Richard Rodgers, Dearest Enemy, New World Records 80749-2

Rodgers and Hart: Dearest Enemy 

(New World 80749-2)

 

Cast Recording List–Review by Darrel C. Karl (November 6, 2013)

“There has been a surprising lack of discussion about this new recording of Dearest Enemy.   Whether this is due to lack of knowledge on the part of list members, or a lack of interest, I can’ t say, although I hope that it is the former.

“This New World recording is a treat for Rodgers and Hart fans, as this is arguably the best of the early Rodgers and Hart shows.  With a score spread out over two cds, it is also the most musically complete recording to date.   The orchestrations are faithful to the original where they have survived, and otherwise (by list-member Larry Moore) faithful to the spirit of the original where they have not.   Seemingly all of the instrumental passages and dance music appear to have been recorded.

“This recording in the series The Foundations of American Musical Theater was chosen to highlight Rodgers’ music debt to Victor Herbert, which comes through clearer on this recording than on earlier, less period-faithful recordings issued on the AEI and Beginners Productions label.   Almost equally strong, both musically and lyrically, is the show’s debt to Gilbert and Sullivan.  While it may lack the fizz of the pair’s Jazz Age scores like The Girl Friend, it is nonetheless musically a solid score and an important stepping stone in Richard Rodgers’ musical development.   Lorenz Hart’s contributions are less even – he’s still trying to find his own style, and his lyrics vary in quality from song to song, with triple rhymes that are clever one minute and self-consciously straining the next.

“The recording includes dialogue leading into certain songs. However, most of this dialogue is related to the central romance or to the spy intrigue of the show’s plot, …   The cast is vocally strong, if not as starry as that found on the AEI recording, with Annalene Beechey, Rachel Kelley, James Cleverton, and Hal Cazalet as the lovers, Philip O’Reilly as General Tryon, John Molloy as General Howe, and Kim Criswell as Mrs. Murray.  Stephen Rea has a cameo as General George Washington.

“The most pleasant surprise of this recording is the inclusion of the cut song ‘The Pipes Of Pansy’ in the recording’s appendix.  It is, to my knowledge, the first recording of this song, which was also considered for and dropped from the scores of The Girl Friend, Peggy-Ann, and She’s My Baby.   Musically, it seems out of place for this particular score, and would have been a better fit for one of those other shows, but it’s such a good song that it’s hard to believe that it hasn’t been recorded by someone before now.   It’s reason enough to justify the purchase of this CD.”

 Broadway Direct–Review by Andy Propst (November 4, 2013)

“Finally, for those who are looking for recordings of older shows, New World Records has released a sumptuous two-disc recording of Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart’s rarely heard Dearest Enemy. This bonbon from 1928 unfolds during the Revolutionary War and even includes General George Washington as a character. You won’t find any standards in the score, but it’s filled with some gleeful precursors to the writers’ most beloved tunes, including ‘Here in My Arms’ and ‘Old Enough to Love.’ “

American Record Guide–Review by Lucano (April 2014)

Dearest Enemy, first performed in 1925, was the first hit musical comedy produced by Rodgers and Hart.  The story is based on a once-popular myth, still commemorated by a D.A.R. plaque at the corner of Park Avenue and 37th Street in New York.  Supposedly, Mary Murray delayed British General Howe and his military forces from intercepting General Putnam’s retreat from Manhattan to join General Washington.  The action takes place inside the Murray house, where the American ladies charmed the British officers into postponing their departure until it was too late.  The score is sweet, tuneful, and pleasant, but a far cry from the more sophisticated, grittier Rodgers and Hart musicals that were to come, like Babes in Arms or Pal Joey.  The influence of Arthur Sullivan (‘Though we’ve no authentic reason to suspect that maid of treason’ in the Act 1 finale) and Victor Herbert on Rodgers’ music can still be discerned, and a lot of the music is just trivial (like the Hermits’ scene in Act 1).  The score produced no enduring standards, though the duet ‘Here in My Arms’ (for Betsy Burke and Sir John Copeland) comes close, and Jane Murray has a clever song about Peter Stuyvesant.  In the duet ‘I Beg Your Pardon’, I think I hear the voice of the mature Rodgers beginning to emerge, at least in this reconstruction by Larry Moore.  (Most of the original material is missing.)  Moore’s work is persuasive and affectionate, and the performance makes as good case as possible for Dearest Enemy.

