At 8:32 p.m. this past Monday, Paulo Szot prepared to take the microphone at Legacy studios on West 38th Street in Manhattan, where South Pacific's cast album was being recorded. He had spent the session's dinner break, which had just ended, taking a cat nap, and as he prepared to lay down tracks of his showstopper, "This Nearly Was Mine," he spoke a bit about his sleeping schedule.
"I wake up every morning at 7," he said. "Sometimes, I lie there and tell myself that I should stay in bed because I must be tired, but I usually get up anyway." Szot, who of course plays South Pacific's Emile de Becque, is known (and admired) by the cast for his discipline. Since the production opened, and the baritone was the subject of a lengthy New York Times profile, Szot's monastic habits have undergone a challenge, mostly because of fan interest. "It takes me longer to walk home from the theater," he confessed. "And checking my e-mail takes longer too": the number of electronic mash notes has spiked.
Electronica of a different sort was the focus of the recording session. In the control booth, which faced a gym-sized room containing the musicians and cast, a half-dozen producers and engineers monitored the technology.
Though Szot was about to exert his vocal cords on his usual day off, there wasn't a hint of complaint -- not just because of his professionalism but because the orchestra and technicians had been there since 9 a.m., so even a breath of impatience would have been unthinkable.
Szot's first go at "Nearly" was fine, but the look on the singer's face telegraphed: That was a warm-up. The second take was even better, the sort of track that engineers can mine endlessly to create the finished product. But a third take was thought necessary, so Szot obliged. Again, he sounded wonderful, but it was decided ("it" being the result of a quick huddle between the show's musical director, Ted Sperling; the production's director, Bartlett Sher; and Mary Rodgers Guettel, representing the session's Rodgers & Hammerstein contingent) that another rendition was necessary, at a brisker tempo. There was no "nearly" about that version: Szot nailed it. (The whole world will hear the result on May 27, when the cast CD will be released on the Masterworks Broadway label.)
By then, it was 9:15 p.m. but there were still a few songs to go. The late-night session, however, did not disturb Szot's biological clock: the next morning, he still awoke at seven.