'Show Boat' and a Boatload of Shows from Sony

The company amasses 25 Broadway musicals in one CD box set

For a deluxe item, retailing at around $100, Broadway in a Box supplies little luxury. Its booklet contains only the barest amount of data. Some discs have intriguing bonus tracks; others, including some that sported extras in earlier CD reissues, have none. Still, the box is a bargain. Its range of works, ideas, sounds, and vocal personalities constitutes an object lesson in the reality of the Broadway musical, which thrived as long as it did because of its inclusiveness, which is why theories about it tend to shrivel when faced with the variegated evidence it left behind. Here is the form that made space for Ethel Merman and Ezio Pinza, Richard Burton and Charles Nelson Reilly, Victorian melodramas and East Village acid trips, Siamese court dance and acrobatic tap routines. Its essence articulated an urbane, polyglot idea of America that we have mislaid in the increasing divisiveness of recent decades. Play the discs collected in Broadway in a Box and you can feel the idea rising from its sleep.

mfeingold@villagevoice.com

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