JEROME KERN: LIFE UPON THE WICKED S.T.A.G.E. (LML Music)
This is a double-CD, live recording of the 17th annual Los Angeles AIDS benefit presented by Southland Theatre Artists Goodwill Event (S.T.A.G.E.). Numerous artists have remained remarkably loyal throughout the history of these galas, which have always been devoted to the work of musical theatre writers.
A number of these events have been issued on disc, and LML's new set preserves the March 2001 salute to composing great Jerome Kern. (S.T.A.G.E. has since offered a Jerry Herman gala featuring Angela Lansbury and Carol Channing and a Johnny Mercer tribute.) The Kern event provides a few cast performances by artists who figured in one or more incarnations of the Livent/Hal Prince Show Boat: Hugh Panaro is heard in "Why Do I Love You?" and "You Are Love," joined by Dale Kristien, who was seen as Magnolia in an earlier (1983) Broadway revival. And Valarie Pettiford is heard in "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man."
Directed by David Galligan and with Ron Abel handling musical direction and arrangements, these events naturally feature a mix of good with unremarkable (if usually big-voiced) performances. But the singers maintain a generally high standard. Husband and wife Alan Campbell and Lauren Kennedy deliver "All the Things You Are." Melissa Errico does "In Love in Vain." Pat Marshall (of Broadway's Mr. Wonderful and The Pajama Game, more recently Mrs. Larry Gelbart) still sounds good in "They Didn't Believe Me." Marissa Jaret Winokur, soon to be the young leading lady of Broadway's Hairspray, performs "She Didn't Say Yes."
It's fun to hear Robert Morse in "I'm Old Fashioned," or Sally Kellerman insinuating her way through "Sure Thing." Comic highlights include Bruce Vilanch in a Sophie Tucker-style rendition of "They All Look Alike," and Charles Busch's "The Last Time I Saw Paris," in an amusingly over-the-top arrangement saluting all things French.
Others appearing include Brock Peters, Lea Thompson, Joely Fisher, Pamela Myers, Bonnie Franklin, Ron Rifkin, Joan Ryan, and always-fun Carole Cook.