Sings Sail Away and Other Coward Rarities

Sings Sail Away and Other Coward Rarities

by Noël Coward


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After his Broadway musical Sail Away opened on October 3, 1961, Noël Coward recorded an album of himself singing its songs before an orchestra conducted by Peter Matz, and it was released by Capitol Records under the title Noël Coward Sings His New Broadway Hit Sail Away. This is not a reissue of that album. Rather, the bulk of this album (tracks 9-24) consists of demo recordings of Coward singing (and possibly playing on the piano) the score of Sail Away on April 21, 1961, while the show was still in the planning stages. Tracks 4-8 are Coward demos of songs from an even earlier version of the work, so early (possibly 1959) that it's barely recognizable as the genesis of the piece, in fact; it was then called Later Than Spring. And the album leads off with three tracks completely unrelated to the Sail Away material, recorded by Coward in Calcutta, India, in 1944 while he was on a tour of military bases entertaining troops during World War II. (The album concludes with additional performances of two Sail Away numbers recorded by Coward and the show's choreographer, Joe Layton, as duets.) None of these recordings has been released commercially before. Musicals can go through extensive changes from conception to production, and the differences between these recordings and the Capitol album reflect more than the absence of an orchestra and the presence of pops and clicks on a tape intended only for private use. The Later Than Spring tracks support an entirely different plot from which only the character of a middle-aged woman and an ocean voyage remained in Sail Away. Originally, Sail Away was intended to be more of a love story than it later became, and Coward included a number of ballads -- "I Am No Good at Love," "This Is a Night for Lovers," and "This Is a Changing World" (the last two recycled from his 1946 London-only musical Pacific 1860) -- that were dropped from the score when he removed the romantic lead from the show and merged her part with the comic second lead played by Elaine Stritch while the show was in its pre-Broadway tryouts. Those songs are still on the demo tape, which, conversely, does not include a few numbers Coward added later, "Go Slow, Johnny," "You're a Long, Long Way from America," and "Don't Turn Away from Love." Nevertheless, the major songs remain, and they are often typically witty Coward observations on globe-trotting, such as "Useful Phrases" (full of miscellaneous guidebook remarks for the tourist) and "Why Do the Wrong People Travel?" Stritch handled those songs well on-stage (and on the Original Broadway and Original London Cast albums), but no one is better than the songwriter himself, rolling his R's and sneering in his superior British manner. This album is a minor addition to the Coward catalog, but a welcome one.

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