We are fortunate to have this solid-platinum masterpiece back. We are doubly fortunate given the great Goddard Lieberson's rare lack of foresight to record it right away in stereo. Perhaps he did consider it and figured it was too much trouble, but it would have been eminently worth it. Then again, among this album's manifold virtues is excellent mono sound.
It was possible -- RCA and British Decca recorded commercially in stereo from 1954; but Columbia seems not to have started in stereo at all until November, 1956, and then haltingly, in binaural, on Lieberson's "Li'l Abner" cast album (and only on two orchestral tracks, until recently unreleased). In December he produced Leonard Bernstein's "Candide" in separate mono and two-track stereo takes,* followed by "Bells Are Ringing" in two-track. In 1959 he did record "My Fair Lady" in stereo -- an "identical" London cast album. Happily both recordings coexisted peacefully on record-store racks until the end of the dual-format era in the late sixties, when CBS decided London was better. Sony showed its love for the Broadway cast album by issuing a slapdash hard-to-find CD sometime around 1988, followed by one of those absurdly expensive gold-plated Mastersound discs which the company used to avoid fixing its back catalog, and whose cost it justified by adding the first of the two current bonus tracks. A preposterous internecine fight over control of the company's cast albums further delayed a good reasonably-priced reissue.
Finally, in 2002, it arrived -- a beautiful, sensitive remastering. Probably most of us last heard this album as I did, in a kitchen on a portable tube-type manual phono. To behold this on a good stereo wipes away whatever idea you had that you'd heard it too often. No, this remains as utterly right as a musical ever got. These folk being human, we do get small flaws -- like the very fastidious Henry Higgins (and the not so fastidious Alan Jay Lerner) insisting Eliza Doolittle be "hung," and several Lieberson edits that jar after the film version and its soundtrack album have lodged in your head. (Indeed even the most addicted cast-album nuts must concede the Alexander Courage-Andre Previn reworking of the Overture -- yes, that Alexander Courage -- is far better; but then Bill Paley and Goddard Lieberson didn't have the Warner Bros. Orchestra either.) Only now can we truly realize just how extraordinary everything is, how note-perfect the casting, and the performance -- and here digital recording excels, because it clearly wouldn't not be quite the same magnificent album without the superb work of its session engineers, Fred Plaut and Edward T. "Bud" Graham, cleaned and polished to a bright warm glow by the reissue's co-producer and remasterer Darcy Proper. (Given past Sony practice I would not be surprised to learn this is the Mastersound remaster, reissued; we'll take it.) No mistake: this is one of the greatest recordings of any kind ever.
Often bonus tracks are irrelevant, but not so on Sony's recent cast album reissues, and definitely not here. The previously-issued first is an attempt by Lieberson (patrician accent and all -- but with what he did for the record biz we'll forgive it) at an interview at session's end that promptly got out of his control, but it gives us an inkling these folks were every bit as exciting to know offstage as on. The second is off a promotional disc for "Camelot" (so I gather; the liner booklet doesn't specify, and Masterworks issued many such discs) starring Lieberson and the songwriters, and despite its brevity we get an idea of the guesswork involved in writing musicals -- no more so than here. It helps, though, when your names are Frederick Loewe and Alan Jay Lerner, and all your guesses are right.
P. S. Tim, or Tom, or Joe Scanlon's silly booklet notes repeat an error that appears in "Dazzler," Steven Bach's biography of Moss Hart: that "My Fair Lady" earned back "2,000 percent" of its production costs. But Bach himself states that the show earned an estimated $800 million to $1 billion -- a return at minimum of 200,000 percent. (He may have meant 2,000 TIMES, which is correct.) Do you suppose the LEGENDARY Clive Davis and the equally LEGENDARY Walter Yetnikoff ever did anything so profitable?
*To be sure stereo was still somewhat experimental, and the stereo "Candide"'s sound is not that good; on the other hand, the "Li'l Abner" binaural tracks are.