“Kim Criswell, the biggest name in the cast, has all too little to do.  The best music goes to Betsy and Sir John Copeland, and it’s personably sung by Annalene Beechey, a sweet, light soprano, and the mellow James Cleverton. But everyone involved is doing a good job.  Dearest Enemy is not Rodgers and Hart at their best, but it’s enjoyable and instructive to stop at this particular milestone along the road to modern American musical theater.”

Talkin’ Broadway Sound Advice–Review by Rob Lester (1/6/2014 Top Ten Albums of 2013)

“The British are coming! Strike up the band! A story of the troops and fair maidens distracting them in the 1700s when Manhattan was occupied by the Brits, Dearest Enemy has marched its way into my list of favorite cast albums of this or any year. The very belated full recording of Richard Rodgers & Lorenz Hart’s very early work (1925) is cause for celebration. In 1997, a CD was issued which rescued performances from a TV version which featured some of the score and book, with alterations, plus recordings made long ago of the handful of its published s songs. A medley on a Ben Bagley-produced album Rodgers & Hart Revisited, Volume III also had whetted the taste of the songwriters’ fans who had to be satisfied with Robert Kimball’s book of ‘The Complete Lyrics of Lorenz Hart’ to imagine how the words might sit on music and how firmly the tongue was planted in cheek. Revel in this Revolutionary War tale, but don’t take it too seriously (as if you could!).

“Kim Criswell, familiar to cast album collectors, nimbly takes the role of Mrs. Murray who hosted and supposedly manipulated the British. With her singing role mostly in the first act, her presence and command are missed on the second disc. There are jokes where the audience is in on it, from their historical perspective a century and a half after the action (‘All the oldest witticisms/ Earn our comic opera authors’ daily bread’ in ‘Old Enough to Love’) and a dialogue line tossed off about New York City being so relaxing as compared to ‘the hustle and bustle of Philadelphia.’

“Some selections reveal the influence of operetta in their courtly romanticism and soprano warbling and heroic baritone stoicism. Act two’s all-out straightforward declaring of undying love, ‘Here’s a Kiss,’ especially in its florid reprise in act two, would not be out of place in a traditional Romberg love story or one of the more rhapsodic moments in Show Boat by Rodgers’s much-admired role model, Jerome Kern.  But, in most cases, the Rodgers strong, forceful gifts of building a song keep them brisker and brighter.  Although often encased in formal melodies and characterizations that seem coy and courtly, the cleverness bursts through with many rhymes to the square inch. In ‘Full-Blown Roses,’ the officers sing, ‘Your beauty is your surety,/ Security for purity./ If one man can endure it, he …’ How about that!

“Hart frequently worked in little digs that go by so quickly you barely have enough time to raise your eyebrows. He was a sly one. Even at this early career stage, the work of Rodgers & Hart is fully formed and highly polished. In addition to strong but graceful melodies, one after the other, it’s so chock full of chuckles and spiffy dense rhyming as to be an embarrassment of riches.

“And there’s some disc time devoted to letting us just enjoy the melodies on their own with an expanded overture that highlights the score’s best-known piece, ‘Here in My Arms,’ which survived to later be adopted by Ella Fitzgerald, Doris Day, Dick Haymes and The Mamas and the Papas among others. And many tracks allow time for instrumental interludes or final choruses by the large orchestra. With David Brophy conducting the large Orchestra of Ireland, the feast is sumptuous. The instrumental interludes mid-song are always welcome, getting the melodies under our skin, ‘selling’ the tunes as intended and was the tradition in older shows. Underscoring is also present and non-intrusive, but hardly colorless. The music swells.

“Larry Moore took on the sometime jigsaw puzzle-esque task of reconstructing the score, from various incarnations under a few different early titles, using the original orchestrations when possible, adding his own when instinct and necessity prodded him to do so. That’s explained in quite a bit of detail in the booklet for this double-CD set. It also includes an interesting history of not just the show, but the period of history it covers, and some key plot points exaggerated more by legend than the writers. And all the lyrics and spoken material heard here are included, too. Only occasionally would the songs’ words need to be consulted for catching them, in the case of a few ensemble numbers with many voices and orchestral detail competing for attention on first hearing. On solos and much group singing, diction is attentively crisp and this part of the booklet is valuable to just dwell on the wit and craft.

