Originally published on CastAlbums.org.
Donnybrook! Is one of the rare golden age cast albums that’s never received a proper digital transfer, despite the near-mania for releasing so many relatively obscure titles that characterized the cast recordings industry in the ‘90s and 2000s. Did Decca Broadway (who now owns the Kapp catalogue to which Donnybrook! belongs) lack appropriate masters, or did they simply deem the material less worthy? Whether as cause or effect, this musical adaptation of The Quiet Man has never achieved even the cult status of shows with similar pedigree from the same era.
Neither potential problem stood in the way of Stage Door Records, which as a London-based label operates under the EU’s shorter copyright expiry terms and can therefore legally release the album without licensing it (or its masters) from the American copyright owner. This has resulted in a number of releases from the label (and others in the UK) “mastered” from an LP rather than first-generation source materials. The result sounds undeniably better than what I get when I digitize a record at home, but lags behind the sonic quality you’d expect from a major label. Whether that gets in the way of your ability to enjoy Donnybrook! Is for you to decide.
Personally, I have trouble getting past the other side of the equation: the material. The score, by Johnny Burke, has just never held my attention beyond a couple of the catchier numbers. Joan Fagan‘s rendition of the opening number, “Sez I,” gets things off to a feisty start, and “I Wouldn’t Bet One Penny” (performed by Eddie Foy and Susan Johnson) is as charming as charm song as ever there was. But the majority of the score has failed to capture my heart no matter how many times I’ve tried to give it my attention. Leading man Art Lund, most familiar to Broadway fans as Joe from The Most Happy Fella, is given the kind of full-throated ballads that make the most of his rich baritone, but it’s an understatement to say that none of his songs hold a candle to “Joey, Joey, Joey.” (I know, that’s hardly a fair standard to hold a ballad to, but that’s what you get for casting Art Lund.) The arrangements and orchestrations by Robert Ginzler fall somewhere between the midcentury stereotype of folksy Irish music and the brassy (and, since it’s Ginzler, flute-filled) sound of Broadway’s golden age.
For many fans, though, the real appeal of this release will be the second album included, the much rarer The Pete King Orchestra Plays the Music of Donnybrook! I am totally unfamiliar with King — and the album’s packaging offers no information about these tracks — but Wikipedia tells me he was responsible for music cues used on The Brady Bunch and Happy Days. His Donnybrook! arrangements are very much in the style of Percy Faith, with some sticking close to the feel of the Broadway charts (“If It Isn’t Everything,” a delightfully rousing Irish tune that didn’t make it into the final score for Broadway) and others getting a bit more of the easy listening lilt (“Sad Was The Day“).
Despite my gripe about the album packaging not including any information about the Pete King album, it does reproduce the original album notes and two pages of photographs from the original cast album.