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Now Playing: 'Drowsy Chaperone', 'Wedding Singer', 'Tarzan'

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Let's take a look at three of the original cast recordings of the late entries in the 2005-2006 Broadway season.

The Wedding SingerSony Masterworks

This musical adaptation of the Adam Sandler/Drew Barrymore film of the same name has divided critics.  Some, this one included, have found this over-the-top homage to the mid-80s to be a delight, while others have found it to be lacking, often comparing it, unfavorably, to a similar rock 'n' roll musical homage to a different era, Hairspray.  I'm betting that this recording of the score from Matthew Sklar (music) and Chad Beguelin (lyrics) will win over people who have not seen the show, and be savored by those listeners who enjoyed the show at the Al Hirschfeld, and may even convert some folks who weren't fans of 'Singer' onstage.

Sklar's music takes the listener on a sort of whirlwind tour of 80s pop music.  While listening to this recording, listeners will hear references to and pastiches of almost all of the major pop stars' work of the period:  from Madonna to Michael Jackson to Stevie Nicks.  What I find so appealing about this score is that Beguelin's lyrics often are quite witty and well-constructed – not something that one would necessarily expect from a score with pop music roots.  For instance, as Amy Spanger's Holly, a delightfully slutty Madonna-wannabe, sings the act one finale – "Saturday Night in the City," Beguelin begins with this terrific rhyme "When the weekend rolls around, I hound the hottest spots/My favorite club'll always double all my vodka shots."

While listeners won't get a total sense of the terrific chemistry that Stephen Lynch and Laura Benanti share onstage as Robbie (the Wedding Singer) and Julia (the girl whom he doesn't quite know he loves), both sound great on the disc.  Lynch's ease with the vocal demands of the role and the comedy of the show do shine through here beautifully.  Benanti, whom one normally associated with more regal roles, makes for a totally beguiling Julia onstage and the sweetness and charm with which she imbues her character are heard throughout here.

One of the grand things about The Wedding Singer in the theater is the exceptional casting of the supporting characters, and their work is also grand to listen to, from Kevin Cahoon's Boy George-styled character crooning a Jewish prayer to a Culture Club beat at a bar mitzvah or Rita Gardner's oh-so-hip grannie doing her own rap.

Interestingly, for a show that is so colorful on stage, the Sony disc comes with a booklet printed in black & white. There are complete lyrics and photographs, but all monochrome, with the exception of the back cover. 

The Drowsy Chaperone – Ghostlight Records

Winner of the Tony for Best Score, The Drowsy Chaperone was the "sleeper" hit of last season, seducing audiences with its loving spoof of the zaniness of 1920s musicals.  Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison's score is served well by this recording from Ghostlight Records – the sound quality is crisp and Larry Blank's orchestrations zip into the ear, providing period color – even if it is of the aural variety.

This is a tricky show to record and the folks at Ghostlight have probably done the best possible job in preserving the sense of the show – which is narrated by Bob Martin's oh-so-charming "Man in Chair."  This character, who's playing the recording of the faux 20s musical, gives insights into the history of the production and on this disc, "Man in Chair's" introductions for each track of the recording-within-a-recording are preserved in all of their whimsical dotage.

While some of the details of director/choreographer Casey Nicholaw's production might be missed by "Chaperone" fans, the exceptional vocal performances – full of zestful character detail with just a twinge of camp – come through beautifully.  Nowhere is this more in evidence than in Beth Leavel's Tony Award-winning performance of the Chaperone herself, and the misplaced (at least for the show-within-a-show) anthem "As We Stumble Along." 

As the Chaperone's charge, Janet, a Broadway star who's about to give up her life of glamour in favor of marriage, Sutton Foster, as always, is terrific, but what's most pleasurable about her performance both on stage and disc is that her singing feels almost effortless, even as it retains the power that she brought to the roles of Millie and Jo March.

As her intended, Troy Britton Johnson embodies vain foppery in his vocals and the sweet coarseness that Eddie Korbich brings to the role of best man is equally in evidence on the "Chaperone" disc.  In more comedic roles, listeners will find that Georgia Engel, Danny Burstein, and Garth and Jason Kravits' scene-stealing performances also shine on the disc, each one delighting in the wit (and sometimes just plain silliness) of Lambert and Morrison's lyrics.

As always, Ghostlight brings wit and verve to the booklet that comes with the "Chaperone" disc.  Alongside producer Kevin McCallum's notes and the synopsis, you'll find the lyrics for the show and color photos of the production.  In addition, there are reproductions of the OCR album sleeve of "The Drowsy Chaperone" and other musical references in the show.  Given that "Chaperone" pays homage to the days of vinyl, the disc itself has been pressed so that it looks like a 33RPM record.

Tarzan – The Broadway Musical – Walt Disney Records

Unlike the previous two musicals that were showered with Tony Award nominations, this newest Broadway offering from Walt Disney Theatricals was virtually ignored, garnering only one nod for Natasha Katz' lighting design.

While this original cast recording won't entirely reverse critical opinion of the bombastic, aerial spectacle show, the disc does allow listeners to more fully appreciate the tunefulness of Phil Collins' score..  While listening to Tarzan on disc, I found myself being carried along by the songs and many of the performances.  Playing the title role, Josh Strickland displays a lovely voice that often can move with its sensitivity.  It's in these moments and not those in which he succumbs to what I think of as "American Idol" power delivery that he is most successful.  Playing Jane to Strickland's Tarzan is Jenn Gambatese who delivers an intelligent and compassionate performance throughout, even when Collins' lyrics require some intellectual stretching.

The disc includes performances by both of the boys who play the younger incarnation of Tarzan (they alternate at performances), and here listeners will find Daniel Manche and Alex Rutherford are both quite wonderful.  Playing the gorillas who raise the boy these actors play are Merle Dandridge and Shuler Hensley who both bring dignity and emotional truth to their songs, particularly Danbridge with "You'll Be in My Heart."

Handsome full color booklet – with lyrics and photos handsomely arranged.  It's nice that in addition to the lyrics performed in the show, the designers have chosen to include the lyrics for the version of "Everything That I Am" performed by Phil Collins himself.

Listeners who notice the mention on the disc's case that asks that they "insert CD into [their] computer's ROM drive to access special features," may find themselves disappointed by what they find.  The special features are simply a page on the Disney website that has links to the Tarzan website and a video clip of the show, alongside pages for information about other discs.


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From This Author Andy Propst

Andy Propst is founder of AmericanTheaterWeb.com (ATW), a nationally recognized theatrical news and production database. In addition to his writing for and editing of ATW, (read more...)