I rejoice to report that the 1956 recording of the first Broadway production of Waiting for Godot, starring Bert Lahr, is finally back in print. Since no one else in the world seems to be aware of this wonderful fact, I decided to announce it to the world in my “Sightings” column for today’s Wall Street Journal. Here’s an excerpt:
Every critic who covered the show heaped praise on Lahr, and the most perceptive ones saw that his performance was profoundly true to the spirit of the play. Though Lahr was no kind of intellectual, he had instinctively understood what Beckett was up to. “I know it’s supposed to be tragic, but there are lots of gags,” he told his agent after reading the script. So there are, for “Godot” is a Laurel-and-Hardyesque farce about the meaninglessness of life. Even those critics who, like Brooks Atkinson of the New York Times, found it hard to stomach the play’s dark vision were staggered by the crazed beauty of Lahr’s acting: “His long experience as a bawling mountebank has equipped Mr. Lahr to represent eloquently the tragic comedy of one of the lost souls of the earth.”
Alas, “Godot” closed after just 10 weeks, and Lahr never appeared in it again. But Goddard Lieberson, who produced original-cast albums for Columbia Records, had the brilliant idea to record a complete performance of the play. The existence of the resulting album, which has been out of print for the past quarter-century, is no secret, but its long-standing unavailability has caused it to be overlooked by most people who write about “Godot.” Even John Lahr, the comedian’s younger son, fails to mention it in “Notes on a Cowardly Lion,” the uniquely perceptive biography of his father that he wrote in 1969.
It is, therefore, stop-press news for anybody who loves great theater that the 1956 recording of “Godot” is available once again, not as a CD but as an mp3-only sound file that you can download from Amazon for $3.56 or from iTunes for $5.99. (You can find it on either site by searching for “Bert Lahr.”) Culturally speaking, I’d call that the deal of the decade….
The 1956 production of “Godot” was Lahr’s show all the way, and to hear it now is to boggle at his seemingly infinite comic resourcefulness. He whines, he whimpers, he chortles, he grunts, giving each line precisely the right flavor. Yet never for a moment does his clowning conceal the play’s underlying pathos, and whenever he opens his mouth, it’s always Beckett, not Bert Lahr, that you hear….
Read the whole thing here.