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Androcles and the Lion roars its way to a much-needed CD

Mr. R and Mr. C
Mr. R and Mr. C
Author's collection

Androcles and the Lion (Sony Broadway Masterworks)

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Sony Broadway Masterworks has reissued the musical Androcles and the Lion, music and lyrics by some guy named Richard Rodgers.
Probably the most prolific composer of Broadway scores, Rodgers seldom wrote lyrics, and it is in a way, considering the geniuses with whom he worked, not surprising that the words here are so felicitous. The only other time Rodgers supplied words to his own music was No Strings in 1962, just two years after the passing of his long time collaborator, Oscar Greeley Clendenning Hammerstein II. After a negative experience writing Do I Hear a Waltz? with Sondheim in 1965, Androcles and the Lion, both words and music by Mr. R., was presented by NBC on November 15, 1967. The reviews were mixed, the recording went out of print, and the show disappeared down the foxhole that great shows go.
Until now.
Oh, what a treasure it is!
The cast alone is the thing that makes magic. Norman Wisdom, the great British comic from the Broadway smash Walking Happy plays Androcles with shy wit and humor. The sly wit is given, of course, to Noel Coward, breathtaking as the emperor. Sixties' heartthrob Ed Ames, of The Ames Brothers, television and endless Broadway tour fame, plays the Giant Ferovius, Inga Swenson the convert to Christianity, and the wonderful Geoffrey Holder growls as the lion. The cast also includes such stalwarts as Brian Bedford, nominated recently for a Tony as Lady Bracknell, and John Cullum, a Broadway staple from the original Camelot in 1960 to the currently running Casa Valentina by Harvey Fierstein. And rounding out the cast, for those into really obscure Broadway personalities, are William Redfield, Kurt Kazner and Patricia Routledge. (Master class trivia: What Broadway show included Cullum and Redfield in the cast? Answer: Hamlet, with Richard Burton.)
But it's a show with music and lyrics by Richard Rodgers, and here is the real deal, magic-wise. Not only are the waltzes and ballads, staples of Rodger's genius, as brilliant as anything penned before, but the wit and humor for the lead, and, especially, for Mr. Coward, are just extraordinary. The voices are lovely, the orchestration incredibly supple by today's standards and it's a CD that all musical fans should rush out and buy immediately.