CD of the Moment: Kitty’s Kisses

My collection of musical theatre cast recordings has expanded faster than I’ve been able to listen to the CDs, a state of affairs that simply cannot be allowed to continue. So one of my aims for 2011 is to work my way through these thus-far unplayed discs, and to write about those which seem particularly worthy of note.  The first of these is a recording of an old show that even I hadn’t heard of before the recording was announced.

Kitty's Kisses CD art

Kitty's Kisses CD cover

Kitty’s Kisses : World Premiere Recording

PS Classics – PS-987

During the 1920s, literally hundreds of musicals opened and closed on Broadway, and even the most successful of them tended to last for one or two years at the most.  A run of a few months was enough to turn a profit and classify a show as a hit.  The cream of these shows are still household names, including Show Boat and Porgy & Bess, but most of them have since been forgotten, their songs and dances lost to the mists of time.  For a musical from 1926 to receive a 21st-century recording, particularly since it has never been recorded before, is quite remarkable.

But then, the PS Classics label and the people behind it are quite remarkable as well.  The label has released a great deal of current Broadway and off-Broadway material, but has also delved into musical theatre’s past to unearth neglected gems.  Every so often, when finance permits, they take a cast of Broadway’s best voices in to the recording studio and allow us to hear such obscurities as Fine and Dandy and Through the Years for the first time.  Each time they do, the results are well worth it, with each disc being both fascinating and highly enjoyable to listen to.  Released in 2009, Kitty’s Kisses continued this trend.

It seems as though the show is typical 1920s fare – improbable events throw some young people together so that they develop feelings for one another, then more improbable events conspire to keep them apart until the final curtain.  A touch of mistaken identity, a dash of philandering and a sudden, yet also inevitable happy ending.  It spawned a hit song (in this case the title tune) and was a success at the time, but would go unloved and unrevived.  Unusually, though, portions of its score resurfaced in Britain, where the show’s plot was wedded to songs from the Rodgers and Hart show The Girl Friend, bringing selected numbers from the score along with the comic situations.  But after that, even though the composer won the first ever Oscar for Best Song eight years later, it seems that everyone forgot the show.  The various bits and pieces that made up the score were unearthed later – much later – when a huge warehouse has its contents archived.  For whatever reason, Kitty’s Kisses made an impression on one of the archivists, Tommy Krasker, who would go on to found PS Classics and to decide to make this recording.

The CD is like one big smile.  Bouncy, tuneful and ebullient, Con Conrad’s score is performed with great style by the ten principals, the ten musicians and the small ensemble.  Gus Kahn’s lyrics (he had some help from Otto Harbach on some of the numbers) trip off the performers’ tongues effortlessly and often display great wit, particularly in the quite wonderful trio ‘I Don’t Want Him’.  Some of the tracks I could live without (such as ‘Walking the Track’, a typical “introduce a dance” number), but others are nothing short of exquisite.  In his liner notes, Krasker says that he and his partner would start singing ‘Choo Choo Love’ when they spotted a train, and I can quite understand why.  It is one of those charming old songs that worms its way under your skin and makes itself right at home.  You can feel the singers’ pleasure , and it rubs off on you.  The title song is enjoyable, but I can’t see why it was the breakout hit of the show when others such as ‘I’m in Love’ and ‘Whenever I Dream’ are even more delightful, with melodies that deserve to have been heard far more often than they have been.  The voices of Rebecca Luker and Philip Chaffin suit these love songs down to the ground (Chaffin’s voice in particular is one I can happily listen to for a long time)  Comedy is also supplied in generous servings, including the aforementioned ‘I Don’t Want Him’ (the plaintive wail of “nobody wants me” makes me chuckle every time I hear it) and a mad little number called ‘Needles’.

A delightful feature is the preservation of a couple of spoken-word pieces which appear to have been used to cover scene changes in the original production.  These take the form of phone calls made by the telephone operator of the hotel where the cast end up in the later acts, where she explains what’s going on.  As the plot has farcical elements, these were probably quite handy for members of the audience who weren’t quite as quick on the uptake as their fellow theatre-goers.

The restoration of such long-lost shows is clearly a labour of love, yet sometimes it is impossible to recreate everything that was heard in the original production.  In this case, the finale could not be found, so the producers have added an arrangement of ‘The Continental’ (the song which won Conrad and his lyricists their Academy Award).  It sounds great, but doesn’t quite fit with the rest of the songs, given that it comes from a different decade when musical styles had moved on.  However, all in all, the 50 or so minutes of music on this disc are utterly delightful.  A confection of joy from a simpler time, Kitty’s Kisses puts a smile on my face and would do the same for anyone who is happy to throw away sophistication and recall that they simply don’t write songs like they used to.  In some ways I’m glad they don’t, but it is wonderful to have the opportunity to hear these delightfully old-fashioned numbers on such a sparkling recording.

    • Trish
    • January 31st, 2011

    I occasionally watch a really old film and it can be a fascinating experience. In some respects it makes me realise how much progress we have made but also that we have lost a lot of things as well.

    So it is wonderful that we have a permanent record to give later generations an idea of how things used to be (albeit in the artificial world of a film).

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