BWW's Holiday CD Roundup Part 1: The Shows
Well...it's that time of year to think of gift-giving, as well as cleaning off my own desk! Believe it or not, I love listening to all these recordings and don't take the responsibility of evaluating them lightly. However, that said, and in the current economic situation facing all of us, one must be cautious how we spend our hard earned dollars. If I really had the time, or the energy, I would give you specific song titles and have you run online to iTunes, but that wouldn't be fair to the people who worked so hard on all these recordings.
I also try to keep my sense of humor intact and hope that you do, too.
Happy Holidays and happy listening!
Lea Salonga in Rodgers & Hammerstein's CINDERELLA Original International Tour Cast Recording
Broadway Asia International
One disc (out of 5) for the recording
5 discs (out of 5) for Salonga
I've never had to do so much research to put together a short piece of writing, as I did for this. As a piece of marketing .. this tour was a good idea. Lea Salonga and R&H's CINDERELLA. The recording is just O.K. ... if that. All previous recordings are superior .. but any reason to hear Salonga sing is cause for celebration. The rest of the cast almost entirely fall FLAT! It sounds as though the actors are reaching for cartoonish characterizations rather than portraying a simple and beautiful HUMAN story. Everyone sounds so hammy and Peter Saide as the Prince is a total bust. He made me so nervous to listen to, sounding like a voice lesson - landing right on the beats. The voice is tentative and, with a constantly flirting vibrato. "Ten Minutes Ago" being a classic example. Not an ounce of joy or wonder .. enter Salonga into the same song and you could waltz around your living room. That said ... this production could have been served better by freshening the orchestrations and playing with the tempos a bit. We all the love Robert Russell Bennett original R&H orchestrations (ie: the current revival of SOUTH PACIFIC) .. here, not so good. A lighter touch would have helped.
Reading about the production and looking at the photos in the CD booklet, the production looks a bit cheap (it cost a reported $2M to produce). The carriage looked pretty good until I noticed the BIG electrical chord behind it, on the stage floor! (Airbrushing, anyone!?) Two last thoughts. Putting into the score R&H's "The Sweetest Sounds" (from NO STRINGS) just does not work. It was a piece of "calculation" added for the TV version, for Brandy ,and used as a cinematic device. It sounds different from everything in this score and, although it gives Salonga an additional song, it's nowhere near as good as what comes shortly after it, "In My Own Little Corner", which is just as magical today as the day it was written. As an actress, singer, Salonga is as powerful as lightning, which she so ferociously proved in her Carnegie Hall solo debut, her best concert to date. Here, with no opportunity to exhibit her staggering versatility, she serves the piece very well. I'm sure the group Broadway Asia International are "eyeing" Broadway.
13, The Musical
Original Broadway Cast Recording
Ghostlight Records - a Trademark of Sh-k-Boom Records
Two discs (out of 5)
I saw 13 when it was two and a half hours long, with an intermission. It then became one act, of 90 minutes, and no one is on the fence about how they feel about this show...they either love it or don't love it. That said, the acting population in New York and young audiences, in general, have very high affection for Jason Robert Brown and particularly for his piece - The Last Five Years. 13 has an energetic cast and certainly a few highlights, but I can only recommend this recording if you've loved or seen the show, as it does not even provide audition material, unless you are, indeed, 13.
This CD was released in 2006 and I fell in love with it back then. There have been many casts already in WHITE CHRISTMAS, but the cast featured on this CD are Anastasia Barzee, Brian d'Arcy James, Jefrey Denman, Karen Morrow and Meredith Patterson. It's a fantastic recording and probably the only one that will be available, even with its imminent Broadway opening, this season, for the first time in New York. The recording was produced by Joel Moss and is absolutely vivacious and a welcome addition to your collection.
In hindsight, putting WHITE CHRISTMAS on the stage seems like a "no-brainer", but kudos to the R&H organization, who handle Berlin's estate and to Walter Bobbie, for creating such a magical show. Finally there is competition on Broadway for Radio City Music Hall's Christmas Spectacular.
5 discs (out of 5)
This recording, like all of the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra recordings, is wonderful. Unfortunately, the cover is lousy and doesn't offer much of a selling point, unless you look to the back and know what the Hollywood Bowl actually looks like. In other words, the cover's a mess and someone in marketing should learn that a cover can sell a CD. But, fear not, the contents are rock solid, as one would expect, and this is perfect for any holiday atmosphere requirement, where you don't want to be distracted by words or by particular artists/singers. A "no-brainer," for your upcoming festive event and not too "holy" sounding. A very generous 57 minutes and 18 seconds for your hard-earned dollar.
