Playbill On-line January 23, 2000
by Steven Suskin
Claibe Richardson and Kenward Elmslie's Lola attracted little attention when it was produced by the York Theatre Company for twenty performances in March 1982, with Jane White and Leigh Beery in the cast. A studio cast album was recorded in 1985 by Painted Smiles Records. It has now been remastered and rereleased on CD by Harbinger Records, and the score has much to recommend it. Richardson and Elmslie are best known for their ill-fated The Grass Harp, which lasted seven performances in 1971. The Grass Harp was flawed, certainly, and adversely affected during development by severe underfinancing; but much of the score is highly melodic and extremely ingratiating. Fans of The Grass Harp will not be surprised to find that Lola has similar attributes.
Lola is Lola Montez, the scandalous Spanish dancer (born Eliza Gilbert, 1818-1861) who took Europe by storm, consorted with the likes of Franz Liszt and King Ludwig of Bavaria, and ended up penniless in a Gold Rush dance hall in California (or Californi-ay, as they call it). The show moves back and forth across time, and is rather difficult to follow on this disc because two actresses sing Lola Montez -- young and old -- while two actors double up for the other principal roles. This turns out not to be a negative, as it showcases the singers: Judy Kaye, Christine Andreas, Jack Dabdoub (of the York Theatre cast), and David Carroll. There is also a five-man chorus. Ms. Kaye, who does most of the singing, is very impressive here. This role is more straightforward than the comedy parts she typically sings on cast albums, and she gives a fine dramatic performance. The late David Carroll is also quite engaging; I don't suppose he ever sounded better than he did when Lola was recorded, and it's a pleasant surprise to hear that voice again.
Richardson's music ranges from pleasant to soaring. Best of the lot are two beauties, "Mirrors and Shadows of Your Domain" and "Beauty Secrets." This last song is performed a second time, as a coda, by Barbara Cook (whose last Broadway musical to date, unhappily, was The Grass Harp). This is a typical Barbara Cook dramatic performance, which is to say quite amazing as these things go. The score is richly orchestrated by Bruce Coughlin (except for Cook's track, which is lushly handled by Bruce Pomahac).
Lola does have problems, especially the lyrics which are jarring in places. In Mr. Elmslie's ear, "wits" fits with "Biarritz"; "harlot in" with "charlatan"; and "merde" that overused French exclamation, rhymes with "scared" and "Laird" (as in Baron or Earl). It is also unwise for someone who has trouble with simple rhymes to go after complex ones: "Will somebody steal my thunder?/Will this be our biggest blunder?/Will it all really happen I wonder?/Down under" or, on a more continental note, "Not there/Never there/Danke schon, Mein Herr/Mon cher, mon cher."
These lyrical lapses would probably be antagonistic in the theatre, where one tends to be more critical. Never mind; little matters when you have music as rapturous as "Mirrors and Shadows of Your Domain" and "Beauty Secrets." Lola -- with its lovely melodies, fine actors, and surprisingly accomplished orchestrations -- makes an enjoyable cast album.
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