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Album Review

Given that the status of Jerome Kern is undisputed as a master of American song, it's odd that the entire first part of his career has been virtually ignored by performers and recording companies. When this recording of The Cabaret Girl, a show from 1922, appeared in 2008, it was the earliest complete Kern show to have been reconstructed up to that time. The enterprising Ohio Light Opera of Wooster, OH, has recorded various productions, stressing the close links between American and British musical theater, and this one offers a good example of the riches that would have been well known to theatergoers on both sides of the Atlantic in the 1920s but were virtually forgotten in the following years. Of course, this was due in no small part to the efforts of Kern himself, with his paradigm-shifting Show Boat (1927). But given that Kern's collaborator on a number of shows, in both England and America, was superb comic novelist P.G. Wodehouse, revivals of this material seems a promising prospect indeed. The Cabaret Girl, which lay untouched from its London premiere until this present recording, cleverly merges the talents of Kern, Wodehouse, and George Grossmith, Jr., the son of the famed star of Gilbert and Sullivan's operettas. The story concerns a scion of the landed gentry who falls in love with a chorus girl and thus cannot claim his inheritance without earning the approval of the Marchioness of Harrogate. The plot is as old as the hills, but it's cleverly executed by Wodehouse and Grossmith using the device of a play-within-a-play, and by Kern, who, much as he would in Show Boat, used the plot as an excuse to set musical genres against one another. Sample the tightly constructed first-act finale, where Marilynn Morgan, the titular cabaret girl, transforms a straight-ahead tune into a fox trot. That sounds unremarkable today, but it would have been surprising indeed for a London audience in 1922, and in general the performers of the Ohio Light Opera do a good job in bringing the music alive on its own terms. The show's spoken dialogue is included, and this is commendable although it's unclear whether there were any cuts. The boxy sound quality, which sounds as though it was taken from a live performance but was not, is the downside here, but it is to be hoped that more releases of Kern's early creations follow in this vein.~James Manheim, Rovi

The Cabaret Girl, Ohio Light Opera
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