Now, I don't expect all of you to run out and to buy this, but it was happily sent to BroadwayWorld.com as a historic re-release and is definitely worth listening to. I'm happy to own it and Tennessee Ernie Ford was a very special talent. Most of you that do know the name, will know it from his hit record "Sixteen Tons". This is the original soundtrack recording from his Christmas Television Spectacular, in full dimension stereo, from an era long gone. I hope that you'll expand your brain and will take advantage of DRG's re-release of this soundtrack, which was originally released in the 1960s.
Ghostlight Records - a Trademark of Sh-k-Boom Records
One disc (out of 5)
This recording of Little Fish comes from the Blank Theatre Company / West Coast Premiere of the musical, with words and music by Michael John LaChiusa, suggested by the short stories of Deborah Eisenberg, which was directed by Kirsten Anderson. It should also be noted that the album was made possible by the Shen Family Foundation. Hey, whatever it takes...right? The cast includes Alice Ripley, Gregory Jbara, Chad Kimball, Dina Morishita, German Santiago, Samantha Shelton, Brooke Tansley and Robert Torti. Michael John LaChiusa (commonly referred to as one of the composers with three names) has been lucky enough to have many of his shows produced, but this one is a bit of a mystery to me and apparently to many of my peers. I just don't get it. Worthy? Maybe. Interesting? Perhaps. Illuminating? Absolutely not. Without merit? Ditto. Worth owning? At your own risk.
Reefer Madness: Movie Soundtrack and Original Los Angeles Cast Recording - 2CD Collectors Set
Ghostlight Records - a Trademark of Sh-k-Boom Records
3 and 1/2 discs (out of 5)
This is a really well packaged 2 CD collector's set (for all you people collecting Reefer Madness stuff, I guess). with songs from the Showtime Original Picture and including the complete Cast Recording of the original Los Angeles Stage production. If part of the gig is that you must be "stoned" to enjoy it...then I missed the boat. This is beautifully packaged, well executed and nothing to write home about all at once. For the real Reefer Madness thrills and innocence, you simply can't do better than going back to the original 1932 motion picture, directed by Dwain Esper, which you can enjoy, even if you're not stoned. Part of the gig here is innocence and, for me, these updates are all "too knowing."
Dirty Dancing - The Classic Story on Stage
Zero discs (out of 5)
I know that it seems mean, but I cannot lie. You'd be better off taking the money that it costs to buy this CD and go purchase some Anniversary Edition of the original film, which by now has lots of extras. This is "billed" as "all tracks performed by the original London Dirty Dancing Company", which makes me laugh because, having seen it in the West End, and as it gears to tour America and to possibly land on Broadway, this is the weirdest show that I have ever seen.
The book scenes are performed by the cast, while an onstage band sings the songs. It's really creepy, but I guess a lot of bridal parties and young kids go, as the posters and even the tickets in London, have parental guidance disclaimers...do you get where I'm going with this? You can't beat the original film soundtrack of Dirty Dancing...it's also American, I might add...but this Masterworks Broadway release also has a disclaimer on some songs which threaten...I mean "describe" as "including dialogue." Proceed at your own risk.
The Man Who Would Be King: An Epic Musical Adventure
Original Concept Album
Out of the Park Records
One disc (out of 5)
This original concept album was produced by Neil Berg, who wrote the music. The book and lyrics are written by DJ Salisbury and the musical is based on the Rudyard Kipling novella of the same name. (I know, sleeping yet?) The more than capable cast on this recording are Brian d'Arcy James, Marc Kudisch, Mandy Gonzalez, Judy McLane, Don Richard and Paul Schoeffler and to my knowledge this musical has yet to be given a stage production outside of the NYMF Festival. I found it a snooze and I think that if people haven't learned yet from A TALE OF TWO CITIES, that this kind of behemoth musical is dead...then somebody better tell somebody else...fast! In my opinion, the only song that flew in this entire score was sung by Mandy Gonzalez and is called "Laughter in His Eyes". That song was quite beautiful. The album is a big bore.
The Marvelous Wonderettes
4 and 1/2 discs (out of 5)
This is the "little show that could" that started out on the West Coast and landed here in New York at the Westside Theatre. This recording is the original Off-Broadway cast with Farah Alvin, Beth Malone, Bets Malone and Victoria Matlock as Cindy Lou, Betty Jean, Missy and Suzie (in no particular order) aka The Marvelous Wonderettes. It's a lot of fun, made up of pop hits from "Wedding Bell Blues" to "Heat Wave" to "It's My Party" to "Respect" and lots more. The album's a lot of fun and so is the show, directed by Roger Bean.
