I’m going to put on my theater geek hat today to plug a dynamite CD I got this week, the new Encores! cast recording of “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.”
It stars Megan Hilty as Lorelei Lee, a role that made Carol Channing famous and was memorably filled by Marilyn Monroe in the movie version. Hilty is one of the stars of NBC’s “Smash,” where she plays a conniving, long-time chorus girl who wants to steal the role of Marilyn Monroe from an upstart with no Broadway experience.
Here, she’s just fantastic in all her songs, turning her voice into a Monroe/Channing hybrid that completely won me over. She’s got Channing’s innocence without the original 1949 recording’s cutsiness, and she combines it with Monroe’s breathiness for a pitch-perfect performance.
Her “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend” is a classic, and she’s just charming on “A Little Girl From Little Rock.”
But this isn’t just the Megan Hilty show. She’s surrounded by strong voices, most notably Rachel York as her friend Dorothy Shaw. Veteran York has an earthy, smokey quality to her voice that really pops. Her best-known number is “I Love What I’m Doing,” and it’s a smash.
Lots of others get their chance to shine, too. Aaron Lazar gives a romantic “Just a Kiss Apart” as Dorothy’s potential Beau. And Stephen R. Buntrock mines laughs out of the innuendo of “I’m A’Tingle, I’m A’Glow” even without the visuals.
I didn’t realize just how much instrumental music there is in the show, and the CD has a bunch (if not all). The sprightly “Scherzo” is especially fun. The score is probably my third favorite from Jule Styne (behind “Gypsy” and “Funny Girl”). Leo Robin did the lyrics. It’s a peach.
“Gentleman Prefer Blondes” is one of those great shows that’s long overdue for a reprise on Broadway, which is the Encores! series’ mission, after all.
Earlier in the season, Sony released a nice new recording of Stephen Sondheim’s problematic “Merrily We Roll Along,” which has a brilliant score but always seems to get stuck by the book. It’s a nice performance, but “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” beats it hands down.