CD Reviews - 2006

by John Kenrick

(Copyright 2006)

All Shook Up - Sony/BMG

As a rule, "Jukebox musicals" are not my thing. But this extremely well-produced CD offers something we don't get on cast recordings much anymore -- genuine, lighthearted fun, and an abundance of it! Nothing will ever replace Elvis Presley's classic renditions of these songs, but it is a surprise treat to hear these fresh interpretations. Some gifted newcomers (most notably the drop dead gorgeous Cheyenne Jackson) are teamed up with beloved Broadway veterans Jonathan Hadary and Alix Korey, turning this Elvis-fest into a kickin' good time.

Barbara Brussell - Lerner in Love

Fellow fans of Alan Jay Lerner are in for some rich listening with this handsomely produced CD. Fresh, intimate arrangements and Brussell's warm, sensative vocals let more than two dozen Lerner lyrics shine out in all their glory. Along with familiar standards are some delicious rarities, such as "You Haven't Changed at All," a personal favorite from The Day Before Spring. Brussell gives lyrics and music equal attention, making this one of the most enjoyable cabaret recordings in recent years. Kudos to pianist Tedd Firth, producer/arranger Todd Schroeder and executive producer Frank Skillern for such a classy presentation -- and to Ms. Brussell for such a worthy tribute to a master Broadway lyricist and his gifted composing colleagues.

Finian's Rainbow - Irish Rep Cast 2004


What a "grand-ish" delight! A cast of Broadway veterans makes this my nominee for the finest recording this classic Burton Lane-Yip Harburg score has ever received. Melissa Errico is pure heaven as Sharon, making "Look to the Rainbow" and "How Are Things in Glocca Morra?" shimmer with enchantment. Malcolm Gets steals everything in sight as the leprechaun Og, but kudos also go to Max Von Essen, Jonathan Freeman, Terri White and a uniformly delicious ensemble. Mark Hartman's intimate arrangement and sensitive musical direction crown it all. I found myself wiping away tears of joy listening to this recording, which I heartily recommend to all fellow-lovers of this brilliant musical.

The Light In The Piazza - Nonesuch

It has been nine years since the off-Broadway musical Floyd Collins made composer-lyricist Adam Guettel one of the most promising talents in the business. That promise is at long last fulfilled with his sophisticated score for The Light In the Piazza, which teeters somewhere between the lush operatic sound of Puccini and the contemporary inventiveness of Sondheim. Few of these demanding melodies could be called catchy and humor is in rather short supply, but it is no wonder this impressive, literate score has so many vocal admirers. Gorgeous orchestrations, and heartfelt performances make this handsomely produced recording a particular treat. Victoria Clark is a revelation as a woman trying to facilitate a love match for her emotionally challenged daughter, and Kelli O'Hara offers some ravishing singing as the troubled daughter. Some have complained about the heavy used of Italian lyrics in the score, but my only complaint is that the golden-voiced Matthew Morrison has no idea how to pronounce the language -- couldn't he have picked up a Berlitz tape? It will be fascinating to see what sort of post-Broadway life this musical achieves.

Little Women - Ghostlight Records

Let me preface this by saying that I love Maureen McGovern. That said, how dare they make such a needless waste of such a marvelous talent. Adapting a classic for the stage requires imagination and musical variety, and both are in painfully short supply here. Sutton Foster tries her darndest to inject some life into this dull score, but a gifted cast and top notch audio production (kudos to the Ghostlight team) cannot make up for such pretentious writing. Ballad after ballad after ballad . . .even the few "up" songs teeter on the brink of ballad. Enough already! This is one project that would never have made it to Broadway in a happier time -- certainly not with this meager excuse for a score.

Ka - Cirque Du Soliel

Over the years, Cirque du Soliel has redefined the way Americans think of circuses, restoring some much needed luster to this old art form. Along with a new sense of visual spectacle, Cirque has also elevated its musical accompaniment to a par with sophisticated film soundtracks. Ka, their latest Las Vegas incarnation, has a varied and dramatic score courtesy of frequent Cirque composer Rene Dupere and Hollywood musical director Simon Leclerc. As before, the lyrics are in a synthetic language (except for two bonus tracks in English) leaving the music to hold forth with varying bursts of drama, whimsy, or what have you. Fans of the franchise are going to relish every track.

