22 Thomas Z. Shepard

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Hi, this is Paul Lazarus. In the 1980s I produced and hosted a radio series called Anything Goes, a celebration of the American musical theater. Now the Broadway Podcast Network is bringing back these shows. Today we visit with legendary record producer Thomas Z. Shepard. This program was originally broadcast in 1985.

This is ANYTHING GOES, a celebration of the American musical theater--past present and future. I’m your host, Paul Lazarus. Today, a visit with Thomas Z. Shepard, foremost producer of original cast albums. Among the musicals he’s recorded are DAMES AT SEA, COMPANY, NO, NO, NANETTE, PACIFIC OVERTURES, AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’, SWEENEY TODD, SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE, LA CAGE AUX FOLLES, MERRILY, WE ROLL ALONG AND THE KING AND I.


Shepard: Recordings are collaborative processes, and you work with composers, arrangers, conductors, directors, and no recording is the result of one person’s creative philosophy. So, I think that whatever I do is highly influenced and ameliorated by the people that I’m working with. Certainly, the approach to recording LA CAGE AUX FOLLES was not the same as the approach to recording PORGY AND BESS.

Grammy award-winning producer Tom Shepard sees each musical he’s recording half a dozen times, then meets with the composer, musical director, and orchestrator.

Shepard: We then swap opinions and feelings and points of view about each number, and out of this experience, which may last several hours, emerges a ground plan for what the album will consist of – which portions of the show will be recorded, how they will be routined, where the cuts and the segues and the elisions will be, what the change in point of view might be, what the obvious change, if there would be any, in orchestration might be – that kind of thing. There’s only so much you can do. A lot of it after that follows or flows in the recording session, but at least it’s a modus operandi and it gets you going.

Recording time is brief because the album has to be released as soon as possible after the show’s opening.

Shepard: Most cast albums are recorded in four recording sessions. The recording sessions run three hours per session. They are generally done in the course of one working day, which means they’re done over a total span of something like 15 or 16 hours. The orchestra is almost always expanded, and includes very skilled studio musicians who can read anything in sight. If there are perhaps 5 violins in the pit of the theater, we might have, let’s say, 12 violins on the recording.


Tom Shepard’s remarkable collaboration with composer-lyricist Stephen Sondheim began with the recording of COMPANY in 1970.

Shepard: COMPANY was a difficult album to produce. There was a great deal of re-routining of material. It was the first time I had ever done a Sondheim show, and I had a lot that I felt I had to prove. We had never worked together before. I admired him to such an extraordinary degree that I really wondered if I could function effectively in the studio as my own person with somebody like Sondheim there. I was determined to give it everything I had, and I guess in my determination I went for a kind of niggling, nitpicking perfection very early on, and it set the tone for the day. That is in many ways a sparklingly perfect album.


The Overture to THE KING AND I from the revival cast album produced by my guest today on Anything Goes, Thomas Z. Shepard. Shepard began his career at Columbia Masterworks in the 1960s.

Shepard: Once I was in records and I was really rather safely esconced in the Masterworks department of Columbia Records, I wanted very much to get involved with cast albums. The greatest cast album record producer in the world was also the president of Columbia Records, Goddard Lieberson. So there was certainly a fantastic example just walking through the halls, named Goddard Lieberson. I was very fortunate that within the first year of my being at Columbia, the head of the Masterworks department, Schuyler Chapin, decided that he wanted a series of recreations on Masterworks. And the first recreation that he had wanted was SHOWBOAT. I ran into Schuyler Chapin’s office and said “I’d like to be involved with this,” and he said, “absolutely.”


Barbara Cook and John Raitt on Columbia’s Studio Cast Recording of SHOWBOAT, produced by Thomas Z. Shepard.

Shepard: The scheduling of a recording session optimally is done in such a way that I can check the orchestra alone first thing in the morning, which means usually doing the overture. I will then try and deal with the largest groups of people I can, and will work down to the most important soloist, which I will try, if possible, to save for later in the afternoon or the evening when there aren’t so many other people around, and when that more casual and easy one-to-one relationship, which I find so important, can develop. It is very hard to do a really sensitive, wonderful ballad or love song with a single performer when there is an entire chorus sitting around knitting or whatever.

From Tom Shepard’s newest recording, the score of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s SONG AND DANCE, Bernadette Peters singing “Unexpected Song.”


Shepard: If you have a very persuasive performer, a really total performer, you will often think you’re hearing what you’re only seeing, and what I have to do is not watch, and if I don’t watch – but of course I have watched by going to the show a half a dozen times before the recording – then it becomes much easier for me to form some judgement on whether what I’m hearing is, in fact, what I want to be hearing.

Here’s Angela Lansbury recreating a special moment on record from Jerry Herman’s 1969 musical DEAR WORLD.


Shepard: I can get carried away telling you how much I’ve thought I’ve had to do to make numbers happen on records, but the truth is that if you’re dealing with really good performers who have some instinct for performing, you often have to say very little or nothing to them. They listen to a playback, they sense the moment, they sense the mood, and in fact very often all I’m doing is reinforcing that which they have already intuited after hearing themselves. They know that they don’t have to sing to the balcony anymore, there’s no balcony there. They know, especially if they’re reminded perhaps, that there will not be any applause at the end of the song, so they really don’t have to reach for the loudest note, nor does the orchestra have to play a fortissimo at the end, because they can sustain the mood. There won’t be any applause. So, there is a consistency of mood that’s possible on a record because you’re not milking it.


