Hey Finian, shut up and sing!
The cast recording of Finian’s Rainbow is going to annoy me to no end. The album for the excellent, gone-way-too-soon show was released yesterday, and today I downloaded three songs from it (I loved the show as a whole, but didn’t want the entire album). “How Are Things In Glocca Morra,” “Look To The Rainbow,” and Old Devil Moon” all have introductory dialogue leading into the music. I’m sure the majority of the tracks have incorporated dialogue—perhaps someone can let me know if I’m right or wrong in the comments section below.
Why did the producers at PS Classics (the label that released the album) do this?? Dialogue in cast recordings toss a distracting wrench in the continuity of the album’s flow. And in Finian’s case, there’s more than just continuity problems.
The acting sounds terrible. I thought Kate Baldwin and Cheyenne Jackson were terrific when I saw the show, but this dialogue out of context is embarrassing.
From “How Are Things In Glocca Morra”:
Finian: “Do you hear that skylark, Sharon?
Finian: “It’s the same skylark music we have back in Ireland.
Sharon: “Aye. A Glocca Morra skylark.”
Did we really need that information? I’m pretty sure that Sharon, who has just traveled from Ireland with her father, knows what their silly skylark music from back home sounds like. And Baldwin specifies that it sounds like a “Glocca Morra” skylark, as if reminding her senile father the name of their hometown.
But ok, that example aside, maybe the dialogue intro to “Look To The Rainbow” provides us with some much-needed backstory for the song.
From “Look To The Rainbow”:
Sharon: “In Glocca Morra, where we come from, there is an old legend. You’ll never grow old and you’ll never grow poor if you look to the rainbow beyond the next moor.”
Woody: “That’s a lovely legend. I wonder who thought it up.”
Sharon: “My father.”
See, that might be helpful, if the first lyrics of the song weren’t “On the day I was born, said my father said he… Look, look, look to the rainbow.”
This obnoxious flaw in the Finian’s cast recording reminds me of the same issue with another album. Although it doesn’t do it nearly as bad, the cast recording for Spring Awakening has unnecessary dialogue. Inexplicably, during only one track on the album, the producers felt it necessary to insert dialogue. On “Don’t Do Sadness / Blue Wind,” Moritz and Ilse chop up their amazing rock number with their awkward conversation. During the show, the dialogue was an excellent highlight. But everyone I’ve talked with about that track wishes it was purely the music, because on the album, it’s such a great rock song.
The best cast recording I own, in terms of producing, is Passing Strange. Recorded live at the Belasco Theatre, Stew and the cast captured an incredible audio imprint of what it was like to sit there and watch that amazing show. I don’t know why all cast albums aren’t recorded the same way.
Don’t get me wrong, Baldwin and Jackson sound unbelievable on Finian’s tracks. But I’m tempted to do a chop job with my free audio editing software.
Editor’s note: Happy first birthday, Stage Rush!! And an enormous thank you to everyone who reads. Stage Rush would be nothing without you.
After hearing this conversation the other day, I had to look this one up. I think I’m more mixed on the subject – I don’t mind dialogue on the album. However, I do think it should be spare and if possible lead-ins should be their own separate track, so for casual listening you just have the song. Also, if a line is going to be included, the producers and performers should go out of their way to make it real on disc. (Glenn Close’s dialogue on Sunset Boulevard is something out of 19th century melodrama, from her first line: “Yooooou theeeeere!!!” onward).
I think Finian’s should have been more judicious with its dialogue – Golden Age shows are structured in a way that it’s not really necessary to include lines and lead-ins (though I love it during a song, esp. if it’s spontaneous). Contemporary shows are more seamless in their transitions, making it much more difficult to separate the two.
Goddard Lieberson, pretty much the gold standard when it came to cast album producers, didn’t like including much dialogue and also adapted some songs for recorded use. He would add codas and buttons that weren’t heard in the theatre in order to make it a satisfactory aural home listening experience. (And his albums are still among the best ever recorded, even in the time and technology of the day). Of course, cast albums used to be at the top of the national charts and LP limitations that kept the album to somewhere around 45-55 minutes. It was a lucrative business for many years.