CD Reviews 2004
by John Kenrick

(Copyright 2004)


A Star Is Born - Soundtrack
Sony/Columbia/Legacy

mrsmaine.jpg (13382 bytes) Judy Garland's greatest screen performance gets its most complete and sonically satisfying recording here, with a dozen previously unreleased underscoring tracks and three new vocals. Since Warner Brothers never bothered to save the original tapes, the source recordings for this CD have widely varied levels of sound quality, which even state of the art remastering can only do so much to correct -- but the results are always well worth hearing. Veteran producer Didier Deutsch (in league with Darcy M. Proper) has has outdone himself, making this an archival delight. Collectors who already have the popular 1988 CD will consider this a worthwhile upgrade.


Ace of Clubs - Original London Cast
Bayview Classics

Noel Coward fans will relish his 1950 look at life in a SoHo night club. Graham Payne, Pat Kirkwood and Sylvia Cecil head a fine cast, and the catchy score includes "I Like America" and "Sail Away." Bayview throws in four rarely heard tracks of Coward performing. Most of the material is effectively remastered. Two unremarkable orchestral tracks sound scratchy and the booklet is skimpy, but at this price there is no cause to complain. 


Ankles Aweigh - Original Cast
Decca Broadway

In 1955, a team of show biz veterans got together and tried to write the kind of "bring on the girls" musical comedy that had dominated Broadway before Oklahoma came along. The result was this silly but often enjoyable bit of froth. The original cast album has been on many a showtune buff's list of guilty pleasures -- you know, those flop scores you're almost ashamed to admit you listen to just for the fun of it. Betty and Jane Kean (the latter best remembered for her years as the second Trixie on TV's The Honeymooners) sing with brio, and the songs include such surprise winners as "Nothing Can Replace a Man." This remastering is a whopping improvement on the old LP's sound quality. No one's idea of a lost masterpiece, but you just might find yourself among Ankles Aweigh's secret fan club.


Bounce - Original Cast
Nonesuch

When a new musical is showcased by the best possible talent, its faults have no one to hide behind. Stephen Sondheim has invested years of effort into this tale of two ambitious brothers, but one eventually has to ask, "Why?" Not merely why Sondheim bothered, but why he thought audiences would care. There is a lyric book in case you miss a word, which you won't. An amazing cast gives their all, led by Howard McGillin, Michelle Pawk and Jane Powell. Buffs will find this well-produced CD hard to resist, for all its weaknesses. It's not that fans expected too much -- as a score, Bounce offers damn near nothing.


 

Caroline or Change - Original Cast
Hollywood Records

Traditionalists may disapprove, but this ambitious score will fascinate adventurous theatre fans. Composer Jeanne Tessori and playwright Tony Kushner have turned out a contemporary folk opera, rich in character and melody. The downside is that their scenes never focus into discernable songs, so the result sounds like endless recitative -- with no arias to satisfy the ear. Tonya Pinkins, Anika Noni Rose, Harrison Chad and Veanne Cox head a dazzling cast, all of whom show off this difficult material to powerful advantage. 


Fade Out, Fade In - Original Cast
Decca Broadway 

With pre-opening woes, harsh reviews and now-legendary leading lady woes, this wacky musical comedy never got an even break -- until now. Decca Broadway has served up a flawless remastering of one of the least-known Jule Styne scores. Lots of laughs courtesy of Comden & Green's lyrics, and stars Carol Burnett and Jack Cassidy never sounded better. When Burnett lets loose with "The Usher From the Mezzanine," its the glorious sound of Broadway at its shameless best. What a pleasure to finally have this forgotten gem on CD.


The Little Prince - Original Soundtrack
Decca Broadway

Lerner & Loewe complained that director Stanley Donen mauled their final screen score. That may be so, but there is much to enjoy in this handsomely remastered recording. Richard Kiley, Donna McKechnie, and Bob Fosse head a stellar cast, giving their all. The songs may not be all the composers had hoped for, but their trademark lyrical wit and melodic sweep are very much in evidence. The Little Prince is not much of a film, but this recording proves the score has much for showtune lovers to relish.


