Music from the New York Stage, Vol. 2: 1908 1913
These 12 CDs are a monument to the enterprise of collector/producer Jack Raymond, who has gathered what is claimed to be ''virtually every extant original cast performance'' from the decades covered. It is an astonishing survey of one of the most important eras in the development of musical theatre. The earliest recording, dated 1890, is of De Wolf Hopper singing a number from Castles in the Air by Gustave Kerker; the last is of Jack Norworth in My Lady Friends, made in June 1920. In between come 296 tracks taken from approximately 150 musical plays, ranging from still famous shows such as Kerker's The Belle of New York, Friml's The Firefly and Victor Herbert's Sweethearts, to those consigned to oblivion for nearly a century. Among the most fascinating are early works by Kern, Berlin and George M. Cohan; the latter two composers are both heard singing their own songs, as is Cohan's wife-Ethel Levey-and there are such great Broadway stars as Bert Williams and George Walker, Elsie Janis, Grace Cameron and the young Eddie Cantor and Al Jolson.
The quality of the recordings varies considerably; it is not always the oldest which prove hardest to decipher through a century's hiss and crackle. This is specialist material and not, of course, for those solely interested in the music. It is a historian's dream come true; one needs to listen to the whole sequence several times before one can come to grips with all the themes and cross-references, dealing with contemporary politics, fashion and changing ideas about gender and racial ethics which are all an important part of American popular song in this era.
Each volume contains several items recorded in London by soloists who had either come over here with a show (for instance Edna May in The Belle of New York) or, as in the case of Madge Crichton in Three Little Maids and George Grossmith Jnr in
Other treasures in Vol. 1 include Marie Cahill singing ''Under the Bamboo Tree'' from Sally in Our Alley, originally done in 1902 but heard here in a really vivid 1917 Victor recording, also Bert Williams's first recording of his most famous song, ''Nobody'' from Abyssinia, made in 1906-in other volumes he is heard in several other shows (mostly editions of the Ziegfeld Follies) in such great numbers as ''Woodman, Spare that Tree'' and ''The Darktown Poker Club''. Then there is the really astonishing personality of May Irwin. Irwin was a kind of precursor of Mae West, and sang ragtime numbers with a vivid presence that can still be felt without any excuses for the somewhat offensive (to modern ears) lyrics of ''Moses Andrew Jackson-Goodbye!'' or ''If You ain't Got No Money, You needn't Come Around''.
Throughout the 12 CDs it is fascinating to hear the gradual erosion of the old vaudeville-style songs, as well as the Viennese waltzes and gipsy melodies being replaced by something faster and slicker, altogether American. Major rarities: Lillian Russell's (her only known recording) slightly unsteady but still characterful singing of ''Come Down Ma Evenin' Star''; Eva Tanguy-who was billed as ''The girl who made vaudeville famous''-in her signature-tune, ''I don't care'' from the Ziegfeld Follies of 1909. Other Ziegfeld stars include Jose Collins, Nat. M. Wills and Elizabeth Brice but not, alas, either of Ziegfeld's wives, Anna Held and Billie Burke, neither of whom seems to have recorded (although Burke, of course, made several talking pictures).
There are names quite forgotten, of performers whose style and vocal technique are formidable: Margaret Romaine in The Midnight Girl, Mizzi Hajos in