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CD Reviews - 2011

by John Kenrick

(Copyright 2011)

Anything Goes - 2011 Broadway Cast

(Ghostlight)

A delightful recording of a classic score. Frankly, I would have liked it far more if the divine Sutton Foster didn't spend so much time doing a wonky Merman impersonation -- she is far too good for such nonsense, and whoever told her to do it deserves a swift kick.  But she still has many gorgeous moments, and is ably abetted by the always magnificent Joel Grey and a solid supporting cast. Although this production used the great 1987 revival as a template, there are some excellent new things here, including a delightful overture and arguably the best ever recording of Cole Porter's infectious title tune. The Mermanesqe belting aside, this recording is a must have for fans of classic musicals, and a great memento of a smashing production.


The Book of Mormon - Original Broadway Cast

(Ghostlight)

Don't let the jubilant, change ringing-style opening number "Hello" fool you (and I freely admit I can't stop humming its catchy tune) -- this is not a recording you can play around the kiddies. In fact, some of it is so toilet-mouthed that it should carry a parental advisory label. For all the acclaim Book of Mormon has garnered, once you get past the filthy lyrics, the score is mostly forgettable. Much of the time, the songwriters are not writing bona fide showtunes, but rather parodies of the form -- and that sort of anti-writing quickly wears thin.

To some so-called critics, this show's obsession with obscenity is innovative and fresh. As an adult, I find it about as fresh as the contents of a clogged sewer pipe in a leper colony. Yes, I smiled as "I Believe" spoofed The Sound of Music's "I Have Confidence," but the folks at Family Guy did a far funnier job playing with the same idea several years ago. So no, there nothing fresh here -- just locker room-level filth wrapped in the respectability of a Tony-winning hit. How sad to see Broadway embrace this kind of vulgarity-laden writing. The energetic cast has its charms, and the packaging is handsome, but despite intermittent laughs, this recording winds up being a major disappointment.


Catch Me If You Can - Original Broadway Cast

(Ghostlight)

Much as I liked this score when I first heard it on stage, it proves even more enjoyable with repeat hearings. Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman pick up where they left off in Hairspray, evoking the jazzy nightclub sound of the early 1960s without ever stooping to mere parody. From the bouncy opening "Live in Living Color," through the pseudo-philosophical fun of  "Butter Outta Cream" and the driving "Don't Break the Rules," the outstanding cast makes the most of every number. Aaron Tveit is pure excitement, Norbert Leo Butz is warm and disarming, and Tom Wopat's breezy irony is even more of a standout here than in person. Kelly Butler's powerhouse rendition of "Fly, Fly Away" is a highlight, as is her endearing duet with Tveit of the sweet "Seven Wonders.". Although this show got a cool reception from most critics, I suspect its well-crafted score and solid book will make it a lasting favorite with serious theatre fans. This highly enjoyable cast recording should do no less.


Cinderella - 2011 International Tour Cast

(Lakeshore Records)

There have been two remakes and several stage adaptations of Rodgers and Hammerstein's 1957 TV musical Cinderella.  No two versions have been the same, but this exquisite score is strong enough to keep its appeal despite various additions and deletions. This international tour recording retains some of the changes made by the popular 1997 Disney TV production, while restoring all of the original songs, as well as Robert Russell Bennett's glorious original orchestrations (plus several fine new ones by Larry Blank). Lea Salonga is splendid in the title role, with Peter Saide an excellent vocal match as her Prince. The ensemble is first rate, with Charlie Parker a standout as the Fairy Godmother. An alluring version of a much-loved R&H classic.


Finian's Rainbow - 2009 Broadway Revival Cast

(PS Classics)

Take a sumptuous score, add a magnificent cast, and when the gods are unusually kind you wind up with something as "grandish" as this, easily the best version of Finian's Rainbow ever recorded. Burton Lane's glorious melodies and Yip Harburg's deftlt rhymed lyrics have never sounded better. 

