TENDERLOIN (DRG 94770)
- It didn't get to London, and it isn't in the first
league of American
musicals, but Tenderloin is full of period flavour. We compare
new 2000 original cast recording with the first Broadway edition
by Jerry Bock. Lyrics by Sheldon Harnick. Book by George Abbott
and Jerome Weidman, based on the novel by Samuel Hopkins Adams.
Cast: Patrick Wilson (Tommy), David Ogden Stiers (Reverend
Brock), Yvette Carson (Gertie), Debbie Gravitte (Nita), Jessica
Stone (Margie), Sara Gettelfinger (Liz), Guy Paul (Purdy), Tom
Alan Robbins (Joe), Stanley Bojarski (Martin), Melissa Rain Anderson
(Jessica), Sarah Uriate Berry (Laura), Bruce MacVittie (Frye),
Kevin Conway (Lt Schmidt) etc., with the Coffee Club Orchestra
conducted by Rob Fisher.
Overture; Bless This Land; Little Old New York; Dr Brock;
Artificial Flowers; What's In It For You?; Reform; Tommy, Tommy;
The Picture of Happiness; Dear Friend; The Army of the Just;
How the Money Changes Hands; Entr'acte; Good Clean Fun; My Miss
Mary; My Gentle Young Johnny; The Trial
'Keep your hands off little old New York' sing the prostitutes
of the West Side of Manhattan's Tenderloin district in the 1890s,
warning off reformers who want to clean up the streets. But Tenderloin's
writers didn't heed the advice.
Following their very substantial success with Fiorello!, the
musical biography of the do-gooding New York Mayor Fiorello H.
la Guardia, lyricist Sheldon Harnick and composer Jerry Bock
again used New York as the setting of their next show. Tenderloin
was seen on Broadway in October 1960, but after a critical drubbing
was off within six months. London didn't get to see it. It starred
the eminent British 'classical' actor Maurice Evans as the Protestant
minister the Reverend Dr Brock, whose mission is to put a stop
to sex. Here is a star of a musical who is a straight-laced obsessive,
considered by the critic Walter Kerr as a man 'who wants to eliminate
the production numbers. Tenderloin is the most serious musical
comedy I ever saw. It begins with a hymn in a Park Avenue church,
and thereafter gets soberer and soberer and soberer.' Another
critic, John McClain, thought 'The trouble with the play is that
it is very difficult to have so much fun with vice and corruption
and then make a monument of the guy who is going to break it
In an age when the management and the public couldn't wait
to get their hands on a cast album, the Broadway cast put down
the score in a one-day session, and the pressed record was available
in the shops only a matter of hours later. Now, we have a new
recording of the show performed by a cast assembled for the production
seen as part of the New York Encores! series. They are an attractive
bunch, too, led by a personable Dr Brock in David Ogden Stiers,
an actor who should be first up if there is ever a musical about
Burl Ives, for whom he sounds and looks a dead ringer. His Dr
Brock is vigorous without being overbearing, and he relaxes admirably
in what is surely one of the show's loveliest songs, 'Dear Friend'
(not to be confused with Bock and Harnick's other song of the
same name in She Loves Me). For me, this is Tenderloin's most
captivating offering, and it has exactly the right momentum here.
It's the only point in the show when Tenderloin manages to be
As the handsome young scandal sheet journalist Tommy Howatt,
Patrick Wilson is winning and fresh, relishing the pathetic (in
the best sense) parody of 'Artificial Flowers', in which Bock
shows how capable he is of turning out a 'period' parlour room
ballad of sickening sentimentality. It vindicates Bock's intention
that the score should 'sound true to time and place'. Wilson
also gives the punchy 'The Picture of Happiness' much more of
a raunchy going-over than his 1960 counterpart, the admirable
Ron Husmann. Indeed, Mr Wilson is really one of the best reasons
for buying this CD, for he has admirable clarity, attack and
enough feeling to walk off with the honours.
The gaggle of females (most of them of ill-repute) that make
up most of the rest of the cast are mainly kept to the several
production numbers, most enjoyably in 'Little Old New York' and
the great first act closer 'How the Money Changes Hands'. Bock
and Harnick apparently wrote the latter on the road in just over
an hour. It has a suggestion of the brilliance of their 'Little
Tin Box' from Fiorello!, and gets a satisfactory work-out here.
Even so, I think the 1960 version has a little more punch, and
a wonderful spoken ending that for some reason has been dropped
for the new recording.
On the side of virtue, Sarah Uriate Berry is the sweet society
belle Laura, seizing her moment in the spotlight with 'Tommy,
Tommy', a touching little aria that bursts with feeling, but
otherwise she has little to do. As Nita, Debbie Gravitte is at
the forefront of the girls championing vice in the Tenderloin,
revealing her true feelings in a song that seems unexpectedly
heart-tugging, the haunting 'My Gentle Young Johnny'. It's a
welcome moment, especially as it comes in a second act that is
musically weak, and Gravitte pulls it off well. She doesn't surpass
the 1960 Nita, the marvellous Eileen Rodgers, whose voice had
an emotional intensity that was always at the ready. Gravitte
sings it very well, but Rodgers performs it.
But the results are more than satisfactory. The old score
is superbly played by the Coffee Club Orchestra under Rob Fisher.
You won't hear it handled better, or choral sequences more tightly
executed. The sound is first class, clearly eclipsing the 1960
record. The insatiable admirer of Tenderloin will not want to
be without Maurice Evans and his company (and, anyway, wasn't
Evans rather better than he has ever had credit for?) but Hugh
Fordin's production of this new recording shines up the piece
like a new pin.
The only cause for regret is that the opportunity to record
some of the lost and cut numbers from the show on the new disc
has been missed. As it is, beyond a so-so Entr'acte and a few
other incidental bits and bobs, there is little more material
than on the 1960 disc. The reissue of the 1960 version also had
better booklet notes, and some attractive production photographs.
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