CD Reviews

by John Kenrick

(Copyright 2003)

Anyone Can Whistle - 1995 Concert Cast

Stephen Sondheim's legendary flop has firmly held onto its dedicated cult following -- a brilliant score for a show that resolutely refuses to work on stage. Showtune buffs will love this recording of the stellar 1995 Carnegie Hall concert . Original lead Angela Lansbury provides the narration, Madeline Kahn is superb as the evil mayor, Scott Bakula is just right as the reforming hero, and Bernadette Peters is at her best as his love interest. Those who do not understand Whistle's appeal may not be converted -- but the rest of us can just relish every track (and every "cookie") here.

Bat Boy - Original Off-Broadway Cast (RCA)

A musical inspired by a character invented to sell supermarket tabloids some years ago? Hey, stranger things have worked! Although the comedy varies from zany to weak, Bat Boy has moments of real inspiration. Winning numbers like "Show You a Thing or Two" and great performances by a solid cast make this score worth a listen. This show is a definite option for schools and regional theatres looking for something new, off-beat and lively.

Broadway Musicals of 1943 - Concert Cast

Scott Siegel has helmed a series of these concerts at New York's Town Hall, each concentrating on the musical of a particular year. This March 2001 event featured songs from Oklahoma and One Touch of Venus, among others. Despite spirited performances by Sally Mayes, Heather MacRae and Jason Graae, you may find yourself wondering why they bothered recording this. None of it is bad, but none of it is compelling either. Each of these performers have done far better work in their solo cabaret appearances -- recording this so-so evening does not do them or the material any favors. All in all, a great idea that falls flat.

By the Beautiful Sea - Original Broadway Cast (Capitol)

As a longtime fan of this recording in its analog LP format, I was delighted with its superb CD remastering. Written as a sort of follow-up to the stage musical A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, this was designed as a vehicle for Shirley Booth, who sparkles here. Favorite moments -- Wilbur Evans' performance of the sentimental ballad "I've Been Alone Too Long," and Booth's rendition of the nostalgic title song. No, this is not a lost masterpiece, but it is a nice bit of tuneful fun.

Destry Rides Again - Original Broadway Cast

This show has fallen into disuse -- and that's a pity, because Harold Rome's score offers lots of melodic fun. And does anyone really think there's no audience for westerns? Schools and regional companies should seriously reconsider this one. Andy Griffith plays the sheriff with his trademark aw-shucks charm, and Dolores Grey has a blast as his raunchy love interest. None of the songs became hits, but that doesn't mean there is any shortage of entertainment value here.

Do, Re, Mi - 1999 Encores Cast (DRG)

This wacky tale of a small time hood who tires to break into the big time by producing pop records was a successful 1960 vehicle for comedian Phil Silvers -- and it is a perfect a fit for Nathan Lane, who affirms his title as Broadway's reigning clown prince here. Randy Graff hits all the right musical and comic notes as his long-suffering wife, and Brian Stokes Mitchell and Heather Headley dazzle as the young lovers who just want to "Make Someone Happy." The Styne-Comden & Green score is a delight, making this one of the best Encores concerts to make it to CD.

First Impressions - Original Broadway Cast (DRG)

In the wake of My Fair Lady's massive success, a musical adaptation of Jane Austen's novel Pride and Prejudice seemed like a good bet to become another clever British-flavored classic. Alas, the creative team was not up to the challenge. The score is lackluster, leaving a promising cast with far too little to work with -- leads Polly Bergen & Farley Granger are delightful but wasted. Standout moment -- Hermoine Gingold's giddy "A House in Town." Otherwise, this score goes nowhere. Slowly.

Flower Drum Song - 2002 Broadway Cast (DRG)

Rodgers & Hammerstein's 1958 chestnut has suffered from the passing of time, its politically incorrect plot making it increasingly difficult to produce. Acclaimed playwright David Henry Hwang provided a new libretto that offended no one but pleased few. The score still has some ravishing numbers, and Broadway favorite Lea Salonga has many fine moments as Mei Li. Although this recording is well-produced, I can't help feeling that fans of this score will prefer the original cast recording.

