Originally published on CastAlbums.org.
There are certain shows by the giants of musical theater that have lesser reputations. While often these reputations are earned (e.g. late-period Andrew Lloyd Webber), too often scores are unfairly maligned simply because they pale in comparison to the real masterpieces in their writers’ catalog. Women of the Year is unquestionably in the latter category. Kander & Ebb’s 1981 star vehicle for Lauren Bacall is no Cabaret, but believe me, it’s no Stephen Ward either.
Based on the 1942 Tracy/Hepburn film, the musical updates the story to the 1980s, with Bacall as TV star Tess Harding in a rocky relationship with cartoonist Sam Craig, played by Harry Guardino. The score produced two genuine classic songs: the tender ballad “Sometimes a Day Goes By” and the hilarious duet for Bacall and Marilyn Cooper, “The Grass Is Always Greener.” The show nabbed four Tony Awards, for book (Peter Stone), score, Bacall, and Cooper.
The cast recording, produced by John McClure, was originally an Arista LP. It has been on CD twice before, but those releases (first on Bay Cities, then Razor & Tie) had relatively short lives on the shelves. Sony Masterworks is giving us a third chance to add the score to our collections, and those who love classic Broadway would be foolish to miss the opportunity.
While neither Bacall nor Guardino are known for their mellifluous tones, both are confident singers with strong character voices and the acting chops to sell all of their numbers. The supporting cast doesn’t have much to do on the album, but Cooper & Bacall’s duet clearly demonstrates why they both took home Tony Awards.
In addition to the best-known songs, the score is full of what Kander & Ebb do best: catchy vamps (“It Isn’t Working,” “I Wrote The Book“), clever lyrics (“So What Else Is New?“), and the occasional showstopper where the leading lady sings in front of a line of boys (“One of the Boys“). And if the lesser numbers of the score feel a bit like filler, be grateful to living in the digital age when it’s so easy to skip past those tracks.
This new release doesn’t include any credits related to the reissue, but to my ears it sounds the same as the Razor & Tie edition. The booklet is a little sparse, including four Martha Swope photos of the original production and a new essay by David Foll, but no plot synopsis.
Lesser Kander & Ebb is still better than the best of most other songwriters (and I can think of a few Kander & Ebb scores that are significantly lesser than this one). This album belongs in the collection of any fan of classic Broadway music, and I’m grateful to Sony for once again making that possible.