The New Moon - Ghostlight Records

What a spectacular delight! A cast of Broadway veterans (and one amazing operatic ringer) is unleashed on a vintage score, and the result is track after track of aural magic. Romberg's and Hammerstein's songs soar, exploding with romance and swashbuckling bravado. Opera hunk Rodney Gilfrey proves a first rate musical actor in the lead. His "Stouthearted Men" has me sold, and his duets with the divine Christiane Noll are something to really cheer about -- their "Wanting You" is ravishing. Brandon Jovanovich sounds like he just beamed in from Broadway's golden age -- his "Softly As In a Morning Sunrise" is a total wow. The supporting cast is uniformly excellent, with such reliable pros as Alix Korey and Burke Moses among the standouts. As always, Rob Fisher provides flawless musical direction, turning this into a nifty musical time capsule. God bless Ghostlight Records for bringing the City Center Encores concert series back onto CD with such a superbly produced recording.

Monty Python's Spamalot - Decca Broadway

Talk about amateur night! Eric Idle and John Du Perez are both totally clueless as to how to write showtunes. The result is the sort of material that used to barely pass muster in a senior class revue. Each song takes one minor joke and pounds it to death. This is what happens when you let people dabble in an art form they know nothing about. As a longtime Python fan, I could not be more disappointed. An amazingly gifted cast is left making the best of a bad deal, offering recycled versions of gags the original Pythons concocted decades ago. The strongest number track has David Hyde Pierce explaining "You Won't Succeed On Broadway (If You Don't Have Any Jews)" -- which is funny, until it is reworked more than a dozen different ways. (Oy!) This is sophomoric nonsense. Handsomely recorded and packaged, but all to no avail. Shame on the critics and Tony voters who praised this tripe!

The Phantom of the Opera - Sony

If you liked the stage version, you may enjoy this too. For my money, what seemed pretentious live is downright ridiculous on film. The leads are not particularly gifted, so this soundtrack is almost like listening to a touring or regional cast -- quite professional and even pretty at times, but mostly an anonymous rehash of what you've already heard on the original cast recording . Even the delightful Minnie Driver cannot breathe much life into the tepid interpolated solo "Learn to Be Lonely."

The Producers - (Soundtrack) Sony Classical

The weaknesses that Tony voters blithely overlooked became painfully obvious in this uneven screen version -- but the best of the film's musical moments are captured handsomely on this fine CD release. The Mel Brooks score gets polished (if somewhat flat) performances from original stage stars Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick -- and the expanded "Springtime for Hitler" is a hoot! However, the ill-cast Will Farrell would not pass muster in a high school staging, and his performance seems even weaker without the slapstick visuals. Otherwise, a worthwhile addition to any soundtrack collection.

Back to: Main CD Reviews Page

Longtime Lloyd Webber fans will already own most of these tracks, but younger fans will find this compilation an all-star treasure trove. From Madonna to Lupone to Close to Streisand, all the big players are represented, especially those from original casts -- Yvonne Elliman's "I Don't Know How to Love Him," Betty Buckley's "Memory," etc. All the braindead ALW schmaltz you could ever pack on one disk, handsomely presented.

Billy Elliot - Decca Broadway

Since we Yanks are still (as of this writing) waiting to see Billy Elliot, I was pleasantly surprised by this CD. This is Elton John's best theatrical score to date, with more musical variety and dramatic value than any of his previous stage efforts -- faint praise, I know, but deserved. Based on the hit film about a miner's son who discovers a passion for ballet dancing, the show became a major London hit in 2005. This recording comes with a well-earned "explicit content" warning -- but if you can get past the occasional coarse language and can wend your way through some thick British working class accents (the booklet mercifully includes Lee Hall's lyrics), there are some powerful performances to enjoy.

No stars, but the ensemble radiates energy. It's hard to say if any of these songs will make it as breakout hits, but "Merry Christmas Maggie Thatcher" is a wicked bit of satirical fun, and "Electricity" could well become an anthem for any youngster with a dream. (Both songs are repeated on a bonus disc performed by the composer.) Serious fans of contemporary musical theatre will no doubt want to hear this "West End bairn" before it is reconceived as a "Broadway baby."

