CD Reviews

by John Kenrick

(Copyright 1998-2000)

Cabaret - Original 1966 Bway Cast (Sony)

The slight echo of the original mastering is happily gone, but the real treats are several cuts from Kander and Ebb's original demo tape, a glimpse into their early conception of the score. Show buffs will delight in Ebb's ebullient performances. In the cast tracks, its great to hear Jack Gilford and the legendary Lotte Lenya at their peak. I particularly like the stage numbers left out of the film – "Perfectly Marvelous" and "Don't Tell Mama" are great, and (please don't laugh too harshly) I've always had a soft spot for "The Telephone Song." Best of all, Joel Grey's performance as the Emcee remains one of the greatest star turns in musical theatre history. If you have the older CD release, this genuine upgrade is well worth getting.

Cabaret - 1998 Broadway Revival

The appallingly simple way to escape theatrical ghosts is to let them alone, do a show your own way and do it damn well. Kander and Ebb's timeless masterpiece is so powerfully written that it has plenty of potential for fresh interpretations by fresh talents. The 1998 Broadway Cast recording is loaded with both, so it is easy to hear what all the fuss was about. For starters, the songs are performed by seasoned theatrical professionals – a novel approach taken by far too few productions nowadays. Most of these actors built their reputations in dramatic roles, which supposedly made it easier for them to take a character-centered approach to the material.

I don't think the ravishing Michelle Pawk (Crazy For You) is capable of anything less than a great performance, and she makes the most of her brief appearances here. John Benjamin Hickey (Love! Valour! Compassion!) brings real vulnerability to the role of Cliff – it seems a first-rate actor can make this neglected character register. Mary Louise and Ron Rifkin conquer the potentially cloying "Pineapple Song" with a warm and gentle sincerity. In fact, they might have stolen this recording if the leads had not been in such gifted hands.

Alan Cumming is nothing short of dazzling, making as vivid an impression on disk as he did on stage. He audibly leers and struts, creating an MC with a dollop of obscenity and a wisp of evil that grows into a chilling storm cloud. Recording the "in performance" numbers with an "audience" gives Cumming an immediacy he might have lacked in a standard studio format. The 1966 version of "Wilkommen" will always be a joy, but this one is even more exciting, and the new bisexual take on "Two Ladies" is brilliantly right. It will be fascinating to see what, if any, musical roles Cumming attempts in the future.

The real surprise is Natasha Richardson as Sally Bowles. True, she is only an okay singer, but then Jill Hayworth was no better in the original 1966 cast. Several friends have reminded me that Sally is supposed to be a mediocre vocalist – so I suppose I really shouldn't carp. While I can't say I'm itching to hear Ms. Richardson attempt My Fair Lady, I was impressed by her dramatic efforts here. For the sheer joy of listening, Liza's soundtrack renditions remain untouchable – but Ms. Richardson's intense theatrical power is undeniable.

The score revisions all make sense – especially the addition of "Mein Herr" and "Money" from the film version. (I'm probably the only person alive who really likes "The Telephone Song," so I won't bitch about it being missing.) Michael Gibson's new orchestrations are, as always, perfect, and the sound quality is flawless. Because of limited seating in the Kit Kat Club (a.k.a. The Henry Miller Theatre), relatively few people got to see this cast. For those who missed out, this CD offers a great taste of an acclaimed production.

Company - Original Broadway Cast (Sony/Columbia)

I remember how excited I was when a friend introduced me to this recording back in high school - it was love at first hearing. More than two decades later, this wonderful re-mastering got me going all over again, reveling in a vibrant Stephen Sondheim score performed by one of the best ensembles ever to grace a Broadway stage. This recording is full of priceless moments:

These are the stuff that theatrical legends are made of. Stritch turned in the finest recorded performance of her career (so far), and the often maligned Dean Jones handles the killer role of Bobby brilliantly. Original producer Thomas Z. Shepard clearly put a lot of passion into this remastering, which really amounts to a reconsideration. Even if you already have Company's first CD release, this remastering is a major step up. The bonus track of Larry Kert's "Being Alive" (recorded for London) is delightful – I only wish more of his takes had been included.

Back to: Main CD Reviews Page