Sherry - Studio Cast
Angel/EMI

Musical theatre buffs will not be able to resist this star-studded recreation of the 1967 adaptation of The Man Who Came to Dinner. Nathan Lane is delicious as the petulant Whiteside, Bernadette Peters is perfect as his long-suffering secretary, and Carol Burnett sings the hell out of the show-stopping title tune. Actor's Studio head James Lipton must be delighted to hear his book & lyrics in such dazzling hands -- and you'll enjoy his cameo as a benighted small town doctor. Three cheers to producer Robert Sher for pulling together this dream recording.


Shine - Off-Broadway Cast
Original Cast Records

By some silly accident, I missed the original staging of this charming new musical. Luckily, this cast recording has preserved the bright, melodic score by composer Roger Anderson and lyricist Lee Goldsmith. (Samuel French carries Richard Seff's enjoyable libretto). This family-friendly Horatio Alger tale of a poor 1890s shoe-shining teen finding his way to success has tons of period atmosphere, making it a natural for high schools and regional theatres -- an entertaining all-American answer to Oliver. The authors have the good sense to offer Alger's optimistic "American dream" message undiluted, a risky but effective approach.

This CD features winning performances by Broadway favorites like Harvey Evans and Carole Shelley, as well as some talented newcomers like Jeremiah Miller & James Celentano. The electronic orchestrations heard here are effective, but I would love to hear these fine songs backed by traditional instruments. Amateur groups looking for a new show to offer audiences should give Shine serious consideration.


Song of Norway - Original Bway Cast
Decca Broadway

Fellow operetta buffs will enjoy this release. Kitty Carlisle joined member of the original Broadway cast for this recording. Although there have been earlier editions on CD, this new remastering has vastly superior sound. With World War II raging, Broadway audiences embraced this shamelessly sentimental operetta, which used Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg's melodies and a thoroughly heterosexualized fictional version of his life story. Lush favorites like "Strange Music (of the Spheres)" and lesser known numbers like the showcase aria "Now" make for grand, old-style entertainment. 


Sundown - Studio Cast
Original Cast Records

It has been too long since we had a new musical set in the glory days of America's Wild West. Answering this challenge, composer Peter Link (King of Hearts) has teamed with lyricist Larry Rosler to create a musical inspired by the legendary confrontation between Doc Holliday and Wyatt Earp. A cast of experienced stage performers delivers a string of country-flavored melodies with Úlan. Underrated leading man Steve Blanchard is Doc, Patrick Ryan Sullivan is a stormy Wyatt, and the sumptuous Judy McLane provides love interest as Kate. The score certainly sounds promising on this well-produced recording -- a project worth further investigation.


Texas, Lil Darlin' - Original Cast
You Can't Run Away From It - Soundtrack

Decca Broadway

Two almost forgotten musicals with lyrics by the one and only Johnny Mercer make it to CD in this exceptional remastering. Broadway gave Texas, Lil' Darlin' a so-so reception in 1949, but its charming score kept folks foot-tappin' for the better part of a year. Lots of down home atmosphere and easy humor make for a fun listen -- despite a lack of familiar stage names in the cast. You Can't Run Away From It boasts no less than June Allyson and (in a rare singing role) Jack Lemmon in the 1956 musical version of the classic 1934 comedy It Happened One Night. The new film could not live up to its source, but the all too brief Mercer-Gene De Paul score is tuneful and amusing. Lemmon's pleasant tenor will surprise some listeners -- pity he didn't do more musicals.


West Side Story - Soundtrack
Sony/Columbia/Legacy

wssfilm.jpg (12354 bytes) This soundtrack was first released on CD in 1992 -- not only has remastering technology improved, but we get the luscious overture, intermission and finale cuts heard during the film's original theatrical release. Grand listening pleasure -- and the notes (hooray!) give full overdue credit to the singers who dubbed the leads. If you've forgotten how glorious West Side Story is on film, this recording will reopen your ears and your heart to a screen classic.


You Oughta Be On Broadway
SSF Records

Remember the old Music Minus One series? That's the basic idea here, with a stellar twist. You get orchestral tracks for a dozen Rodgers and Hammerstein songs for ladies, designed for you to sing your heart out at home, plus a matching set of tracks with professinal singers showing you the way. The twist is that MMO used anonymous studio vocalists, while this disc offers some Broadway veterans -- including Liz Callaway, Anne Runolfsson, Sally Mayes and Penny Fuller. Due to the chronometric nature of the accompaniment, these gifted gals are somewhat restricted. Not designed as a listening experience, but aspiring singers may have fun working their way through this repertory.

 

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