A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to the Forum - 1996 Revival Cast

Forum fans will have a ball with this fine recording. A cast of veteran comic performers merrily chew up everything in sight. As good as the original cast recording, and I would not argue with anyone saying this overall cast is actually better.  Nathan Lane, Mark Linn-Baker, Lewis J. Stadlen, Mary Testa, Ernie Sabella . . . no need to say more -- everybody ought to have a copy!

If Love Were All - Original Off-Broadway Cast

What a classy idea -- a two person show about the long friendship and professional partnership between Noel Coward and Gertrude Lawrence. Coward biographer Sheridan Morely certainly knows the characters, the Coward songs are all winners, and both Harry Groener and Twiggy were excellent choices for the leads. But as this recording suggests, the final result was somehow less than the sum of its fine parts -- moments of pleasure and poignancy, but overall unexciting. This fine recording may inspire other groups to try this show -- they stand forewarned.

Into the Woods - Broadway Revival Cast

Perhaps it was too soon to revive this Sondheim winner -- or perhaps Vanessa Williams was simply too limited an actress to fill the role created for Bernadette Peters. Either way, this acclaimed production wound up losing a fortune, and this recording (despite a first class presentation) is not all one might have hoped for. However, buffs will delight in dazzling performances by Laura Benanti, Gregg Edelman, Christopher Sieber, John McMartin and others. So, despite its short comings, many will find that this one is a keeper.

Parade - Off-Broadway Cast (Decca)

Jerry Herman's first professional production was an intimate revue that enchanted Off-Broadway audiences in 1960 -- a rare LP, it has been superbly remastered for CD. Dody Goodman and Charles Nelson Reilly are the most familiar names in a delightful cast. The score is everything one would expect from young Herman -- tuneful, joyous, and always easy on the ears. We even get "Show Tune," the catchy 2/4 number that later resurfaced in Mame as "It's Today." Well worth hearing and owning!

Pins and Needles - Studio Cast (Columbia/Sony)

If you do not own this breezy recording, stop reading right now and track down a copy -- it's a total joy! Composer Harold Rome celebrated the 25th anniversary of his 1930s hit union-themed revue by supervising this studio recording. The cast includes Barbra Streisand at her youthful best, but everyone sparkles here. And it is amazing (if not downright upsetting) how up to date some of this material still is decades later. One of the best studio cast recordings ever -- hey, why are you still reading? Find a copy, already!

Redhead - Original Broadway Cast (RCA/BMG)

They didn't exactly rush this score onto CD, and it is not hard to hear why. When Redhead won the Tony for Best Musical in 1959, its victory rested heavily on Bob Fosse's sinuous staging and Gwen Verdon's luminous performance in the lead role. Without its visual elements, this show has little to offer. Composer Al Hague and lyricist Dorothy Fields turned out a polished score, but far too much of it is run of the mill -- at least until Verdon and co-star Richard Kiley lend their undeniable charms to it. The original album had excellent sound, as does this CD remastering. A nice treat for Verdon fans, but I can't imagine this show working for another performer. Perhaps it is best left in the archives.

The Rocky Horror Show - 2000 Broadway Cast

This souped-up rethinking of Richard O'Brien's cult classic kept Broadway audiences cheering for over a year, and it's not hard to hear why. Tom Hewitt sets the tone with his gloriously over the top take on that trans-planetary transvestite Dr. Frank N' Furter. There are equally uninhibited performances by versatile audience favorites Daphne Rubin-Vega and Raul Esperanza as the doctor's flunkies, and Jarod Emick and Alice Ripley as the uptight couple who stumble into this comic house of horrors. If you are among Rocky's legion of fans ("SAY IT!!!"), you'll definitely want this funny, energetic recording.

Two On the Aisle - Original Broadway Cast

Only twelve numbers are preserved here, but musical theatre buffs will find lots to enjoy. Jules Styne provided the tunes and the trusty Betty Comden and Adolph Green wrote the lyrics -- so there are fine comic moments. Underrated diva Dolores Grey is at her powerhouse best, belting such jewels as "If You Hadn't, But You Did." Most of co-star Bert Lahr's best moments were in the comedy skits, so he is barely heard on this songs-only recording. Not for casual listeners, but a treat for serious collectors.

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