Kate Baldwin and Cheyenne Jackson are simply ravishing in the romantic leads -- oh, the joy of hearing them soar through "Old Devil Moon," "Look to the Rainbow" and more. As Og the leprechaun, Christopher Fitzgerald is a comic delight in "When I'm Not Near the Girl I Love," Terri White is a knockout in "Necessity," and a superb male quartet delivers "The Begat" with style.  Under the baton of musical director Rob Berman, the orchestra is a wonder in its own right, and thanks to excellent digital sound, the original orchestrations by Robert Russell Bennett and Don Walker literally shimmer.  Whether or not you saw this magical production during its all too short run, this recording is an absolute must-have for any showtune lovers collection.


Godspell - 40th Anniversary Original Cast & Soundtrack

(Masterworks Broadway)

Both the original off- Broadway cast and soundtrack recordings of this evergreen favorite have been expertly remastered for this stylishly packaged joint release.  These were prized LPs in my collection for many years, so it is particularly satisfying to hear them anew. The booklet includes some rarely seen photos and a great essay by songwriter Stephen Schwartz discussing the show that put him on the map. No added tracks or surprises, but a double dose of solid enjoyment for fans.


Gypsy - 2008 Broadway Revival Cast

(Time Life)

One of the most sensational Broadway productions I've ever seen resulted in one of the best cast recordings I will ever hope to hear. Fear not, fellow traditionalists -- Ethel Merman's legend is secure and her recording remains essential listening, but her supporting cast was uneven as hell. Patti Lupone gives the greatest performance of her career here, and she has the benefit of exceptionally strong costars. By preserving these amazing performances and offering the most complete version of this score, it is fair to proclaim this the best recording of Gypsy ever. 

Lupone's dynamic vocals and ingenious characterization are matched by Laura Benanti's incredible Louise (she could have stolen this show from a lesser Rose!) and Boyd Gaines as an utterly disarming Herbie. Tony Yazbeck sounds as amazing as he looked doing "All I Need is the Girl," and thanks to the stupendous orchestra under conductor Patrick Vaccariello, the greatest of all Broadway overtures has never sounded better. With a delightful addendum of seven numbers cut from the show, this is the most complete Gypsy recording, and essential listening for any musical theatre fan. (Note: A special Barnes & Noble edition includes a second disc of additional material that fans of this show will want to have.)


How to Succeed In Business - 2011 Broadway Revival Cast

(Decca Broadway)

Yes, Harry Potter can sing, and quite passably too.  But although Daniel Radcliffe acquits himself well on this recording, the same cannot be said for co-star John Larroquette.  Although the clumsy revision of several numbers ("Grand Old Ivy" has been transformed into a tasteless ensemble bit) may get Larroquette by in live performance, on this recording his total lack of musical ability is a major annoyance.  The new orchestrations often sound tinny, and the supporting cast comes across as weak, with the exception of their work in the seemingly foolproof "Brotherhood of Man." Overall, Frank Loesser's marvelous score is not well served here. Stick to the original 1961 cast recording.


Knickerbocker Holiday - 2011 Concert Cast

(Ghostlight)

Due to some accidents of timing, Kurt Weill had fewer original cast recordings than any other major composer of Broadway's so-called golden age. Up to now, the best way to relish his score for Knickerbocker Holiday was on a radio cast recording that featured original star Walter Huston and truncated versions of most of the songs. This live concert recording fills the gap with grand style, providing the full score and a fair amount of dialogue. James Bagwell conducts the Collegiate Chorale and American Symphony Orchestra with flawless style, Ben Davis is a baritone dream as the rebellious Brom Broeck, and it is pure heaven to hear him join the wonderful Kelli O'Hara in one of my favorite love songs, the beguiling "It Never Was You." Victor Garber shines as the dictatorial Peter Stuyvesant, and his rendition of "September Song" skillfully combines seduction with a touch of cold intimidation.


La Cage Aux Folles - 2010 Broadway Revival Cast

(PS Classics)

Much as I loved the original La Cage back in 1984, I felt the massive production missed a lot of opportunities, as did the 2004 revival.  How sweet it was to see this intimate and inventive London-born revival take this show to an entirely new level. Jason Carr's new orchestrations (stylishly conducted by Todd Ellison) reflect the quirky nightclub atmosphere that marked this production. Kelsey Grammer is perfect as the suave Georges, and Douglas Hodge is a revelation as Albin, making this larger than life character achingly human and totally irresistible. Both of these non-singers deliver their songs with surprising √©lan, and the supporting cast is uniformly excellent, most notably the delicious Christine Andreas. Jerry Herman's last Broadway score is lovingly served on this, one of the most enjoyable cast recordings of this century.


