Musical theatre and opera have a lot in common; that goes without saying. So it is inevitable that the line should blur at times. I happen to be an admirer of both art forms, so I was delighted to come across Bravo Giovanni. It is not an opera by any stretch of the imagination, but the operatic influence and elements cannot be ignored.
Bravo Giovanni was written as a crossover vehicle for opera star Cesare Siepi. It features the music of Milton Schafer and lyrics by Ronny Graham. The short-lived musical opened May 19, 1962 at the Broadhurst Theatre on Broadway. It concerns the owner of a restaurant in Rome who resorts to stealing food and supplies from the fancy dining establishment next door via a secret tunnel to stay afloat. It only ran for 76 performances and has never had a revival. Therefore, there is only one cast album.
I have to say the quality of this album is really great. It sounds as if it could have been recorded far more recently than the sixties and many of the songs would fit in nicely at a contemporary dinner party or, as my sister would suggest, a grocery store. The music can come off as a bit all over the place (it doesn’t quite know what kind of musical it wants to be at times) but I find that keeps a fresh feeling throughout the recording. There is no show tune fatigue to be found here.
Each and every member of the cast deserves a retroactive Grammy Award for their vocal performances. Siepi has an enviable bass and puts it to good use, especially on the gorgeous “If I Were the Man.” Another spectacular performance is given by Gene Varrone on “Ah! Camminare,” performed in Italian! Michele Lee is, of course, perfection. Her “Steady, Steady” number is easily the strongest candidate here for classic show tune offering. I honestly enjoyed every single track, albeit for different reasons. In some ways it sounds more like a compilation than a coherent album, but like I said, that actually works well here.
I would love to have seen this either on stage or made into a movie. As it is, I am grateful they released a cast album for a show with such a brief run. If its lack of longevity is the result of poor ticket sales, then it seems even theatregoers get it wrong once in a while. Bravo Giovanni indeed!
P.S. I’ve been stuck in the 1960s lately. Perhaps something a bit more modern and familiar next time, eh?
Musical: Bravo Giovanni
Music by Milton Schafer
Lyrics by Ronny Graham
Opening Performance: May 19, 1962, New York City
Cast Album I Listened To: 1962 Original Broadway Cast
Highlights: “I’m All I’ve Got,” “If I Were the Man,” “Steady, Steady,” “Ah! Camminare”
Overall Impression: The songs are gorgeous even if the flow is a little disjointed. I loved it!