Sony Masterworks is officially launching a new Website devoted to its large catalog of Broadway music tomorrow — MasterworksBroadway.com — and it’s not just a treasure trove of information on cast albums for sale, it’s a major new archive of theater history.
The site traces the history of the cast album from the original production of “Finian’s Rainbow” in 1947 through the current hit revival of “South Pacific” at Lincoln Center (below).
Sony’s predecessor, Columbia Records, was one of the top Broadway cast album labels because the president of the company in the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s was the theater lover and great producer Goddard Lieberson.
Lieberson’s label scored one of the biggest recording hits of the 1950s with the cast album of “My Fair Lady” which was on the charts for several years.
Those were the days when show music was part of the bedrock of the pop music industry so there were good financial reasons for recording Broadway shows, as well as aesthetic reasons. All of the pop singers of that period scored hits with Broadway songs (even The Beatles recorded a tune from “The Music Man” on one of their early albums).
The cast album is the only tangible record we have of great Broadway shows of the past, so Lieberson and his peers did us all a service by having the casts and orchestras of so many shows go into the studio (usually a few days after the opening) to preserve their performances (and the score).
In the case of the early Stephen Sondheim flop, “Anyone Can Whistle,” Lieberson was so certain of the importance of the score that he went ahead with an album even though he knew the show was closing after a few performances (Angela Lansbury — above — went into the studio the day after she lost her first job in a Broadway musical). Without that cast album — which went on to become a cult favorite — it would be highly unlikely that the City Center Encores! series would be doing a staged reading of the show next week with Donna Murphy, Sutton Foster and Raul Esparza.
The Masterworks Website is packed with never-before-seen photographs from the recording sessions as well as production shots from many of the shows (that’s James Naughton, above right, in the terrific 1990 musical, “City of Angels”). The site will also feature a weekly blog by the excellent theater journalist and historian Peter Filichia; an enormous streaming library of cast recordings; and podcasts with Broadway notables including Stephen Sondheim, Angela Lansbury, Bernadette Peters and others.
On tomorrow’s official launch date, the site will begin the “You Gotta Get A Gimmick” sweepstakes during which daily prizes will be awarded, including a trip for two to NYC to see a Broadway show, and the entire Masterworks Broadway catalog.
Every Tuesday and Friday, the site will feature a prize related to the work of Jerry Herman and Stephen Sondheim respectively, including an autographed CD collection of their works. New prizes will continue to be announced throughout the month.
Check it out at www.masterworksbroadway.com