Mary Poppins - 2011 Live Cast (Australia)

(Walt Disney Recordings)

Disney and Cameron MacIntosh couldn't be bothered to invest in a recording of the Broadway production of Mary Poppins, so it is hard to see why they felt it necessary to do a "live" recording of their Australian cast. Since the stage adaptation removes nearly all of the humor from the beloved movie songs, the "live" audience can do nothing more than provide applause at the end of each number.  Over all, the performances here are as predictable and uninspired as any audio-animatronic theme park exhibit. Even fans of this show, who supposedly already have the almost identical London Cast recording, will have no compelling reason to add this pseudo-xerox to their collections.


The Music Man - London Cast (Sepia)

This CD has the same poor, echo-cursed acoustics that palgued the LP edition of this recording, so this is a sonic disappointment. But the fine performances by Van Johnson and soprano Patricia Lambert are worth hearing. The special attraction here are nine fascinating bonus tracks of demos by Johnson and composer Meredith Willson -- fellow admirers of this classic musical get to hear some delightful cut songs, as well as a rare chance to listen to the charming, gifted man who created it all.


South Pacific - 2008 Broadway Revival Cast

(Masterworks Broadway)

The Lincoln Center revival preserved on this fine recording took Broadway by surprise. Thanks to too many lackluster tours and regional stagings, the so-called experts insisted this show was "too dated" for modern audiences.  Well, Bartlett Sher's fresh direction, unfailing respect for the original material, a visually stunning production and some inspired casting put the lie to that nonsense!

Kelli O'Hara is endearing as Nellie Forbush, and opera star Paulo Szot is an amazingly sexy Emile DeBecque -- their chemistry is as palpable here as it was on stage. Likewise, the orchestra under Ted Sperling deserves top billing, energizing every track with lustrous renditions of Robert Russell Bennett's peerless original orchestrations. Matthew Morrison (just before coming to fame in Glee) is appealing as Lt. Cable, Loretta Ables Sayre triumphs as a raw-edged Bloody Mary, and the gifted Danny Burstein leads the first-rate male ensemble in a rip-roaring "Nothing Like a Dame." Rich, rewarding listening for any showtune fan, this recording is delectable proof that South Pacific can still be one hell of an enchanted evening. (Note: A special Barnes & Noble edition includes half a dozen interesting bonus tracks.)


West Side Story - 2009 Revival Cast

(Masterworks Broadway)

This is one of the most glorious Broadway scores ever written, and while nothing has ever surpassed the original 1957 cast recording, this sensational new version is miles above any of the subsequent recordings. Matt Cavenaugh and Josefina Scaglione are superb as the doomed lovers, Karen Olivo is electrifying as Anita, and the ensemble numbers are sensational.  The controversial Spanish lyrics written for this production are mostly well handled, but it is easy to hear why audiences found the bilingual versions of "I Feel Pretty" and "A Boy Like That" confusing. With most of the orchestral material included and the benefit of crystal clear digital sound, fans of this score will find much to love here. Highly recommended.


The Wizard of Oz - 2011 London Cast Recording

(Decca Broadway)

There have been numerous stage adaptations of MGM's 1939 screen version of The Wizard of Oz, and none have been able to match the magic of the original movie cast.  If this recording is any indication, the 2011 London version is no exception.  For starters, Andrew Lloyd Webber has reunited with lyricist Tim Rice to create about half a dozen tedious new songs, all painfully inferior to the beloved originals by Harold Arlen and Yip Harburg. It is hard to imagine anything more unnecessary than having Dorothy close the show with a labored balled entitled "Already Home." (Really? Yet another "home" song in a musical version of The Wizard of Oz? Really?) Much heralded newcomer Danielle Hope sounds great as Dorothy (accompanying photos make her look old enough to be the character's mother), but none of her co-stars makes any impression. Even the estimable Michael Crawford is wasted as the Wizard. The more you love MGM's Wizard of Oz, the more you should avoid this noisome, egregious recording.

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