eddie Jemison of Ocean's 11 fame as Launce). I also seem to recall that she really shot to the top of the Chicago scene for a two-piano My Fair Lady, directed by Gary Griffin for the Court Theater. It transferred to NY. Does that ring any bells? Ten actors, two pianos, My Fair Lady? She was Eliza, of course.

  3. Oh, and I say I have to think about it because I haven't heard Life Begins at 8:40 or Sweet Bye and Bye yet. But I love Sweet Bye and Bye's title, if that helps.

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  5. Oh, when I was Googling Kate Fry, they referred to a "recent" Eliza in MFL, and I remembered the 2-piano one, I saw it in Princeton -- but that was in (looking) 2004, so I thought it must be a different production. Of course the bio might have been old, and "recent" is relative. So that was her! Well, she was terrific. (I think she was the only Chicago castmember, along with maybe the Doolittle, retained for the mini-tour to Ohio and the McCarter. Otherwise we had people like Michael Cumpsty, Jim Stanek, Jane Connell, Simon Jones. And our friend Tom Murray was music director and Piano I.)

    The passing of 7 years would put her in the right age range for Candida now. She gets Marc Kudish for a husband! Morell is a more sympathetic role than usual for him.