Davis puts stamp on ‘Ultimate’ set

Arista prexy to select 'Broadway' tunes

Since he came of age professionally during a time that show tunes were a staple of radio playlists, it’s only natural that Arista Records prexy Clive Davis would take a special interest in the selection of songs for his label’s “Ultimate Broadway” collection.

With tracks personally selected by Davis, the 40-song, two-CD collection of Broadway tunes runs the gamut from perennials such as “Oklahoma,” and “Phantom of the Opera” to relative newcomers like “Rent.”

The set is the first comprehensive cross-label celebration of the Broadway musical theater. It boasts music from classic fare like “Carousel,” “Annie Get Your Gun,” and “South Pacific” and current, long-running stalwarts of the ’80s and ’90s like “Cats” and “Les Miserables.”

It will be aggressively marketed by the label as Davis’ affinity for musical theater is widely known in the record industry.

Davis was intimately involved in acquiring the tracks that were owned by other record labels so that they would appear on the Arista set.

“Ultimate Broadway” is also being billed as the ultimate primer to musical theater, through its chronologically sequenced tribute to legit’s top composers, lyricists and singers.

Davis’ personal touch is apparent on every selection. “I professionally grew up during the years when Broadway songs were played on the radio,” Davis said.

In the set’s liner notes, Davis recalls his first years as a young attorney at Columbia Records in the early 1960s, when he negotiated original cast album contracts for many Broadway musicals and first fell under the spell of the Great White Way.

He also talks of witnessing Broadway’s fade later on in the ’60s, precipitated, he said, by “a downwardly spiraling combina-tion of economics, repertoire, and disenchantment.”

Davis hopes the “Ultimate Broadway” set sparks a rallying cry for a long-overdue change and “a merger of theater and songs that will once again command the world’s attention.”

He believes Broadway’s fortunes could be renewed with the participation of today’s top songwriters and artists.

“With the right book and director,” Davis said, many artists “such as Billy Joel or songwriter Diane Warren can each write with greatness for the theater, integrating the two wonderful cultures once more.”

Davis’ thoughts are buffered by well-researched track-by-track notes by Miles Kreuger, who meshes history, pop trivia and social psychology in his analysis of every performance.

The ’40s and ’50s golden age of Broadway is represented by Rodgers & Hammerstein, the team whose works include “Oklahoma” with Alfred Drake, “Carousel” with John Raitt, “South Pacific” with Ezio Pinza, “The King and I” with Gertrude Lawrence and Yul Brynner and “The Sound of Music” with Mary Martin.

The evolution of the Broadway theater in the ’60s is distinguished on the double-CD set by the work of Jule Styne on “Gypsy” with Ethel Merman and “Funny Girl” with Barbra Streisand, Leonard Bernstein & Stephen Sondheim on “West Side Story” with Carol Lawrence and Chita Rivera, Jerry Herman’s “Hello, Dolly!” with Carol Channing and the team of John Kander & Fred Ebb tuning “Cabaret” with a special performance by Liza Minnelli.

The set also boasts tunes from such memorable productions as “Hair,” “The Fantasticks,” “Fiddler on the Roof,” and ‘Man of La Mancha.” Also featured are the top shows of the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s with Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Evita” with Patti LuPone and “Cats” and “Sunset Blvd.,” both with special performances by Elaine Paige.