COCO is a lovely forgotten musical which is not without its charms. It offers some lovely Andre Previn-Alan Jay Lerner songs and features the legendary Katharine Hepburn in her ONLY Broadway musical role.
Stand-out songs include "Let's Go Home", "Mademoiselle Cliche de Paris on the Corner of the Rue Cambon", "A Woman is How She Loves" and "Gabrielle".
Katharine Hepburn's witty delivery of her numbers is faultless; even though she is by no means a singer, she is aware of the tempo and timing behind her phrasing and nails each and every number.
The musical ran for over 300 performances (quite respectable considering) and closed the day after Hepburn left the musical at the completion of her contract. Clearly the reason why the show ran so long was of the fact that Hepburn was starring in it.
The cast also features George Rose and Gale Dixon, as well as a capable ensemble.
The sound quality of this CD-remastering varies; some tracks are quite crackly and there is a large amount of click and hiss in the recording (apparently there is very little in the way of source material for this score). However, die-hard collectors of cast recordings will surely delight in having it in their collection.
on March 9, 2001
Okay, sure, the lady cannot sing. She breaks the back of the musical phrases, and her grasp of rhythm is charmingly unsteady. Yes, the Previn music is oftimes uninspired. But the sheer energy of this piece can't be denied. Nobody but a Broadway musical purist NEEDS this CD, but every musical fan will find something to enjoy here. What Previn gets right, he gets excitingly right. ("The Money Rings Out...") The title song "Coco" and "Always Mademoiselle" have a melodic sweep that is thrilling, with gorgeous orchestrations to match. Lerner's lyrics for this show have always gotten a bum rap; but the lyrics for "Coco" beat those for "Applause," which also ran that season, and beat out "Coco" for all of the major awards. (And you can't tell from the CD, but the libretto by Lerner was better, too. Certainly funnier.) Hepburn LOVES what she's doing, and that comes across in spades. (Perfectionist that she is, Hepburn went back into the studio AFTER the release of the cast album and re-recorded certain numbers, just to try and make it better. Who has that kind of passion nowadays?) Ignore the insipid sub-plot with the dreadful young lovers. This is a recording of a unique performance, and we should BE so lucky as to have a show this lively, with a leading performance so forceful, joyful and passionate, on Broadway these days!
In real life, famed designer Coco Chanel (1883-1971) was talented, driven, ambitious, and so opportunistic that she did not stint at being a Nazi sympathizer if it would help advance her career. By the 1960s, with her legend secure, she deigned to authorize a musical based on her life. The play was originally intended for Rosalind Russell, but when ill-health forced Russell to withdraw the producers ran screaming to Katherine Hepburn (1907-2003), a star whose legend rivaled Chanel's own. Hepburn did not sing, but after a good deal of cajoling she agreed to take a crack at it. With book and lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner and music by Andre Previn, COCO opened in 1969. The reviews were savage.
Hepburn couldn't sing, and she was not as effective at "talking" the lyrics as Rex Harrison and Richard Burton. The lyrics and music were damned, the script was described as horrendously trivial, and the show itself was heavy with technical glitches. But it didn't matter at the box office. The show had what counted: a huge star. As one biographer remarked, Katherine Hepburn could stand on her head and read the telephone book in pig Latin; audiences would still be fascinated. It was true, and COCO (at the time the single most expensive Broadway show ever produced) was a hit. But it was a success only as long as Hepburn was in it. When she withdrew from the role after eight months the box office began to fade and COCO closed two months later.
The story is indeed very trivial: the legendary Chanel decides to come out of retirement and attempts to aid a protege, produce a new fashion line, cope with a backstabbing associate, and deal with her own painful memories. And the songs are very weak. Hepburn actually does rather well, tapping out patter with considerable verve, infusing them with her star quality and making them sound better than they are. The rest cannot be said for the remaining cast, and some of the songs--most notably "A Brand New Dress" and "A Woman Is How She Loves"--are absolute dogs, and while Rene Auberjonois picked up a Tony for his performance at the time, by modern standards his role is a disasteful parody. The recording quality isn't quite as bad as some have said, but neither is it nearly as good as it should be, and when all is said and done, there is a reason COCO is obscure. If you're a hardcore Hepburn fan or a student of the Broadway musical, by all means purchase it; it's not as if it costs a fortune. But casual listeners should give this one a very, very wide berth.