Gregory Hines and Judith Jameson performing songs from SOPHISTICATED LADIES, the Duke Ellington musical recording produced by Thomas Z. Shepard.

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This is ANTYHING GOES with Paul Lazarus. My guest today is record producer Thomas Z. Shepard. One of his most distinguished recordings at RCA was the Houston Grand Opera revival of PORGY AND BESS.

Shepard: PORGY AND BESS is an opera and it’s an opera with very powerful emotions and with very powerful music and with very entertaining music as well. And it’s a big piece, and it requires bigness, and it requires perspectives, I mean it requires that when those bodies fall, when these big people get killed and crash to the ground, you know that there’s mass there, that there’s weight. That even when a cotton hook gets thrown across the stage, that it whisks across, and that the children come screaming after it, I actually brought in kids just to scream after the cotton hook. I can’t tell you how much I wanted to record PORGY AND BESS. There are few things that I wanted to do so badly that I could taste them all these years, and PORGY was one of them.


Recording Stephen Sondheim has been as challenging for Shepard as recording George Gershwin.

Shepard: It is not a barrel of laughs, recording a Sondheim show. What it is, is enormously satisfying, a great deal of work, and just that feeling that you’ve got something so wonderful to work with that you’re going to give it every ounce of yourself, and that’s what it really is. It’s an enormous amount of concentration. It’s trying to pay attention to everything, to every detail of Tunick’s orchestration, to every nuance in the lyric, to try and understand why Sondheim has chosen to use the word he has used, or to make that musical phrase the way he has, to try and get inside of it.

Shepard has produced the recordings of almost all the scores by Stephen Sondheim, among them SWEENEY TODD, SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE and PACIFIC OVERTURES.

Shepard: When I first saw PACIFIC OVERTURES, an executive at RCA pulled me aside and said “well, if you can record scenery, it’ll be a great album.” And the point, in a way, is that show was so opulent that for another reason, people weren’t hearing the score. And sometimes when I very happily sit back and take the credit for making these beautiful albums, I have to confess that it may have absolutely nothing to do with me whatsoever. What it has to do with is that the essence of a Sondheim show is in the lyrics and music, and if you just present those honestly, without scenery and costumes, makeup, lighting, and an awful sound system in a theater – if you just present Stephen Sondheim then you may in fact have something which needs nothing else.

One of Shepard’s dreams had always been to make the definitive recording of Sondheim’s musical FOLLIES. That dream came true when he produced and recorded the 1985 concert version of the show with the New York Philharmonic.

Shepard: It was a wonderful idea that was really too impractical to realize in certain respects. I knew that to get the perfect cast together for recording would be almost impossible, because to get that caliber of performer, a whole agglomeration of those performers to assemble in a studio for a couple of days to make a recording was really almost impossible. It also seemed impossible to wait for this thing to get onstage again. I thought maybe it would happen in England – I always felt that the show could work very well in England – but that didn’t seem to be happening either.

I asked Shepard what were some of his favorite moments from the countless cast albums he has produced.

Shepard: There’s a nice moment in THE KING AND I when Constance Towers sings “Hello, Young Lovers.” There is a point in that song where the violins jump up an octave and play long, sustained notes. It’s, for me, a very beautiful moment on that recording, and it’s a moment that was created in the recording studio.


Shepard: In 1776, the finale, I find very exciting because you are supposed to get the feeling, and I think you do get the feeling that the entire company participates in the finale of 1776, it is however only one person. It is only John Hancock.
Paul: Speaking, that’s right.
Shepard: Only one person, and a bell, a Liberty Bell, which was pre-recorded, which we fed in, and an orchestra. And the whole idea of the number, since it was a very hard show to end – frankly, I didn’t know how to end it, and Ostrow was very helpful – but the idea of ending the album is really that the reading of the states can, in fact, go on forever, but you get swamped, you get engulfed by the orchestra. It gets louder and louder, more and more pervasive, and you just kind of know that this is the beginning of America.


You’ve been listening to cast album producer Thomas Z. Shepard.

Sound mixing by David Rapkin. Associate producer Jeff Lunden. Anything Goes – Backstage with Broadway’s Best – is produced and hosted by Paul Lazarus. For more information, visit AnythingGoesPL.com. If you enjoyed this episode, be sure to rate and follow us. Thanks for listening.

Thomas Z. Shepard, legendary record producer whose countless cast albums include the Houston Grand Opera production of PORGY AND BESS, 1776, DAMES AT SEA, SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE, SWEENEY TODD, COMPANY, and much more, discusses his career. Shepard describes his typical approach to recording a Broadway cast album, his many collaborations with composer/lyricist, Stephen Sondheim, and his joy in getting to produce the recording of the Houston Grand Opera production of PORGY AND BESS and the first major revival of SHOW BOAT.

Featured songs: “Overture from THE KING AND I,” “Why Do I Love You?” “Unexpected Song,” “I Don’t Want To Know,” “Don’t Get Around Too Much,” “I Let A Song Go Out Of My Heart,” “I’m On My Way,” “Hello, Young Lovers,” and the “1776 Finale.”

Originally produced and broadcast in 1986. For more information go to AnythingGoesPL.com or BPN.FM/AnythingGoes. Theme music arranged by Bruce Coughlin. Sound mixing by David Rapkin. Associate producer Jeff Lunden. Anything Goes – Backstage with Broadway’s Best – is produced and hosted by Paul Lazarus.

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