A `New' Marketing Niche in the CD Revolution: Old Musicals

Imagine finding recordings of "Flahooley," a legendary musical flop of more than four decades ago, or the 1952 revival of "Pal Joey," that featured Elaine Stritch singing the definitive version of "Zip."

Check your favorite record store in 1993.

Indeed, after 10 years into the CD revolution, major record companies have begun to dig into their archives and reissue long-unavailable show recordings on compact disc.

The companies who are dusting off Broadway catalogs of both well-known and esoteric shows are digitally remastering them for a cleaner sound and (in most cases) adding comprehensive liner notes and rare photographs.

Costs are minimal, much less than making a new recording, and record executives hope to tap the aging baby boomer market that grew up on "My Fair Lady," "Gypsy," "The Sound of Music," and other popular shows of the 1950s.

Six years ago, RCA Victor began the parade into Broadway's past with a reissue of the 1966 Lincoln Center version of "Annie Get Your Gun" that starred Ethel Merman. Since then, the company has brought out some 30 other Broadway oldies, ranging from "Paint Your Wagon" to "Wildcat."

In 1991, Sony, which now owns Columbia Records, began reissuing many of the venerable company's theater recordings on the new Sony Broadway label. Its output also numbers about 30 shows and includes such classics as Leonard Bernstein's "Candide" and the film soundtrack of "West Side Story."

The latest recording giant to enter the field is Angel and its new division, Broadway Angel. Besides recording current Broadway hits like "Crazy for You," Broadway Angel has launched a series of reissues under the umbrella title of Broadway Classics. All are licensed from the company's extensive Capitol Records catalog. The first six Broadway Classics compact discs arrived in November.

This March, Broadway Classics plans to release Noel Coward's "Sail Away," Tammy Grimes in "The Unsinkable Molly Brown," and three Barbara Cook shows - "The Gay Life," "Plain and Fancy" and "Flahooley."

"Flahooley" is of particular interest. The show ran only 40 performances, yet Capitol recorded it. The recording has been unavailable for the last 42 years.

The liner notes, by theater historians and scholars, try to put the shows in perspective, something that couldn't have been done when the albums were first released. "We really tried to get behind the scenes and let people know what was going on," says Linda Sterling, Angel's vice president for marketing.

Master tapes for all the Capitol shows are stored in a Los Angeles vault the size of a football field. Sound engineers are poring over the tapes, prospecting for missing material or songs that were recorded but never used on the original albums.

"We're looking for lost tracks, but so far haven't found any," Ms. Sterling says. "If there are any new tracks found, we're not going to put them on the compact disc versions just to have them there. They have to be up to our standards. But we'd love to find something good we can use."

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