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With a new season starting on Broadway, I thought it a good time to give a listen to a stack of cast recordings of 2007/2008 shows. More than the original production, I believe, the cast recording is what encourages future productions of shows out here in the region. How a show comes across on disc could well determine how likely we’ll see it here in the future.
“In the Heights.” Telling of a transitional time in a multi-ethnic Washington Heights neighborhood, the double-disc set of the Tony Award winner for Best New Musical features infectious melodies, strong, clear vocals, and lyrics that fall nicely onto the music, whether in a ballad, rap or high-energy ensemble number. The lack of a star (although those in the cast have star quality to spare) leads me to be optimistic about the tour, which I hope will be cast for talent rather than name recognition. By the time that tour comes around, I expect to be even more familiar with the music thanks to many hours listening to this on long car rides. A keeper. (www.ghostlightrecords.com)
“Xanadu.” Listening to the campy musical version of the notorious Olivia Newton-John bomb movie, I was, at first, amused. But the amusement soon became tiring. What on stage seems like a fun bit of fluff, on disc sounds like just a silly recording session of Electric Light Orchestra and ON-J songs. As a souvenir of seeing the show, it’s fine. As someone who hasn’t yet seen it, I’m unlikely to listen again. On the other hand, I will give repeat listening to “Xanadu” star Kerry Butler’s first solo disc, “Faith, Trust and Pixie Dust,” an often charming, vocally solid, new-parent look at kid-centric music. (Both at www.psclassics.com)
“A Catered Affair.” Here’s a case where a mixed-reviewed Broadway show is likely to have its afterlife assured by an effective recording. “A Catered Affair” is a low-key show about a financially strapped couple and their daughter’s upcoming wedding. I was moved by the Broadway production but had reservations about some elements. Hearing it again on disc, I was even more engaged by John Bucchino’s subtle music and character-appropriate lyrics (I’m annoyed when, in a show, everyday characters suddenly become genius wordsmiths when they sing). Not only was I again moved, but I wanted to immediately call Janet Allen at the Indiana Repertory Theatre and beg her to stage it with IRT mainstays Priscilla Lindsay, Mark Goetzinger, and Chuck Goad. (www.psclassics.com)
“Passing Strange.” This disc, recorded live, is so connected to the Broadway production that it’s difficult to imagine anyone else doing it besides its one-named star and creator, Stew. Groundbreaking in its way, it’s likely to appeal as much if not more to crossover audiences than it is to those with other Broadway cast recordings in their collections. Not for all tastes (what is?) but unpredicable and richer on repeated listenings. (www.ghostlightrecords.com)
“Disney’s The Little Mermaid.” Sorry, I just couldn’t get through it. The original soundtrack from the movie will do just fine, thank you. (www.disneymusic.com)
“Young Frankenstein.” The show took its share of drubbing, so I proceeded with some skepticism into the disc. And while it doesn’t break any new ground, the show comes across as serviceably sophomoric on this recording—like a long, dirty joke that makes you smile in spite of yourself. The disc leads me to believe the show will be a huge hit on the road. And now I’m actually looking forward to seeing it–even if it isn’t the highest my list. (www.deccaclassics.com)
“South Pacific.” The new recording of “South Pacific” certainly is a step up, technically, from the Mary Martin original. And it’s got outstanding work from its supporting cast—including Loretta Ables Sayre who, as Bloody Mary, powerfully takes away the novelty and adds reality to such easy-to-mock songs as “Bali Ha’i” and “Happy Talk.” As in the hit Lincoln Center production, the sailors are also terrific. And while Kelli O’Hara is in good voice in the leads, it isn’t a transcendent performance—there’s no star power. Paul Szot, who was very strong on stage as De Becque, won the Tony for Best Actor in a Musical. His vocal performance here is outstanding, but listening to Tom Wopat in “A Catered Affair” and Stew in “Passing Strange,” I’m thinking the wrong guy won. As for its inevitable tour, I’m not optimistic. In the past, when such major New York revivals hit the road, the very thing that made them distinct are often watered down or eliminated on the road. I’m thinking of the most recent version of “The King and I” where the youthful cast was ditched in favor of a voice-less “star” and the outstanding Lincoln Center “Carousel” that hit the road without its earthy sense of reality. (www.masterworksbroadway.com)
“Sunday in the Park with George.” Sometimes, a star-less cast recording can lead you to hear a show in a different light. Such is the case with this recording of the recent revival of Stephen Sondheim’s show about color, light and art. The original, with Bernadette Peters and Mandy Patinkin, is treasured by musical buffs (even if many of them aren’t fans of the second act). Here, with unknown Brits Daniel Evans and Jenna Russell in the leads, the music emerges even stronger. This is a show that, for me, grows stronger with every listen. Hearing it again (and again) through this recording, I’m becoming more convinced that it’s Sondheim’s musical masterpiece. And I’m kicking myself for not getting to see this production. (www.psclassics.com)
So have you heard or seen any of these shows? Your thoughts?