Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Lena Horne in 'Jamaica'

We need to produce this here as a Tribute to Lena - great Tourism Attraction!

Music by Harold Arlen
Lyrics by E.Y. Harburg
Book by E.Y. Harburg and Fred Saidy

Original Broadway Cast Recording with Lena Horne, Ricardo Montalban, Josephine Premice, Joe Adams, Eric Rhodes, Ossie Davis and Adelaide Hall

Orchestra conducted by Lehman Engel

RCA CD 68041

Harold Arlen's 1957 musical JAMAICA is best remembered as a vehicle for the talents of the unforgettable Lena Horne, who created the role of Savanna, a savvy, sassy lass from the Caribbean who longed to exchange her West Indian address for the alluring shores of Manhattan. Not quite so well remembered is the fact that JAMAICA was originally intended as a vehicle for Harry Belafonte who, presumably, would have played a savvy, sassy lad who likewise wanted to go from a West Indian to a West Side abode.

After a typically fractious out of town tryout, the David Merrick production of JAMAICA opened on Broadway to reviews that lauded Miss Horne and featured players Ricardo Montalban and Josephine Premice, and admired the Harold Arlen/Yip Harburg score. Also admired were the dances, while the critics found little to praise in the book co-authored by Harburg and his long-time colleague Fred Saidy.

The ups and downs of JAMAICA's book need not concern us as we listen to the compact disc edition of JAMAICA, which unlike its long-playing predecessors includes both the show's overture and finale.

Lena Horne's performance still works its magic. Supremely feminine, lyrical, and alluring, Miss Horne sails triumphantly through the various songs Arlen created for her. These songs range in mood from the mischievously flirtatious "Pretty to Walk With". to the rapturous "Cocoanut Sweet", the broadly comic "Push de button" to the sultry "Napoleon" and "Go Slow Joe"

Most of the songs have lilt, some, including "Little Biscuit" and "Monkey in the Mango Tree" have wit, and all have charm Ricardo Montalban's macho but easygoing Koll is a likeable foil for Lena Horne's Savannah.

No one ever seems to revive JAMAICA, which seems a shame, since, however thin its book may be, it has a score that simply dazzles the listener. Arlen's gifts as a composer are so under-appreciated. This is an original cast album that belongs on every theatre-goer's shelf.

Reviewed by Kenn Harris

Kenn Harris has been reviewing theatre, opera, ballet, and film for more than twenty-five years. His published books include The Ultimate Opera Quiz Book (Penguin, 1997 a biography of opera star Renata Tebaldi (l974) and Opera Recordings A Critical Guide.

For many years he worked in cable television in New York City. Kenn Harris has written criticism for numerous magazines and newspapers, and is currently at work on The Ultimate Broadway Musical Quiz Book

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