Marguerite: Original London Cast Recording
Two discs (out of 5)
Any time that one hears that there's a new musical by Alain Boublil and Claude Michel Schonberg (Michel Legrand, Herbert Kretzmer and Jonathan Kent), you hope, you hope, you hope. So, let's do the math. First, after their hugely successful Les Miserables and Miss Saigon ,came Martin Guerre....enough said. Next, came via the folks that brought you Riverdance, The Pirate Queen...I'll stop there. And then, Marguerite...why? It opened and closed in London after four months and this is all we have to show for it, the Original Cast Recording starring its West End cast of Ruthie Henshall and more. Oh, how I tried. I listened again and again and again, but I could find no redeeming value...not even a song (and, yes, I do know that the music here is scored by Michel Legrand, but the conceit has been driven by the two Frenchman). It did make me run to quickly put on the CD of Miss Saigon, a show and a score totally underrated and overshadowed by Broadway politics at the time. THAT score is amazing, as is the now historically legendary Les Miserables, which will be performed everywhere...forever. Note to the Mssrs. Schonberg and Boublil "We're not giving up on you!" In a year where America chose Barack Obama as its President...there is HOPE!. And, you are welcome here anytime.
Well, I'm sorry that the "writing is on the wall" already and that Gypsy will play its last performance at the end of La LuPone's contract on March 1, 2009, but all is not. Ms. LuPone, playing the legendary Momma Rose, was a prophecy fulfilled. You can now add her name to all the great leading ladies (and some not so great) who have played this role. But, among the greats, there would be Merman, Lansbury, Daly, Peters and LuPone on Broadway. Many of the "not so greats" were in regional theatres or tours, or in the case of Linda Lavin, a replacement for Tyne Daly. The whole point to a powerhouse role and creation of this kind of character, is to have a dynamo at the center. In this case, it was the uniquely talented Patti LuPone, who is unlike any of her predecessors. Add to the mix that she was hand touched by the incomparable Arthur Laurents and surrounded by formidable acting partners and you have the perfect recipe for pleasing an audience. The show itself, without question, is one of the finest crafted musicals in all of history and it will probably be a long time before we see another production on the boards. No one is ever on the fence about LuPone. They either love her or hate her, but there's no question that she walked off with the most dazzling reviews of her career, and a second Tony (the first being for extraordinary performance of Eva Peron in the American Premiere of EVITA). It was also nice, after the public humiliation of not being brought to America in the role of Norma Desmond, which she originated in ALW's Sunset Boulevard, that she has endured...and it is a testament and tribute to her training at the Julliard School and her human tenacity. It can't be long now before she'll be singing "I'm Still Here".
The recording itself disappointed me a bit, hence the half star demotion, as it felt a bit altered for the recording and not a true representation of what I witnessed in the theatre and on the stage. But, that's OK. A welcome addition to your collection.
Rodgers and Hammerstein's South Pacific The New Broadway Cast Recording
5 discs (out of 5)
The first Broadway revival in history, of this musical rocked the planet when it opened last season at Lincoln Center. It boasts a great cast, including its Tony Award winning male lead and first timer Paulo Szot, in addition to Kelli O'Hara in the original Mary Martin role. This production has won more awards than you can count and walked off with 7 Tony Awards including Best Revival of a Musical, duh? The recording will undoubtedly walk away with the Grammy for Best Original Cast Recording in this next Grammy season and is just beautifully recorded, with the original Robert Russell Bennett orchestrations. There are multiple recordings of South Pacific, on many different labels as well as the famous Soundtrack from the film that starred Mitzi Gaynor. But, this beautiful recording lands on your ears with a newfound innocence and urgency that is somewhat alarming, leading you to believe that you've never seen this show before. It's "Some Enchanted Evening", indeed whether spent listening to this recording or seeing the show in New York.
World Premiere Recording
4 discs (out of 5)
Dear Edwina is a (somewhat) new musical which recently opened at the DR2 Theatre produced by Daryl Roth. Book and lyrics are by Marcy Heisler with music by Zina Goldrich and the story revolves around a performance in the backyard by 13-year-old Edwina Spoonapple and a gaggle of her friends as they prepare to audition for the Kalamazoo Advice-a-Palooza Festival. The property itself has been around since 1998 and has become a licensing marvel for schools and tweens through its champion, Music Theater International and along the way has also gathered quite a fan base, including composer Stephen Schwartz.
This world premiere recording, brilliantly timed, was a labor of love, as many people came together to make it happen and they chose from some of Broadway's finest to bring these characters to life. For the recording, we are treated to the talents of such actors/singers as Kerry Butler, Danny Burstein, Rebecca Luker, Kate Shindle, Andrea Burns and Terrence Mann, to name a handful. The stage musical has a number of fresh-faced young talent and can currently be seen at the DR2 Theatre. The album is very well produced and quite infectous, but it's clearly the kind of thing that people would take their children to...and adults would find it hard-pressed to sit through alone, yet alone, listen to. I have no intention of being a Scrooge about Dear Edwina and highly recommend it as a gift for young theatre afficiandos...and I certainly prefer it over 13.
From This Author Naomi Plume