GFT, Amazon Reviewer
on November 10, 2004
If you enjoy obscure Cast Albums, "Coco" is a good place to start. If you are being introdued to musicals, "Coco" is to be avoided. The score is wonderful, containing some lovely ballads (That's the Way You Are, Let's Go Home) and some lively comedy numbers. When Hephburn appears on the recording, you should probally warm up to her voice before skipping a track. If you do you can discover some wonderful musical numbers.
Sound quality is sporatic on this disc. The record (originally produced by ABC Records) has a general "boxy" sound. There is a little hiss and crackle. The first track sounds like the man is singing through an antique radio. This is probally used to indicate a flashback scene, because he appears again with the same sound.
Overall, if you like lesser known musicals, Coco is a good choice. If you are being introduced to obscure musicals, start somewhere else. If you are a collector, "Coco' would be a wonderful addition to your collection.
on December 27, 2001
As sweet, decadent, and giddy as a glass of champagne, "Coco" is a felicitous, endlessly clever gem of a musical. Maybe it does require a couple of listenings to be fully appreciated, but afterward, it's a delight every time you hear it. From the bright, sparkling overture to Chanel's triumphant declaration of eternal independence, "Coco" is a magical ride.
Starring the legendary Katharine Hepburn (perfectly cast as the witty, fiercely independent "Coco" Chanel), and a supporting cast including Rene Auberjonois, David Holliday, Gale Dixon, and George Rose, this seven-time-Tony-nominated show (two-time winner) is a mix of glossy, bouncy, moving, and fun songs from start to finish.
Circa 1953. The revered fashion designer Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel, having been in retirement for fifteen years, is ready to stage the comeback of a lifetime, feeling that the current fashion "world belongs to the young". She stages the comeback with the aid of a model, Noelle (Dixon), her attorney (Rose), and the nuisance of a seething fashion "expert" (Auberjonois). Although the comeback is badly received in Paris, the new collection becomes a smash in America. Chanel has conquered the fashion world all over again.
The songs are wonderful: Hepburn's indignant refusal to be trounced on by other designers ("The World Belongs to the Young") is most amusing. Her memories of being a courtesan ("Mademoiselle Cliche de Paris On The Corner Of The Rue Cambon") is a pungent smirk of a song. The score's best (and most hilarious) number, "The Money Rings Out Like Freedom" has Chanel reviewing her past innovations: costume jewelery, pants for women, and the little black dress. ("Alex gone... what a shame... what a hit that dress became!") Hepburn is very moving as Chanel remembers her childhood, the father who left her to fend for herself, which struck a spark in her to always be independent. But Hepburn probably has her greatest emotional arc in "Always Mademoiselle", beginning the song bemoaning the fact that her career has denied her the happiness of marriage and motherhood, but finally, with an unwarranted burst of triumph, she declares, "Right or wrong, I'm glad to be- GABRIELLE- CHANEL!"
Other players are not slighted: Dixon has a charming wisp of a song: "A Brand New Dress", and Auberjonois shines with his delicious "Fiasco". Holliday has one good number, the quiet "Let's Go Home", and one not-quite-describable number, "A Woman Is How She Loves", which just seems to go all over the place. Hepburn and a cast of four American salesman have a lot of fun with the cleverly funny "Orbach's, Bloomingdale's, Best & Saks". The music of Andre Previn in this show is absolutely beautiful, and is very charming ear candy. The lyrics of Alan Jay Lerner are a tad sophisticated on first listening, but are more appreciated on second listening.
Maybe it was ahead of its time, or maybe it's Hepburn's incantory singing that turns some people off, but make no mistake about it: Broadway afficionados, Hepburn fans, and curiosity listeners will all delight to the sparkling wit, charismatic charm and magic of "Coco", one of Broadway's great forgotten treasure chests.
on May 12, 2009
While CoCo was not the greatest musical ever written, the score does have it's merits, and Lerner's wit shines through in the lyrics. Previn composed a gorgeous final ultimo in Always Mademoiselle, just beautiful.( I recently ran across a YouTube clip of this number as performed on the Tony Awards. Check it out, it's wonderful, Hepburn is fantastic, look for "CoCo Hepburn" and you will find it), the rest of the score is serviceable, pleasant if unmemorable.