Candide - Broadway Masterworks

Fans of this, the best of all possible cult favorites, will revel in this sonically superb remastering. The whacky fun of Hal Prince's 1974 revival of Candide is here, delivered by a spirited cast that turned a onetime flop into a quirky hit. It helps to have the full (and heavily revised) libretto performed, along with Leonard Bernstein's breathtaking score. It is easy to hear why this was the only Candide to achieve a healthy run on Broadway. The hilarious Lewis J. Stadlen narrates, offering a multi-role tour de force performance. Mark Baker is a treasure in the title role, Maureen Brennan a sweet and amazingly innocent Cunegonde, and June Gable merrily devours the scenery as The Old Lady. Other recordings of Candide may be more operatically correct, but none captures the fun of this show as affectively as this one. What a treat!

The Color Purple - Angel

This handsomely produced recording does far more justice to this fine score than the equally handsome but plot-heavy Broadway production. The composers have strong pop credentials, but show surprising agility in writing compelling theatrical songs. Broadway favorite LaChanze is radiant as Celie, the abused rural housewife who gradually discovers love, independence and her basic right to happiness. Felicia P. Fields (as the indomitable Sophia) and Elisabeth Winders-Mendes (as cabaret singer Shug) provide highlights, and Jonathan Tunicks's orchestrations capture a wide variety of periods and musical styles with rare style.

The Drowsy Chaperone - Ghostlight Records

Although I found The Drowsy Chaperone a major disappointment on stage, there is no denying that it sounds far stronger on this handsomely produced CD. From the record-like disc to the faux LP record cover inside the colorful booklet, this package has more imagination than the production that has wowed so many. The superb cast chews the here-invisible scenery with audible relish, and Larry Blank's orchestrations provide the period flavor that this forgettable score so sadly lacks. The material has been cleverly edited to retain the show-within-a-fantasy quality of the production without giving all the gags away. We also get two enjoyable bonus tracks: a comic duet that was cut during tryouts, and the complete "Message From a Nightingale" number. Fans of the show will love this recording -- and everyone else will doubtlessly live quite happily without it.

Falling in Love is Wonderful - RCA Red Seal

As a rule, I avoid compilation CDs, but this one turned out to be a surprise delight. When you take me from "If I Loved You" to "Tonight" to "We Kiss in a Shadow" (all form some of my favorite cast recordings), and then hit me with Robert Weede and Jo Sullivan singing "My Heart is So Full of You," I am a goner! I salute producer Todd Whitelock for putting together such a tasty appetizer platter of love songs, covering everything from Annie Get Your Gun to A New Brain. Its almost like spending an evening listening to bravura selections with a dedicated showtune buff -- but what sets this CD apart from The Drowsy Chaperone is that the songs are solid Broadway gold, not imitation dross.

Gay's The Word - Bayview Classics

If you've been wondering why Ivor Novello's musicals were once all the rage in London, this original cast recording of his final score won't do much to enlighten you. Designed as a blend of Novello's trademark operetta style and the newer American style musical comedy, Gay's the Word seems rather weak in all departments -- meager lyrics by Alan Melville, an unimpressive cast, and little sign of Novello's celebrated gift for rich melody. Recordings were not Cicely Courtneidge's best medium; her acclaimed comic stage style comes across here as merely pushy. Fans and the merely curious will be far better off listening to compilation CD's of Novello's greatest hits, or better still the superb soundtrack recording of the film Gosford Park.

George M. Cohan Tonight! - Ghostlight Records

This charming one-man salute to the career and songs of George M. Cohan delighted audiences and critics during an extended Off-Broadway run at New York's distinguished Irish Repertory Theatre, and this fine recording from those dear folks at Ghostlight makes it easy to hear why. Jon Peterson gives a crisp and charismatic performance as Cohan, singing more than two dozen of the great man's songs along the way. Some are familiar standards, some charming rarities, and some are at least partially devised by Chip Deffaa, the historian and playwright who has been lovingly developing this show in various versions over the last few years. If the right actor is available, George M. Cohan Tonight is a guaranteed audience pleaser in any venue -- as is this CD.

