Revisiting Kurt Gänzl’s “Guide to Musical Theatre On Record”

Kurt Gänzl
Kurt of Gerolstein Blog
13 January, 2020

“Wonderfully opinionated, outrageously frank, and always sensible” Yes, that was me. I suppose it still is … but in 1991 book reviewers had balls (and column space). I guess this is one of my favorite notices of my all-time, so thank you Charis Gray for those words on my Blackwell Guide to the Musical Theatre on Record, first published in 1990. I just found that clipping while going through my old folders.

Cover of Kurt Gänzl's "The Blackwell Guide to the Musical Theatre on Record," first published in 1990.

Cover of Kurt Gänzl’s “The Blackwell Guide to the Musical Theatre on Record,” first published in 1990.

I had no intention of writing a book of ‘opinions’. I was, and am, an historian. My business is Facts.

But my editor at the – then joyful – firm of Basil Blackwell had begun a series of books about recordings. I think it had started with Country Music, or Folk Music on Record. He knew that Ian and I had an unparalelled collection of musical-theatre recordings, so he asked … and there went the next umpteen months of my life: listening to records. How many My Fair Ladys? How many Die lustige Witwes … how many dreadful vanity discs …

One of many "My Fair Lady" recordings on LP, this one in German.

One of many “My Fair Lady” recordings on LP, this one in German.

It was an odd time in the world of the ‘record’. The ‘vinyl’ recording of all our youthful passions had just been (temporarily?) superseded by the CD.

So, although I didn’t realise it, I was arriving at the end of an era, and more or less, writing its epitaph. I frantically tried to get up-to-date at the last moment, and included CD references … I shouldn’t have. This is a history and summary of musical theatre recordings on vinyl. And if I reissue it, that is what it will be called.

Kurt Gänzl in 1986, holding his first published book: "British Musical Theatre." (Photo: Archive Kurt Gänzl)

Kurt Gänzl in 1986, holding his first published book: “British Musical Theatre.” (Photo: Archive Kurt Gänzl)

I may reissue it. It has, amazingly, been one of my most popular books. I (and my editor) expected, quite honestly, when it came out, a torrent of scorn mail from musical-theatre ultra-devotees who didn’t agree with my choices. You know the type of ‘ultras’ I mean. Hand on heart, I had not one. Though I did hear of one gentleman in Baltimore who swished his copy back to the bookshop, complaining that I failed to mention some part-record of Roberta.

The 1991 review of Gänzl's "Guide to the Musical Theatre on Record" by Charis Gray.

The 1991 review of Gänzl’s “Guide to the Musical Theatre on Record” by Charis Gray.

The exercise, alas, had its downside. After so many months of listening to end-to-end show recordings (the many shelves of the records concerned are now enshrined at Harvard’s Theatre Library), I became glutted. For years thereafter, I could not listen to a show disc. Even now, I find it hard.

But I had done my task, and, unbelievably, two decades later, I still get messages from folk who have read and enjoyed the book … that’s reward enough.

Goodness, what else is in this folder. Many memories, I think.

To read the original article, click here.