“George Washington finally shows up at the end, but doesn’t have a song, only being heard in dialogue.  He tells the heroine that we all owe her ‘a great debt’ for ‘a gift we hope you will always prize.’ The same can be said of Rodgers and Hart. And further thanks to New World Records, their dedicated endeavors breathing new life into what might otherwise linger in dusty bins of arcane theatre history. Like the last number, a bonus track restoring something cut from a few shows, ‘The Pipes of Pansy,’ describing love, the old stuff feels ‘newer than June is.’ ”

Musical Theater Project–Review by Bill Rudman (OVERTURE, Vol. 8, No. 1 August 2014)

“It’s been almost 90 years since the premiere of Dearest Enemy, the team’s first hit book musical [Rodgers and Hart], but that didn’t stop the devoted folks at the Foundation of the American Musical Theater from giving us the show’s first complete recording (New World Records; 2 CD’s).  Originally (and aptly) billed as ‘An American Musical Comedy,’ it’s based on a true incident from the Revolutionary War about a female patriot who detains a group of British soldiers long enough to let Gen. Putnam’s forces join Gen. Washington’s.  But the history lesson is upstaged by a delightfully problematic romance between an American girl and a British soldier. As for the Rodgers & Hart score, it’s one charmer after another, written when the composer was 24 and soaking up the sounds of Kern and Romberg, and the 31-year-old lyricist was igniting language like firecrackers.  The studio cast features the welcome return of Kim Criswell, and the 60-page booklet is packed with scholarship and all of the lyrics.”

Fanfare Magazine–Review by Bill White (March/April 2014)

“To my mind, composer Richard Rodgers represents the leading edge of the transition from old-world European style operetta to the new-world American style romantic Broadway musical.  A student of the more traditional productions of Victor Herbert, Sigmund Romberg, and Rudolf Friml, among others, Rodgers–along with collaborator Lorenz Hart, and later Oscar Hammerstein II–proved instrumental in dragging Broadway firmly into the 20th century with his string of blockbuster, American-oriented hit shows.  Here, with Dearest Enemy, we have a truly transitional piece, Rodgers and Hart’s first Broadway success, from 1925.  Gone are the gypsies, the Viennese waltzes, the old world aristocrats (except for a stray British general or two), the disguises and hidden identities of traditional operetta.  Retained from the older style are the two sets of lovers, one of them comedic, and the old man buffo role as per Gilbert and Sullivan, and many earlier examples.  The story is pure American.

***

“Rodgers’ score is likable and full of good tunes.  The stage orchestration has been reconstructed here by Broadway scholar Larry Moore, as much of the original material has gone missing.

“It certainly is not a detriment that New World Records has seen fit to export the entire production flintlock, stock, and tea barrel, to the Irish capital of Dublin for this recording, possibly for economic reasons.  The Irish National Orchestra plays the reconstructed Rodgers score with elegant sophistication, while providing all the flair of any possible Broadway counterparts.  No one in the young, unknown cast sounds particularly Irish except light soprano Annalene Beechey, who is playing the Irish cousin, Betsy, the romantic lead.  Beechey affects a brogue in the spoken bits which disappears during her fine singing, both alone and in tandem with male lead James Cleverton in their romantic duets.  In fact, the entire cast sings very well and would be a welcome addition to any Broadway stage.  Two small quibbles: soprano Kim Criswell, who sings the role of Mrs. Murray, often sounds too young to be a generation older than the other girls, and baritone Philip O’Reilly is perhaps a bit stiff in the comedic role of General Tryon.  He seems to lack the last ounce of heedless British swagger the role begs for, but this show is a romance first, and the Irish cast delivers that in exemplary fashion.  Rodgers and Hart’s hit love songs ‘Here in My Arms’ and ‘Bye and Bye’ are only two of many catchy numbers that decorate the score and make this work a prime candidate for a staged revival.

***

“Historically significant as well, this little-known American musical by Broadway icons Rodgers and Hart deserves your attention, and this audio recording of it my hearty recommendation.”

 Review by Peter Filichia in his online column (10/18/2013)

“The ‘20s? Rodgers and Hart’s DEAREST ENEMY opened in 1925, long before original Broadway cast albums became realities. Now, eighty-eight years later, we finally have a recording of the entire score. Marvelous as it is (especially when Kim Criswell sings), don’t miss the enthralling 11 pages of notes by Larry Moore, credited with “reconstruction and additional orchestrations,” and historian Sean O’Donoghue. They let you know what a miracle this two-disc set is.”

Playbill–ON THE RECORD–Review by Steven Suskin (October 27, 2013)

“This week’s column examines the studio cast restoration of Rodgers and Hart’s first complete musical comedy Dearest Enemy.

