BWW CD Reviews: Stage Door Records' JACK THE RIPPER (Original London Cast Album) is Odd and Intriguing

Cover art courtesy of Stage Door Records.

Ron Pember and Denis de Marne's JACK THE RIPPER first premiered at London's Players' Theatre on June 25, 1974 and was transferred to London's Ambassadors Theatre by theatre impresario Larry Parnes in September 1974. It earned a nomination for Best Musical at the 1974 Evening Standard Theatre Awards, had a run at the Cambridge Theatre in February 1975, and its United States debut was produced by Elliot Martin at Providence's Trinity Theatre in March 1979. Yet, this musical's unique original cast album would take 40 years to see the light of day. On March 30, 2015 Stage Door Records released the odd and intriguing JACK THE RIPPER (Original London Cast Album).

When I first heard that the case of Jack the Ripper was musicalized, I expected that the score would be filled with moody, ominous music that was evocative of the fog drenched cobblestone streets of London's East End circa 1888. Instead of a dark score akin to Frank Wildhorn's JEKYLL & HYDE, Ron Pember was inspired by the musical modalities of Whitechapel's (the district of London that the slayings occurred in) Music Halls. Therefore, JACK THE RIPPER is not a brooding and atmospheric musical; instead, it is a boisterous show in which the denizens of Whitechapel, London gather in a Music Hall to ease their tensions with strong libations while satirizing their fears in catchy songs.

For JACK THE RIPPER (Original London Cast Album), Stage Door Records has digitally remastered the audio from the original master tapes. In the background, especially during vocal solos accompanied only with a piano, there is a persistent quiet hiss. Other than this, the quality of the recording is rather clean, and the transfer keeps the music in tact without any noticeable pops or audible issues with tape speed. While the generally ebullient, up-tempo, and comically bawdy music and lyrics for the production jars with expectations for music covering such macabre material, this album does a fantastic job capturing and preserving a forgotten musical for the digital age.

Highlights on the disc include the wanton welcomes and jeers uttered by Linda Rusby before the company joins her for the warm and inviting numbers "Saturday Night" and "Sing, Sing." Terese Stevens enchants on the bitter and stirring number "Goodbye Day," where she and the other girls of the evening sing an undulating ditty about night's lulling, numbing embrace. Despite the dark lyrics, the mirthful "Ripper's Going to Get You," sung with charm by Elaine Holland, Roy Stone, and the male ensemble, is quite the toe-tapping piece. With the hallmark resigned complacency of the disillusioned Sally Bowles in CABARET, Terese Stevens impresses with her caustic vocalizations on the biting "Half a Dozen Pints." As the album draws near its close, Terese Stevens paints the image of a woman with stars in her eyes as she sings the hope-filled and uplifting ballad "Step Across the River." Her charisma changes the tune of Eleanor McCready's character who realizes that her candle isn't burnt out yet.

Now, some 40 years after JACK THE RIPPER was last performed in the West End, this quirky, fascinating musical's original cast recording is finally available for mass consumption. Somewhat of an oddity, a critical success in its original runs, and often produced by amateur groups, JACK THE RIPPER has never truly disappeared from the landscape of cultural consciousness, but it is not a musical that many are familiar with. I don't suspect that it'll be soaring up the charts to become anyone's favorite musical; however, after giving the album a listen, I'm sure certain tunes and the show itself will pique interests and leave indelible marks.

Stage Door Records' JACK THE RIPPER (Original London Cast Album) was released physically on March 30, 2015 and can be purchased from their online store. For more information about this release and other Stage Door Records releases, please visit http://www.stagedoorrecords.com.

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From This Author David Clarke