Geraldine Fitzgerald’s Emerald

It’s rare that something you created 37 years ago is still admired decades later. The first LP Ken Bloom and I ever produced – Geraldine Fitzgerald in Streetsongs – was recently released on CD on The Musical Theater Project’s Harbinger label, and though it won raves back in the day from The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, it appears to be a hit all over again.

Actually, “created” is too strong a word. What Ken and I did in 1983 was adapt the star’s live performance into a recording that worked on its own terms. If her name doesn’t ring a bell, Geraldine was a great Irish-American actor: a star from the 1930s through the 1950s, sharing the stage or screen with the likes of Laurence Olivier, Orson Welles and Gary Cooper, and then appearing or directing on Broadway until a few years before her death in 2005. As if that were not enough, in the late 1970s she decided to become a cabaret singer, and publicizing her show at the Roundabout was my first New York job.

We became friends, and I was captivated by her voice, though it was, by her own admission, “peculiar” and “a rough instrument” – a kind of combination of Lotte Lenya and Marlene Dietrich. But she knew how to take you deep inside songs as disparate as Gershwin’s “Swanee,” Tommy Makem’s “Four Green Fields” and the Beatles’ “Leaving Home.”

But the question Ken and I asked ourselves last year was this: Would anyone care about our work (and Geraldine’s luminous art) in 2020?

The response makes us very proud. The customer “reviews” on Amazon are loaded with Five Stars – the highest rating! And several of them amount to mini-essays. I’ll quote from just one, by Arthur Fergenson: “This is theater at its recorded best, where Ms. Fitzgerald acts in the roles crafted by her….This is about playing a role in the course of a five- to 15-minute one-act play with music. Listen carefully to Bill Rudman’s radio interview of Ms. Fitzgerald in 1983, excerpts of which are included on this CD, and you will understand. She wants, craves a full stage with a
large audience so that she can feed off their energy and bring her actor’s craft fully to bear.

“And she does so brilliantly. Her ‘Danny Boy’ is justifiably the most famous piece in the show. Reminding me of Andrea Marcovicci, Ms. Fitzgerald brings a powerful intelligence to bear explaining what the song is really about, and seamlessly enters into the song and the character she plays as the young woman saying goodbye (and possibly farewell) to her beloved. In six minutes, Ms. Fitzgerald wills us into knowing and feeling.”

Bottom line: 37 years ago Geraldine Fitzgerald created a classic recording, and all these years later, Ken and I are tremendously proud of it. P.S. This month Amazon will also offer the album in its original vinyl edition; what goes around, comes around.

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