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Published: Friday, 5/12/2006

Show tunes from the classics

BY TOM HENRY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Imagine mining the MGM vaults for classic songs from musicals made during the golden age of film.

That's what George Feltenstein did, and the Warner Home Video executive's labor produced an amazing six-CD boxed set, That's Entertainment! The Ultimate Anthology of MGM Musicals (Turner Classic Movies Music and Rhino Movie Music, $89.98).

An updated, expanded version of a similar 1995 five-disc set, the new one was released April 25.

With 135 tracks and nearly eight hours of music culled from MGM musicals released between 1929 and 1957, the set includes performances from more than 75 musicals such as The Wizard of Oz, Meet Me in St. Louis, Singin' In The Rain, Easter Parade, Show Boat, and An American in Paris.

The sixth disc contains previously unreleased material and rare outtakes. But a number of gems are mixed in the other five discs that weren't part of the 1995 set, such as Bing Crosby duets with Frank Sinatra, Louis Armstrong, and Grace Kelly; Doris Day singing "Ten Cents A Dance" and "Shakin' The Blues Away," and Elvis Presley with a stellar version of "Jailhouse Rock."

The quality of the recordings is splendid. Nearly a third of the songs released on the 1995 edition have been enhanced for the new set. As a bonus, a thick, glossy booklet walks you through the evolution of the project and gives you a primer on MGM's history.

A couple of impressions:

First, think Judy Garland. While "Over the Rainbow" is forever stamped in our hearts as one of the most treasured pieces of Americana, you can't stop there. The vocals she provided for Meet Me in St. Louis in 1944, five years after The Wizard of Oz was released, reaffirm her status as a legend of the musical genre in her own right. What a voice, especially at that developing phase of her career.

Second, if you thought William Warfield's recording of "Ol' Man River" for Show Boat was stunning, you're about to be blown away. His bold, deep baritone gets in your bones.

In a phone interview, Mr. Feltenstein remarked how the Conrad Salinger song, which Warfield performed on Nov. 9, 1950, was one of the first to be successfully recorded in the then-emerging stereophonic technology.

"Not only was it a landmark in the technical standpoint, but everyone stopped to listen to him," said Mr. Feltenstein, Warner Home Video's senior vice president of theatrical catalog marketing.

Before his current job, Mr. Feltenstein spent six years as Turner Entertainment Co.'s senior vice president of marketing. Turner is the unit of Time Warner that controls the world's largest classic film library.

He had been around MGM films for a decade before going to work for Turner, as a senior executive of MGM/UA Home Video, Inc. In that post, he oversaw the initial push to get the classic library on videocassette.

Mr. Feltenstein said he moved to California shortly after joining MGM as programming director in 1986 and "came across tapes in the vaults that had remained untouched for decades."

"I realized this was a treasure trove," he said, adding that a lot of what the public has heard are abridged versions of songs. This set brings out the full-length versions.

Mining the vaults is a never-ending job for Mr. Feltenstein, who now spends much of his time helping Warner market classic films on DVD. Some material for the disc that contains previously unreleased songs was discovered in the final month before the new boxed set was produced, he said.

"That's why I'm glad it took as long as it did," he said, referring to the 11-year span between sets.

The two sets were inspired by the three acclaimed That's Entertainment! films that have been released, starting in 1974. The first one was MGM's biggest hit in a decade, grossing $40 million while costing the studio less than $1 million to produce.

Mr. Feltenstein said there's a special appeal to the films that MGM and other studios made during Hollywood's golden age.

"The bottom line is if something is truly of excellence, it's timeless. It will last forever," he said. "There's nothing like that today nor could there be. The culture has changed in such a way that we often don't get a chance to experience the talent these people had."

Mr. Feltenstein this year received the National Board of Review of Motion Pictures William K. Everson Award for Film History.

Contact Tom Henry at:

thenry@theblade.com

or 419-724-6079.



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