A treat for R&H fans, a rare opportunity to hear the score of their biggest failure. "Pipe Dream" is based on John Steinbeck's "Sweet Thursday" sequel to "Cannery Row", tales of prostitutes and wasters.
It never reached London, few perhaps even aware of its existence. Until now there has only been the 48 minutes OBC version, it pleasant enough but with most of the songs shortened. This 2012 New York Centre live concert recording is just over 75 minutes long and opens everything out.
Set in Monterey, California, it concerns the romance between philosophising marine biologist Doc (Will Chase) and newly arrived vagrant Suzy (Laura Osnes). Slow to take off, their relationship needs a helping hand from Cannery Row's colourful layabouts and the local brothel's madam Fauna (Leslie Uggams). Cue for lilting songs and robust choruses!
This is not vintage R&H, but contains much to delight. Highlights? "All Kinds of People" (Doc reflects); Fauna's Song (she a tough cookie, but with genuine concern); "A Lopsided Bus" (who needs work?); "The Man I Used to Be" (Doc aware he is changing, but does he really want to?); "Sweet Thursday" and "Suzy is a Good Thing" (in both Fauna encouraging Suzy to be more positive, have more faith in herself); "All At Once You Love Her" (Doc realizes); "The Happiest House on the Block" (therapy provided for those with a need!); "The Party We're Gonna Have Tomorrow Night" and "How Long?" (both delivered with gusto). Will Chase and Leslie Uggams particularly shine. Stephen Wallem impresses as the slow-to-comprehend Hazel in the full version of "Thinkin'".
Why a flop? Steinbeck disapproved. So did admirers of the two books. Everything had been watered down and sanitised, Rodgers to remind them this was intended as "a family show". Hammerstein was profoundly ill at ease with the subject matter, especially where prostitutes were concerned. Rodgers too had serious problems. He, very much a hands-on producer, needed an urgent cancer operation which temporarily removed him from crucial formative stages. The original Fauna, soprano opera singer Helen Traubel, was an ill-advised choice. All her songs needed to be adapted, which made her on-stage madam lack credibility (she enjoyable on disc though). Looking back, Rodgers, Hammerstein and Steinbeck (still their friend!) agreed the result simply did not work - Steinbeck eventually conceding the show was pleasant enough for those unfamiliar with its source.
Now all have an opportunity to judge for themselves - to see how a rare R&H failure can nevertheless still entertain and be of interest.
Having had the original cast recording on LP for 30 years now , I managed to purchase at the time the original advanced edtion of the cast recording, this was before the art work on the orignal cover was revised and the new art work appeared on all subsequent covers of the original the used the show poster art. I bought the CD of the the same recording when it came out in 1993. I Have to say that this recording improves on that original, largely I feel for the performance of Leslie Uggams as Fauna. Although I still love Helen Traubel the original Fauna , I have to say that Leslie Uggams does actually sound like the madame of a whore house in this recording, in a way that Helen Traubel doesn't, and I think this recording has achieved at last what Rodgers & Hammerstein want it to achieve. For me now Leslie Uggams is playing the role in a totally believeable way and sings all of Fauna's songs wonderfully : 'Sweet Thursday' which includes the verse to this song, which isn't on the original cast recording, and improves this wonderful 'cake walk of a song' marvelously; 'Suzy is a good thing' which again includes verses not recorded on the original cast album, and its probably one of the best songs in the score.
All the other members of the fine cast are also very good in the their roles Will chase as Doc giving William Johnson the original Doc a run for his money. Lara Osnes does a brilliant performance with Suzy's songs especially since they have all been transposed into a higher key, than the original which was written for original Suzy Judy Tyler contralto voice.
Even the song 'Thinkin' which was the only one on the original recording that I wasn't too keen on, even though the original role of Hazel was played by the amazing Mike Kellin. This song because it has been given a full recording on this recording has become one of my favorite so well sung by Stephen Wallem.
I feel now having heard this new recording of Pipe Dream is the reason it wasn't the success it should have been has nothing to do with Rodgers & Hammerstein genius writing, but was down to the middle class Broadway audiences of 1955-56 who just disliked the subject matter and refused to accept it on it owns terms and didn't like their heroes Rodgers & Hammerstein writing about the Bums, drifers , dropouts and the ladies of the whorehouse, and told all their friends to stay away, and unforunately I think it worked.