CD Reviews: 2003

Reviews by John Kenrick

(Copyright 2003)

A Year With Frog and Toad - Original Broadway Cast

101 Productions

Designed for children, but a witty treat for audiences of all ages, this charming musical is nicely preserved on this fine recording. Jay Goede and Mark Linn-Baker are delightful as two amphibians sharing friendship in the forest. The supporting cast is excellent, with Frank Vlastnik hilarious as a messenger snail. Groups seeking a delicious but relatively simple showcase for a talented ensemble of actors will find this underrated musical to be a family-friendly godsend.

The Boy From Oz - Original Broadway Cast


After all the negative reviews the show received, its a pleasure to find this cast recording is so fun packed. There is all the glitz and hyper kinetic energy Peter Allen was known for, and fellow Australian Hugh Jackman uses just enough of Allen's vocal characteristics to make this a stellar performance -- not a mere imitation. The same cannot be said for the treatment of Judy and Liza, but then both of them descended into self parody in real life. As Allen's mother, Broadway favorite Beth Fowler offers a soulful, show stealing rendition of "Don't Cry Out Loud." The orchestrations tend to be aggressive, but how else could anyone capture Peter Allen's larger than life sound? I suspect the critics pounding on this show would have been just as hard on Allen himself. Fans of Allen and Jackman will definitely want this recording.

Camp - Original Soundtrack


The most delightful summer movie musical in decades is also the basis for a super soundtrack CD. The film's youthful cast mostly does its own singing in numbers as varied as the spankin' new "How Shall I See You Through My Tears" (a sizzling rendition by Sasha Allen) and the old Promises, Promises show stopper "Turkey Lurkey Time." There are some fun CD-Rom features, including cast interviews, etc. Musical theatre and film buffs will love this film, and this recording.

Gypsy - 2003 Broadway Revival


The most complete version on CD, with lots of great dialogue and incidental music thrown in. The digital sound is dazzling throughout – a superb job. A strong supporting cast is ultimately overshadowed by Bernadette Peters' problematic performance as Mamma Rose. Vulnerable, funny and seductive as ever, Peters has many superb moments but audibly strains in the role's harsher moments, including "Everything's Coming Up Roses" and the climactic "Rose's Turn." Peters hits notes here she didn't bother attempting the night I saw her, but it is still disquieting to hear what she puts herself through. We should be reacting to the character, and instead wind up feeling for the actress – ouch. Still, its hard not to love Peters for trying. Overall, this cast is more enjoyable here than it was on stage, where am inexplicably dreary physical production detracted from the overall impact of this glorious material.

(How does this recording stack up against other versions of Gypsy? See our Comparative CD reviews.)

Man of La Mancha - 2002 Broadway Revival

RCA Victor

Those who share my abiding love for this score will find much to enjoy in this handsomely produced recording. Brian Stokes Mitchell's glorious baritone has never sounded better, and Ernie Sabella is comic perfection as Sancho. One could gripe about the absence of the magnificent overture, and while the stellar supporting cast is uniformly strong, many sound a tad too gentle and refined. In fact, the whole production lacked the raw spirit that characterized the Albert Marre staging. But Mitchell's fans can relish his well-crafted Don Quixote, and those new to the score will find this a capable introduction to a classic musical drama.

(How does this recording stack up against other versions of Man of La Mancha? See our Comparative CD reviews.)

Naughty Marietta - Ohio Light Opera Cast


The Ohio Light Opera's ongoing attempts to restage and record neglected operettas and comic operas deserves praise, but this particular recording shows how much great material can suffer in amateurish hands. It is fascinating to hear the original 1910 orchestrations and to have much of the dialogue included, but the cast ranges from passable to embarrassing -- not the sort of ensemble that would justify investing in this costly 2 CD set.

Nine - Broadway Revival Cast

PS Classics

The stars shine brightly in this top-notch recording. Antonio Banderas sounds almost as sexy as he looks on stage, giving a musically and dramatically satisfying performance as a tormented movie director. Broadway babe Jane Krakowski shimmers as a sexy starlet, Chita Rivera purrs as a Parisian producer, and Mary Beth Peil is perfect as the director's indulgent mother. Laura Benanti's "Very Unusual Way" is pure magic, and Mary Stuart Masterson's performance seems less inappropriate here than it did on stage. While the original cast recording remains my personal favorite, this is an excellent reconsideration of Maury Yeston's glorious score.

The Red Mill - Ohio Light Opera Cast


Although some of the performers are annoyingly uneven, this 2 CD set is one of the stronger entries in the ongoing Ohio Light Opera series. Victor Herbert's original 1906 orchestrations are still fresh and enchanting after almost a century. The score is filled with jewels like "In Old New York" and "Ev'ry Day is Ladies Day With Me," but the sometimes inept cast makes the extensively revised dialogue painful to listen to. Professionally priced, but amateurishly performed – not my idea of a fair deal for showtune lovers or for Herbert's reputation either.

Wicked - Original Broadway Cast


The stars make this a flawlessly produced recording a must-have for musical theatre buffs. Kristen Chenoweth finally gets to prove what a knockout leading lady she can be, singing everything from socko belt to high coloratura, with breathtaking moments of intimacy to boot. What a joy she is! Idina Menzel's powerful performance as the misunderstood "wicked" witch Elphaba is sometimes compromised by a near-terminal case of pop song melisma. Joel Grey is underused perfection as the Wizard, and Norbert Leo Butz is winning as the romantic interest. It's great to have Stephen Schwartz composing for Broadway once more. Songs stick in the mind, which is more than most new musicals can claim these days -- "What Is This Feeling?," "One Short Day" and the all too brief "Wonderful," among others. If you're ready to find out why so many think Chenoweth is the Broadway musical's first great 21st Century star, check this recording out!

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