Jones & Schmidt :Hidden Treasures: 1951-2001

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Jones & Schmidt

Hidden Treasures: 1951-2001

(Musical Theater Project/Harbinger Records)

February 25, 2019

Reviewed by John Hoglund for Cabaret Scenes

Try to remember a time over the last 50 years when songwriters Tom Jones (1928) and Harvey Schmidt (1929-2018) were not relevant in the history of American musical theater. It’s not easy. Many know them only as creators of the beloved allegory The Fantasticks, the longest-running musical in history (more than 21,000 performances in New York over 58 years). But their professional ouevre also includes Broadway classics such as I Do, I Do; 110 in the Shade; and Celebration. They’ve included original and newer selections from these shows as well as from 12 other shows with this ambitious release. Some are even previously unreleased demos by the pair themselves as they evolved with their gifts. The project was two years in the making. It’s all worth it. Every frivolous and powerful emotion known to man is found in this 48-cut, double CD, whose diversity and richness are almost an embarrassment. It is a must-have for any musical-theater lover or student.

There are too many highlights to list here. After all, how does one choose from cuts that include the likes of Mary Martin and Robert Preston singing gems like a pensive “Thousands of Flowers,” or a campy “Plant a Radish” with Bert Lahr and Stanley Holloway, or the buoyant opening sequence from the original Colette with a lovely “Earthly Paradise” with Zoe Caldwell and cast members Ruth Nelson, Holland Taylor, Tom Aldredge, Keith Charles, and Louis Turenne?

After a mini-prologue of “Try to Remember” (The Fantasticks) on the piano played by Schmidt, it all kicks off with Gerry Matthews belting the lively “Freshman Song” which leaps into a bouncy “Registration” with the student cast accompanied by Schmidt. A lovelorn “Anyone Will Do” is sung by Marilyn Weiss with brio. “I Have Acted Like a Fool” is a poignant find sung sweetly with Nathan Goodrich and Samantha Bruce. An interesting mega-medley caresses songs from 1961’s television special, New York Scrapbook, joining “I Like the City of New York” with “Everyone Looks Lonely,” “I Know Loneliness Quite Well,” and “Where Has the Time Gone?” featuring Kaye Ballard, Kenneth Nelson, and Maureen Bailey. This is a highlight. There are some misty-eyed moments here such as the songs from Grover’s Corners, the aborted musical version of Our Town that had Mary Martin scheduled to play the stage manager. The detailed and very full insert booklet makes for great reading. It overflows with information and unique photos and is wonderfully designed. Too, it’s not all old timers on hand. Cabaret’s Carol Demas and guitarist Sean Harkness shine beautifully on a very tender “Wand’rin’ Child.” Liz Callaway stands out in a thrilling reading of “I Only Want Someone to Love Me.” Other familiar voices heard on the disc are those of Jane Connell, Dick Latessa, Diana Rigg, Alan Arkin, and a bevy of other well-respected talents.

The whole album is a nostalgic stroll down memory lane for theater buffs. Many of the songs are quite simplistic and somewhat dated. Yet, such pre-social media madness reflections say much about a time worth remembering. In his extensive liner notes, Bill Rudman quotes musical historian Stanley Green interviewing Tom Jones in 1965: “I’m convinced the simpler you do something, the better off it’s going to be.” That’s likely the best comment on the 48 songs contained in this double album that sometimes lacks sophistication and often sounds like a rehearsal hall tape—but is never at a loss for heart.

On the back cover of the well-designed package, there are the lyrics from “Within This Empty Space” from 1975’s Philemon: “Within this empty space, there is nothing we cannot do… all are here… waiting here, within this empty space.” That just might say it all about this harvest of theater songs by two of our greats that matter.

John Hoglund

For over 30 years, John Hoglund has been a respected entertainment writer covering cabaret, jazz, theater and recordings. His writings have appeared in numerous outlets including the Bistro Bits column for Back Stage. John moderated seminars and forums for the International Cabaret Conference At Yale. He produced many celebrity fundraisers in NYC including one of the first benefits after 9/11: “HeartSong:The Heroes' Concert” at The Bottom Line featuring 36 major stars. He co-produced “HeartSong2: The Heroes' Concert” for Katrina victims at Symphony Space and “Miracle On 35th Street” with a star-studded lineup. Other fund raising efforts include the first benefits for Broadway Cares and God's Love, We Deliver. John served on the Board of Directors of MAC for 12 years. He is well known for championing new and rising talents.