***

“Mind you, Dearest Enemy — as the show in question was called —wasn’t a failure. It was what we’d call a moderate success. It opened Sept. 18, 1925 during a momentous ten days on Broadway: The Lunts in Shaw’s Arms and the Man on Monday, Kit Cornell in the scandalous Green Hat on Tuesday, No, No Nanette and Noël Coward’s The Vortex on Wednesday, Dearest Enemy on Friday, Rudolf Friml’s Vagabond King on Monday and Kern and Hammerstein’s momentous Marilyn Miller vehicle Sunny on Tuesday.  It’s not any wonder that Dearest Enemy got lost in that crowd.

***

“Rodgers and Hart were embarking on a happy spree of hits, and Dearest Enemy did well enough. But the show and the score —written before The Garrick Gaieties — were tame. The boys’ two 1926 musicals, The Girl Friend and Peggy-Ann, were rambunctiously lively. I contend that if we were to hear either of these latter scores, we would think: “That’s got to be Gershwin, Youmans, Rodgers or somebody.” Listening to Dearest Enemy, I doubt many diehard Rodgers enthusiasts would be able to identify their man.

“You now have the opportunity to listen to Dearest Enemy, mind you; hence this column. Orchestrator Larry Moore, who is mighty good at unearthing, reassembling and providing the missing pieces of vintage musical comedies, has done just that. New World Records has provided the resources and come up with a full two-disc recording of the score, and fans of early Rodgers and Hart have every reason to be grateful.  (There is also in existence what seems to be a semi-professional studio recording from 1981, without a full orchestra.) This new recording, I imagine, couldn’t be bettered. But some listeners are likely to wonder: Why? Why Dearest Enemy, which I’d have to classify as one of the least interesting of the team’s 24 book musicals? The Girl Friend, Peggy-Ann, Present Arms!, Ever Green — none of which have full recordings — are bursting with melody; at least, they all sound like Rodgers and Hart.

“This studio cast album of Dearest Enemy, which was recorded in Dublin with a mostly English-Irish cast (including America’s own Kim Criswell, as Mrs. Murray), gives us as good a representation of the score as anyone could want. But there’s not much here that you’re going to want to hear more than once. Some interesting things, yes: A song (‘I Beg Your Pardon’ ) which features one of Rodgers’ deliciously ‘wrong’ notes; a couple of amusingly offbeat comedy songs from Mr. Hart: ‘The Hermits’ and ‘Old Enough to Love;’ and a wry dance number called ‘Sweet Peter’ which tells of old man Stuyvesant. (He couldn’t fool his wife when he came home drunk, because she could always hear the ‘Boom! Boom! Boom!’ of his wooden leg.) The two big ballads — ‘Here in My Arms’ and ‘Bye and Bye’ — were moderate hits at the time, but within two years they were displaced in the Rodgers and Hart catalogue by stronger and better songs.

“The musical restoration by Moore appears to be excellently done, and New World Records, which years ago gave us a splendid recording of Rodgers and Hart’s Babes in Arms, has done a fine job. (New World has also released important recordings of the Gershwins’ Tip-Toes, Kern’s Sitting Pretty and Porter’s Fifty Million Frenchmen.) In the present case, I am grateful for the careful reconstruction of an early Rodgers and Hart musical, but I churlishly wonder whether they might have profitably chosen a more significant one.”

Cast Album Reviews–Review by Richard Barrios (March 8, 2016) 

“To anyone wondering why it took nearly nine decades to come up with a complete Dearest Enemy, read the excellent notes that accompany this fine recording.  As with so many musicals of an earlier age, even some of the big hits, the parts and orchestrations were either lost or in fragmentary shape. Enter Larry Moore, who reconstructed the score from various extant pieces and, when necessary, found entirely valid ways to bridge the remaining gaps. (At one point, a little Tchaikovsky gets tossed into the mix. Well, why not?) With David Brophy conducting the Orchestra of Ireland and a fine cast, we now have as definitive an Enemy as could be imagined. If it perhaps lacks a bit of the conviction of the earlier British recording, everyone performs with spirit and charm. The orchestra and ensemble sound luscious; Annalene Beechey and James Cleverton are dandy lovers; and Kim Criswell, as Mrs. Murray, manages to keep the excesses at bay and stay in character. Everyone else is equally good, some dialogue is included to give a fair sense of the show, and there’s even a guest star: Stephen Rea, in the spoken role of George Washington. A major work has been stirringly served here, as have Rodgers and Hart and, really, everyone who wants to know about the delights of 1920s musical theater. — R.B.”