Now to Hepburn. She could do no wrong, and apparently pulled a musical out of the "whatwasit?" category and into the hit column. Sure, she was no singer but she was melodic, and could manage to sing-song talk her way through each number, adding her own personal zest to each one. And she totally immersed herself in Chanel, so it worked. She kept the show running for her year contract. After she left Danielle Darrieux replaced her, an accomplished French leading lady, much closer to Chanel, and a better singer. However, she was not Hepburn and could not overcome the weaknesses in the show and it soon petered out.
My biggest criticism of the CD is the quality of the recording. Didn't anyone listen to it before it was released? It is tinny, staticky and uneven. The sound quality is atrocious. Be warned if you play it on a player with a disc changer, when this cd comes on it will be decibels louder than any other. And wasn't it possible to re-mix it before re-releasing it?
Theater history that should be a treasure to own becomes an annoying recording.
on June 24, 2011
This CD ia a remix and remaster of the second studio recording, and in the notes somewhere is an apology, but it is the best it can get. There were 2 original vinyl LPs. I have both of them. The first was so bad, that Hepburn insisted that the album be re-recorded. The entire thing was re-done. What suffered were the dances in "Money Rings out" and "Orbachs.." numbers. Major parts of the dances were cut out the second time around. This second version was re-mastered. The quality is immensly better, but it still starts to get on your nerves. It still has a tinny, canned sound with too much echo added. I cannot understand why a very major label did not jump at recording Hepburn. Why Paramount Records? I have been fortunate to find the first LP which has a much flatter and immediate sound with not nearly so much echo. It is over-recorded and the bass blocks up. Parts of it are painful to hear due to the poor quality. A good graphic equalizer does a lot to help it. Very few of us still have vinyl, but if you find the first LP, it is historically interesting. The music and lyrics are wonderful, very witty. Worth having any version you can get your hands on. Buy this CD.
on April 19, 2016
I saw the original production of "Coco" with Katherine Hepburn in 1969. Marvelous production of a mediocre score and play. Alan Lerner's last work. Not a memorable musical, but charming in its own way.
on December 19, 2014
Despite the all round top credentials, there's little to recommend it. Alan Lerner's famous wit pops up from time to time, in some tart, brilliant lyrics, but his pairing with Andre Previn, a genius of another kind, and a truely great musical talent - just don't go together. There is not one halfway decent song in the entire score. According to Alan Lerner, the major problem was the fact that the two of them rarely got together. Previn was too busy. So a great deal of the music was written on planes. And it's mediocre at best, although there are a couple of clever numbers for Hepburn who seems at times to have trouble with the speed of the delivery. No doubt seeing it would have been quite a different thing altogether, but just listening to it without the benefit of what was probably an exciting live performance from Hepburn, can be extremely trying. I love Beaton's famous logo pictured here. It's brilliant. In those days Broadway Cast albums had some terrific graphic designers creating the album artwork. This is one of the best. So good, in fact, that at some point the powers that be changed it because they felt it was too clever. Go figure. There's a good clip on Youtube of the Tony Awards performance that is well worth watching.
Given the uniformly negative reviews, "Coco" must really not have worked onstage. But you would never know it from this marvelous cast recording. The main draw is, of course, Katherine Hepburn's explosive performance as French fashion icon Coco Chanel. It's the kind of scenery chewing star turn they don't make anymore, and it's a helluva lot of fun. Can Hepburn sing? Not remotely, but she's so compelling to listen to as she out Rex Harrisons Rex Harrison that it hardly matters. And how is the score? Really marvelous, in my opinion. Alan Jay Lerner's lyrics are as clever as usual (see if YOU can come up with a rhyme for Balenciaga), and Andre Previn's melodies are quite beautiful; it's a shame Previn didn't write more for the theater. Is "Coco" a perfect score? By no means, but I actually prefer it to "Applause," which won the Tony that year. Whereas "Applause" is firmly rooted in the Hullabaloo sensibility of 1970, "Coco" is more of a classic score, romantic and lush. If I have an objection, it's that the pre-recorded performances (i.e. memories) with which Hepburn interacted onstage weren't RE-recorded for this album. They have a terrible, tinny sound to them, which detracts from my enjoyment of the material. That said, I think you'll still enjoy "Coco," particularly if you're a Hepburn fan; and I think you'll be pleasantly surprised that she's not the only reason to have it in your collection.