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`SHOW BOAT,' `EASTER PARADE,' `ST. LOUIS' SOUND FABULOUS

It's easy to forget that Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein's "Show Boat" boasts one of the great, classic Broadway scores, especially since, as a film, the 1951 remake is enjoyable but not exceptional. These days, it can't hold a candle to the film versions of Rodgers and Hammerstein's "Oklahoma!" or "Carousel," for example. (Personally, I prefer the 1936 black-and-white "Show Boat" with Irene Dunne, Allan Jones, Helen Morgan and Paul Robeson - let's get that soundtrack on CD, guys!)

But this album of the '51 film (with Kathryn Grayson, Howard Keel, Ava Gardner and William Warfield, who is mistakenly identified as William "Winfield" in the liner notes) proves to be fabulous, including instrumentals and a couple of outtakes to fill it out as an "event" album. Those outtakes, exhibited in last year's "That's Entertainment III," feature Ava Gard-ner on two songs, "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man" and "Bill." And to my untrained ear, she sounds every bit as good as voice-double Annette Warren, who dubbed the Gardner songs for the film. These tracks have been remixed for stereo and use some alternate takes, so it's not a pure soundtrack. But even purists won't mind.The soundtrack for Irving Berlin's "Easter Parade" (1948) is also filled out with instrumentals and outtakes (and remixed for stereo, as is this entire series, from Turner Classic Movies/Rhino Movie Music). And the selections here are all in keeping with the vaudeville theme, which makes for an excellent audio presentation. Highlights include Fred Astaire on "Drum Crazy" and "Steppin' Out With My Baby," Judy Garland doing "I Want to Go Back to Michigan," "I Love a Piano" and "Mr. Monotony," their duet of "A Couple of Swells" and Ann Miller's "Shakin' the Blues Away." This one's a treat, even if you can't see the dancing.

"Meet Me in St. Louis" (1944), from the turn-of-the-century family picture (a fabulous MGM musical - check it out sometime), is a bit less successful as a soundtrack collection simply because there are too many instrumentals that do not have offer the same level of lis-ten-abil-ity as the songs. But those songs are terrific, with Judy Garland at her best on the Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane efforts, "The Boy Next Door," "The Trolley Song" and "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas." Another treat is Garland singing "Boys and Girls Like You and Me," a Rodgers and Hammerstein number that was cut from the film and has never been heard before this release.

Compared to the aforementioned trio, the soundtrack for "Ziegfeld Follies" (1946) really seems to be lacking. Considering the variety of material offered by the movie (essentially a skit-film showcasing MGM talent at the time) and the list of talent on the CD cover (a reproduction of the film's original poster art), it's surprising who is not included on the recording - Lucille Ball, Fanny Brice, Red Skelton, etc. As a result, this one is a bit disappointing.

The album is strictly music, excluding Skelton's classic "Guzzler's Gin" comedy routine, for example. Curiously, the emphasis here is on tenor James Melton, with no less than three "classical" turns (one an outtake) among the album's 14 cuts. Still, with all the joy derived from Fred Astaire singing "This Heart of Mine," Astaire and Gene Kelly on "The Babbitt and the Bromide," Judy Garland doing "The Interview" and especially Lena Horne's performance of "Love" (which became a signature song for her, alongside "Stormy Weather"), it's hard to complain too much. Astaire's self-penned ditty "If Swing Goes, I Go Too" is also delightful (an outtake you won't find in the film), as is Avon Long's version of George and Ira Gershwin's "Liza."