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The Boy Friend

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Album Review

The Boy Friend, billed as "a New Musical Comedy of the 1920s," was actually an affectionate parody of 1920s musicals written in the early '50s by Sandy Wilson for the Players' Club in London and first put on there in 1953 before being expanded for a five-year run in the West End that began on January 14, 1954, and led to numerous revivals and overseas productions. The cast recording was undertaken by HMV Records, which issued a 10" LP running about 26 minutes. That recording fell out of copyright 50 years later, and Sepia Records has promptly issued its own unlicensed version here. But the CD runs more than 76 minutes. The additional material includes two medleys of the show's songs recorded contemporaneously by the London Orchestra, plus examples of the kind of music The Boy Friend's score was making gentle fun of: pop recordings of songs from such musicals as Rodgers & Hart's The Girl Friend and Vincent Youmans' Hit the Deck and No, No, Nanette that were made in the '20s. So, the musical style remains the same throughout the disc, although the types of arrangements and sound quality change. The 14 tracks from The Boy Friend feature only Stan Edwards' piano and uncredited bass and drums as accompaniment, while the additional 16 tracks employ big band and string arrangements. At the same time, the relative clarity of the 1954 recordings gives way to the '20s tracks, made just after the onset of the electrical era of recording, when sound quality was still somewhat iffy. Thus, there's a big change at track 14, and another at track 17. There is also a difference of tone. However affectionate the cast may be toward the far-off days of the '20s, they are at a comic remove from the era, performing material that caricatures it. (Note, for example, the enthusiastically stated period exclamations, such as "boop-boop-be-do" and "wacka-do" in "It's Never Too Late to Fall in Love.") In contrast, the '20s singers (who include future My Fair Lady cast member Stanley Holloway) sound more sincere. Still, this is a lot of music for the money; the reissue brings back into print a long-lost cast album; and the packaging, with plenty of annotations, is much better than that found in releases by such rival labels as Prism Leisure that also take advantage of recordings new to the public domain in Europe.

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