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Album Review

Sandy Wilson's 1958 musical Valmouth was greeted with reactions ranging from outrage to derision when it opened in Liverpool, and matters scarcely got better when it moved to London's West End early the following year. The recording at hand dates from the day after it opened in London, and one does have to give credit to Pye Records for releasing the cast album, given the disapproval of the critics to the original stage work, although it now seems relatively benign — a satire about sex, religion, and romantic love now seems pretty run-of-the-mill, but in 1959 many newspapers wondered that the British censors had granted a license to the piece. The music at hand, performed courtesy of a cast led by very young Cleo Laine and also featuring Barbara Couper, Doris Hare, Peter Gilmore (the cast's "heldentenor"), Geoffrey Dunn, Denise Hirst, Monica Ashton, Aubrey Woods (whose musical comedy instincts, as represented here, are delightful), Betty Hardy, Alan Edwards and Fenella Fielding, is delightfully, quietly piercing and jocular, wistful in its peculiar way, in some ways almost anticipating the work of Stephen Sondheim across the decades that followed. The recording isn't very opulent — there often isn't much more than a piano for accompaniment or an organ for the main body of the music, but the performers are beautifully, closely recorded, with an intimacy that's well captured on the CD transfer. The work itself was many years ahead of its time, and now seems like a solidly contemporary piece of the late '60s or early '70s — the spare scoring actually works in favor of the pieces, as it resembles more the work of subsequent decades, and a fuller accompaniment would have dated the settings. The annotation is nicely thorough, and the CD is essential listening for fans of musical theater of popular music of the pre-rock & roll era.

Valmouth, Original London Cast
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