30 September 2009
The Pop Culture Cantina Celebrates the First-Time CD Release
of a Classic Broadway Cast Album:
Leader Of The Pack
Reviewed by Laura Pinto
Leader Of The Pack, a musical covering the life and career of songwriter/producer Ellie Greenwich, had its origins at New York's Bottom Line Cabaret a year before making its Broadway debut in 1985. Originally conceived by Bottom Line owner Allan Pepper as a revue, the play was revamped for the Big White Way with an expanded cast and a new production choreographed and directed by the late Michael Peters. A two-record cast recording was subsequently released on LP. Now, twenty-four years later, this cast recording is finally available on CD. The songs sound as fresh and vibrant as they did almost a quarter of a century ago, and as they had more than twenty years before that.
The name Ellie Greenwich may not be known to a lot of people, but the majority of songs written by the lady with that name are as familiar to most folks as their own reflections in the mirror. Miss Ellie, along with her then-husband, Jeff Barry, was one of the major forces of the Girl Group sound during the early-to-mid 1960s. Greenwich and Barry composed songs for The Crystals, The Ronettes, Darlene Love, Connie Francis, Lesley Gore and The Dixie Cups among others. Leader Of The Pack, which to this day is still being performed by theatre groups around the world, tells the story of Ellie's life, marriage to (and divorce from) Jeff Barry, and their shared musical career at Manhattan's famous Brill Building in a series of clever musical vignettes.
The play's full name is actually Leader Of The Pack: The Ellie Greenwich Musical, and if the first part of the title rings a bell, it's because "Leader of the Pack," originally recorded by the Shangri-Las, is one of many hit tunes co-written by Miss Ellie. Others are "Da Do Ron Ron," "Be My Baby," "Baby, I Love You," "Do Wah Diddy Diddy," and "River-Deep, Mountain-High" to name only a few. All of these songs, performed by cast members Dinah Manoff (who portrayed the young Ellie Greenwich), Patrick Cassidy (Jeff Barry), Annie Golden, Darlene Love, and Ellie Greenwich herself, can be heard on this album, excellently produced by Miss Ellie in collaboration with Bob Crewe and arranger Jimmy Vivino. None of the magic and vitality of the performances was lost; it all sounds fresh and exciting, and instantly transports one back to the days of sock hops, beehive hairdos, malt shops and lovers' lanes.
Although a bit of poetic license was taken in the stage production (the chronology of some events in Miss Ellie’s life was slightly altered for the sake of flow, and at least one character, Gus Sharkey, is a composite of several people who influenced her career), the songs of Ellie Greenwich are ordered in an ingenious way as to unfold the plot with a minimum of dialogue, as with "(Today I Met) The Boy I'm Gonna Marry," " Then He Kissed Me, "Hanky Panky," "Chapel of Love," and "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)." Other songs include the charming "A ... My Name is Ellie" (performed by young Ellie as she practices her accordion), the inspirational "We're Gonna Make It (After All)" (sung at the finale), and the heart-wrenching "Rock of Rages," which chronicles Ellie's nervous breakdown after her mother's passing and her former husband Jeff's remarriage.
It was immediately after this number, in the original Broadway play, when the real Ellie Greenwich made her triumphant entrance, showing the world that while she may have been defeated, she was far from destroyed. As heard on this Grammy-nominated album, Miss Ellie sang a few songs, answered a few questions, kidded around with the cast members, and generally showed the world that she was made of strong stuff, indeed. What’s more, she was loaded with heaps of talent, which nobody could take away from her.
Ellie Greenwich passed away on August 26, 2009, just a couple of weeks after the release of this CD. I heartily recommend this album to anyone who has been touched by her music over the years. Leader Of The Pack: The Ellie Greenwich Musical is a fitting tribute to the legacy of this talented lady and Songwriters Hall of Fame inductee. Miss Ellie's voice has been stilled forever, but her work will live on.
Buy the Leader Of The Pack cast album at amazon.com: