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Belle or the Ballad of Dr. Crippen (Original London Cast)

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Album Review

The idea of having Noël Coward adapt Oscar Wilde's play Lady Windermere's Fan into a musical seems sound, but as often happens, the resulting show, After the Ball, suffered from problems on its way to the stage that prevented it from being what it might have been. In particular, casting was a problem, as Mary Ellis proved unequal to the vocal demands Coward made in the pivotal role of Mrs. Erlynne, resulting in the elimination of some songs. Along with other difficulties, the result was an indifferent critical and popular response, and the show ran only 188 performances after it opened in London on June 10, 1954. Nevertheless, Philips Records gave it a full cast recording on the only recently conventional 12" LP format, including 16 tracks with a running time of nearly 49 minutes. That, however, still wasn't enough to encompass the entire score, and there was another challenge. Shamus Locke, playing the part of Lord Darlington, was contracted to another label and unavailable to appear on the cast album. His songs, the solo "Stay on the Side of the Angels" and "I Offer You My Heart?," a duet with Vanessa Lee in the role of Lady Windermere, simply were eliminated. So were three other songs, leaving only 14. ("Quartette" is just a reprise of "Oh, What a Century It's Been," and "London at Night" also has a reprise.) The cut songs tend to be ones that advanced the plot, leaving plenty of choral numbers filled with Coward's characteristic wit and some love songs sung by Lee and Ellis. It's still an excellent score, even in this incomplete form, and the troubles of the stage production do not intrude. After half a century had passed and the recording had fallen out of copyright, Sepia Records undertook this unlicensed reissue of the long out of print album, spiffing up the sound and adding as bonus tracks eight songs from earlier Coward shows and/or featuring performers from After the Ball. The highlight of the extras was the three tracks from Pacific 1860, two of them featuring Mary Martin.

Belle or the Ballad of Dr. Crippen (Original London Cast), Original London Cast
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