Goodbye, Mr. Chips - Film Score Classics

The 1968 musical screen version of Goodbye, Mr. Chips did not do too well with the public, but the score by composer- lyricist Leslie Bricusse (supervised by John Williams) had some fine tunes, so the LP has long resided in my collection. Even so, it was a surprise to find a company was willing to invest the time and money required to not only re-master this soundtrack for CD, but to offer two additional discs of auxiliary material, and top it all off with a booklet that offers tons of rare photos and information. For example, we learn how the delightful "London Is London" was written, hear alternate takes of the song , the final film track, and the slightly different cut used on the LP -- talk about thorough! (We are spared any tracks from the short-lived British stage adaptation.) One hopes there will be comparable sets for other, more compelling film scores, but in the meantime serious collectors will savor this treasure trove.

The King and I - Broadway Masterworks

Richard Rodgers initiated his Lincoln Center series of revivals with this production, and this recording suggests that the results offered lots to love and one big error. The error was casting Darren McGavin as the King. Although a fine actor, he had no clue how to handle a role so thoroughly identified with Yul Brynner, and the poor man literally howls his way through a truly embarrassing performance. The rest of the cast is quite fine, with Metropolitan Opera legend Rise Stevens as a musically and dramatically sumptuous Anna -- her "Hello Young Lovers" is a triumph. Patricia Neway (The Sound of Music's original Mother Abbess) offers a moving "Something Wonderful," and Lee Venora and Frank Poretta are both excellent as the doomed young lovers. We also get the first ever commercial recording of "The Small House of Uncle Thomas" Ballet. Nicely remastered, this is not the strongest King & I on record, but serious fans will relish some of these tracks.

Lingoland - Jay Records

This dazzling, intimate Off-Broadway revue showcases the poems and lyrics of Kenward Elmslie, best remembered by musical theatre buffs for the much loved (if short-lived) cult classic The Grass Harp. He worked with various composers over the years, and this exquisite two CD takes listeners on a tour through some rarely heard but thoroughly delightful material. Elmslie narrates, and a gifted cast makes every track a gem. You can read my complete review of the show for further details -- but if you like your musicals warm, lively and literate, waste no time and treat yourself to a copy of Lingoland immediately!

My Fair Lady - Broadway Masterworks

The critically acclaimed 1976 Broadway revival of this glorious masterpiece left behind a magnificent cast recording that has finally made the leap from LP to CD. (Heck, I wore out my copy of the LP years ago!) There are no bonus tracks, but any MFL fan is going to adore this release. Refusing to sound like their stellar predecessors, this cast made each role their own. Ian Richardson is a dazzling Henry Higgins, repainting this character with bold, colorful strokes. Christine Andreas became a Broadway goddess with her warm and winning take on Eliza, and George Rose won a well deserved Tony with his irresistible performance as Doolittle. Jerry Lanning offers the best "On the Street Where You Live" I've ever heard, and the rarely recorded "Embassy Waltz" sounds ravishing. I doubt anything will ever eclipse memories of the 1956 original cast, but this recording can honestly claim a unique magic of it's own. I would give anything to see this amazing production again -- but it is great to at last have this beautifully remastered recording to enjoy.

Pretty Faces - Private Release

Nurtured by the Actors Cabaret of Eugene, this musical comedy about a beauty pageant for "large & lovely" ladies won acclaim at the 2004 New York Musical Theatre Festival. Tuneful, humorous and upbeat, the weight-friendly attitude of this show is reflected in songs like "42-32-42," "Too Plump for Prom Night" and Midnight Munchies." Theatre groups looking for a new musical that showcases female performers may want to consider this off-beat charmer (2 men, 6 women required).

Brian Stokes Mitchell - Playbill Records

You'll find my critical praise for Brian Stokes Mitchell scattered all over this site, but I fear I have few good things to say about his debut solo recording. The content leans heavily towards jazz and R&B, with little evidence of the sound that has made him one of the musical theatre's premiere leading men. It unclear who he was trying to please. As this CD also marks the debut of Playbill Records, one has to wonder why a theatre-related label would be comfortable with so much non-theatrical content. Someone out there is bound to love this recording, but for my money I'll leave this on the shelf and keep my player filled with jewels like Mitchell's luscious South Pacific (review below).

