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Music Review

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Simply Heavenly
Original 1957 Cast Recording


Music: David Martin
Lyrics: Langston Hughes
Performed by: Claudia McNeil and Melvin Stewart
Label: Masterworks Broadway
RRP: £12.99
Release Date: 14 October 2016

In the midst of all of the new releases, I’ve also received some first-time digital releases over the past few months that I’ve finally got around to listening to. Masterworks Broadway seem to be concentrating in this area of re-issues at the moment, and leaving the new releases to other labels. Despite these being available on LP, I’ve never heard them, so it was good to be able to hear them for the first time, sounding better than ever. Both of them are original Broadway Cast recordings, so it’s surprising it’s took this long to get them released, as both were released over 50 years ago !

Starring Claudia McNeil and Melvin Stewart, Simply Heavenly was written by Harlem renaissance poet Langston Hughes based on his novel Simple Takes a Wife and Other Simple Stories. With music by David Martin, Simply Heavenly was originally produced for the Off-Broadway 85th Street Playhouse. The show transferred to Broadway's Playhouse Theatre on 20 August 1957, when fire violations forced the closure of the original venue.

Hughes continually looked to the musical stage for success following the groundbreaking 1947 original production of Kurt Weill and Elmer Rice's Street Scene for which he wrote lyrics.

Set in Harlem of the '50s, Simply Heavenly follows Jess Simple as he tries to raise enough money for a divorce so he can marry his new love and eloquently captures the colour, humour and poetry of that time and place.

McNeil had made her Broadway debut as a replacement cast member in the groundbreaking original Broadway production of Arthur Miller's The Crucible. She would later originate the role of Lena Younger in Lorraine Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun both on Broadway and in the feature film.

This recording was a surprise to me – the recording quality first of all is one of the best that I’ve heard from Masterworks Broadway in this series – I’m guessing they had the master tapes, as it’s crystal clear. The piece really does recreate the feeling of Harlem – a great mixture of spoken word and Harlem blues. I had heard some of the numbers before, but it was great to hear them again here. My particular favourites were 'Look For The Morning' and 'Did You Ever Hear The Blues', but it’s a strong album as a whole. It’s pretty much a two-hander – both excellent - and the story seems slim to non-existent, but it’s still a recording worth investing some time in.


Ian Gude

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