After a tryout at the Shubert Theatre in Philadelphia, the musical adaptation of I Remember Mama opened on Broadway at the Majestic Theatre on May 31, 1979. Based on John Van Druten’s 1944 play, itself an adaptation of “Mama’s Bank Account” and other stories Kathryn Forbes, the musical explored the life of a Norwegian family in turn-of-the-century San Francisco. Liv Ullman starred as Mama, with George Hearn, Dolores Wilson and George S. Irving among the featured cast.
Directed by Cy Feuer, who replaced lyricist Martin Charnin as director during the tryout, the musical received mixed reviews. Clive Barnes of The New York Post loved the show, calling it “a warm-souled, family musical with a good and proper Rodgers score and a lady of glorious luminosity, the kind of mama we would all want to remember,” and Hobe Morrison of Variety praised the “richly melodic score by a Richard Rodgers in fine form.” Others were less sanguine; Douglas Watt of The New York Daily News said “The outlines are inviting but the color’s missing” and Richard Eder of The New York Times said “the result is not a marriage but a divorce of talents.”
The Broadway production of I Remember Mama did not release a cast album, so for several years there was no audio recording of Richard Rodgers’ final Broadway score. In 1985, That’s Entertainment Records assembled a new cast to remedy that problem with an original studio cast recording. Sally Anne Howes, best known to film audiences as Truly Scrumptious from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, sang the role of Mama. George Hearn and George S. Irving reprised their Broadway performances as Father and Uncle Chris, respectively. Other Broadway and West End notables, including Ann Morrison, Sian Phillips, Patricia Routledge, Elizabeth Seal and Gay Soper, filled out the supporting cast.
Recorded at Manhattan Center Studios in New York and Olympic Studios in London in May and June of 1985, the studio cast recording of I Remember Mama was released on July 14, 1985. Produced by Norman Newell, the recording was conducted by music director Bruce Pomohac, who also orchestrated the score.