South Pacific - Masterworks Broadway

Every track of this 1967 Lincoln Center cast recording is such a winner that you can't help wondering why it took so long for this winner to make its way to CD. Florence Henderson gives one of the best performances of her career as Nellie, and Giorgio Tozzi (who dubbed Rosano Brazzi in the film version) is a dazzling Emile. The supporting cast is first rate, most notably Irene Byatt's powerful take on Bloody Mary. We also get a charming reprise of "Bali Ha'i" sung in French by Eleanor Calbes, who played Liat. Fans of this great score will definitely want this CD in their collections. It is hard to believe there would not be another American cast recording of South Pacific until the spectacular 2005 version reviewed immediately below.

South Pacific - Decca Broadway

This Carnegie Hall concert recording is one of the most ravishing that this glorious Rodgers & Hammerstein classic has ever received, and should put to rest the idiotic notion that this show is "too dated" for contemporary audiences. Paul Gemignani conducts a sizeable orchestra with his usual sure hand, and a massive chorus (has "There is Nothing Like a Dame" ever sounded so glorious?) gives solid support to the stellar leading cast. Lillas White shimmers as Bloody Mary, Jason Danieley is a refreshing delight as Lt. Cable, and Alec Baldwin does some gleeful scene stealing as conniving seaman Luther Billis. With her down-home accent, Reba McEntire is a natural choice for the Arkanas-born Army nurse Nellie -- and the mistakes she made in performance have all been smoothed out here, making every one of her songs a delight. Brian Stokes Mitchell is simply perfect as Emile, and his showstopping "This Nearly Was Mine" is beautifully preserved here. Fans of this show and these great performers will all want this superb recording (as well as the DVD), an "enchanted evening" indeed!

Sweeney Todd - Nonesuch

One of Stephen Sondheim's most glorious scores and a great revival cast make this superbly produced CD a must-have for serious fans. The drastically reduced orchestra and chorus used in this chamber staging strip much of the audible glamour from this score, and such bizarre directorial choices as casting a woman as the competing barber Pirelli sound even more ludicrous than they appeared on stage. But even if you love the classic original cast recording or the grand NY Philharmonic concert version, this intimate take on Sweeney is bound to fascinate. Patti Lupone and Michael Cerveris take realistic, chilling approaches to the lead roles, and most of the supporting cast is first rate. To be frank, my heart still belongs to Lansbury and Cariou, but this recording has moments of unique beauty.

Tarzan - Disney

One tries to argue with the recent New York Times article suggesting that the Broadway musical died this season -- and then along comes the cast recording of Tarzan to remind you just how much of a corpse the art form can be. Despite overwhelmingly negative reviews, this show managed a respectable run at the Richard Rodgers Theatre. Since the score is one of the show's weakest points (and trust me, it had no strong ones), you will find little on this recording to justify Tarzan's success. Phil Collins is a world-class rock star, but his meandering hodgepodge of ditties offers no hint of theatrical style or dramatic content. Consequently, a talented cast that included Tony-winner Shuler Hensley had no where to go.

Thrill Me - OC Records

While a musical about the infamous 1920s homosexual "thrill" killers Leopold & Loeb may sound bizarre, Thrill Me proved to be one of the most original and fascinating works to reach New York stages in several seasons. I raved about the 2005 York Theatre staging (see that review for details), and felt the material benefited immensely when author/composer Stephen Dolginoff took over the role of Leopold partway through the run. He and co-star Doug Kreeger have preserved their finely nuanced performances in this excellent recording, which includes all of the melodic score and some crucial bits of dialog. Dolginoff examines the seductive power of evil, and suggests that arrogance can turn a puppeteer into an unsuspecting puppet. Regional and college theatres looking for a new, off-beat alternative to the usual musical theatre repertory should seriously consider Thrill Me, which despite its well-known subject packs a surprise ending, and provides solid entertainment along the way. This recording is a super memento of a first-class production.

Weill: Anne Kerry Ford - Illyria Records

This is a classy and highly enjoyable collection of some of Kurt Weill's best songs, sung with taste and great musicality by Anne Kerry Ford. Some of the tracks are live cabaret performances, others are studio sessions, and all are worthwhile. The jazzy "I'm a Stranger Here Myself," the dreamy "My Ship, " rarities like "Song of the Rhineland," and (my favorite) the ravishing "It Never Was You" -- all are stylishly delivered, with arrangements in precisely the right spirit. This recording is an excellent introduction for those new to Weill, and solid fun for those who already know these gems.

Back to Main CD Reviews Page