CD Reviews

by John Kenrick

(Copyright 1998-2002)

Darling of the Day – Original Cast (RCA Victor)

This is one of the most witty, melodic and underrated Broadway scores ever, and those who love big, well-built musical comedies are in for a real treat with this beautifully remastered recording. Jule Styne called this "my Lerner & Loewe score," but by any name it is one of his best. Lyricist Yip Harburg (Wizard of Oz, Finian's Rainbow) turned out some amazing rhymes here. Despite multiple scriptwriters, the plot was simple – Henry Leek, an artist in Edwardian England, assumes the identity of his dead valet to escape the tedium of fame. He and the butler's charming pen-pal fianc e fall genuinely in love and marry. They then have a deuce of a time keeping his true identity a secret from an unscrupulous London art dealer.

Vincent Price may seem unlikely casting as the reluctant artist, but he does a good job despite a less than optimal singing voice. Brenda Forbes as a wealthy collector and Peter Woodthrope as the art dealer make the most of the delicious showstopper "Panache." The real star on this recording is Patricia Routledge as the fianc e. Many know her as Hyacinth in the British sitcom Keeping Up Appearances, but in the 60s and 70s she gave acclaimed performances in several major productions which either died on the road (Say Hello To Harvey) or on Broadway (1600 Pennsylvania Avenue). Darling of the Day closed after only 31 performances, but Routledge so enchanted critics and theatergoers that she received the Tony for Best Actress in a Musical. To hear her sing "Let's See what Happens" or "That Something Extra Special" is pure magic – and her raucous "Not On Your Nellie" is a grand highlight.

I saw a 1999 workshop of Darling Of The Day at Manhattan's York Theatre and can attest that this is one hell of an enjoyable show. If you want to hear the latest "re-discovered" musical, grab a copy of this recording ASAP!

Finian s Rainbow - Original Cast (Sony/Columbia)

When Columbia first transferred this classic cast recording to CD, they didn t bother remastering the sound. This time around, they have decided to give us our money s worth – the sound is far clearer, and we get a few bits not heard on earlier releases.

This release also includes some fine bonus tracks. The best feature lyricist Yip Harburg (accompanied by composer Burton Lane) singing three numbers – including one which was cut before the show opened. All previous releases featured Ella Logan as soloist for "Come and Get It Day," but this CD adds an alternate take by co-star Donald Richards. Frankly, Ms. Logan s eccentric vocals have never been my cup of tea, so the alternate wins points. Throughout the recording, it is easier than ever to relish David Wayne s beguiling leprechaun – the first musical performance ever to win a Tony.

Its a joy getting reacquainted with Harburg's wordplay and Lane's catchy melodies. "Something Sort of Grand-ish" and "When the Idle Poor Become the Idle Rich" are reminders of a time when wit and rhyme went hand in hand on Broadway, and "When I m Not Near the Girl I Love" had me laughing out loud as it revels in the music of the English language.

If you already the earlier Finian's Rainbow CD release, this upgrade is definitely worth getting. If you don't know this show, treat yourself! (Now if only the charming but underrated soundtrack would make it to digital format too.)

Flower Drum Song - Original Cast (Sony/Columbia)

This edition has no previously unreleased material, but the 20-bit remastering does offer some improvement over the previous CD release the orchestra is more audible, and the overall sound warmer. Flower Drum Song takes a positive, funny look at Chinese family traditions clashing with 1950s American culture. The Rodgers & Hammerstein score has some wonderful songs the ravishing "Love Look Away," "A Hundred Million Miracles," "You Are Beautiful" and "I Am Going To Like It Here" show R&H capturing the essence of a culture without copying it one of their hallmarks. Myoshi Umeki's charm and Pat Suzuki's razzle-dazzle are still highlights, and the entire cast is solid. If you don't know this score, it is well worth your time and money.

In recent years, producers have shied away from Flower Drum Song because of its all-oriental casting requirements, and others fear that the story would be frowned by the PC police. What a pity!

Floyd Collins - Original NY Cast (Nonesuch)

This show has garnered a lot of attention since a brief but critically acclaimed run at New York's Playwrights Horizons in 1996. It was an auspicious debut for composer/lyricist Adam Guettel. Theatre people who saw Floyd Collins (and many who did not) speak of it as a sign of hope for the future of the musical theatre. As this exquisite recording affirms, this score is fresh, adventurous, and fascinating and that is always something to get excited about.

Based on the true story of a 1920s dust bowl farmer who was caught in a cave while searching for a tourist attraction-sized cavern on his land, this show focuses on the ways a media-milked tragedy effects people. Common lives sing eloquently, and the greatness of little things resonates. When Floyd faces death, he sings of seeing far into "the starlight that is what we are." Christopher Innvar sings the title role with passion and power, but the entire cast (including Titanic's Brian d'Arcy James) makes the most of this intricate score. This is not old-style showtune time. If you want to sink your teeth into a "challenging" score that will grow on you with every hearing, Floyd Collins belongs in your collection.

Composer Adam Guettel has a remarkable musical theatre lineage. His mother Mary Rodgers composed Once Upon A Mattress, and his grandfather Richard also composed a show or two. Like his grandfather, Guettel is apparently not afraid to do something new. Maybe there is something to genetics after all.

Follies - 1998 Paper Mill Playhouse Cast

It was the most talked-about musical theatre event of 1998, so it was a real loss when plans to bring this cast to Broadway fell through. (And the dreary 2000 revival made that loss all the sadder!) Luckily, Paper Mill's Follies made it to CD as the most complete and satisfying recording this challenging Sondheim score has yet received.

Each of the Broadway veterans in this cast turns in a sensational performance. Track by track, this recording builds in power, an ensemble triumph woven out of star turns. Donna McKechnie gives the best singing performance of her career, and when she and Laurence Guittard soar through "Too Many Mornings," don't be surprised if it leaves a tear in your eye. Dee Hoty's "Leave You" has real sting, and no one I've ever heard matches what Tony Roberts does with "The Right Girl" and "Buddy's Blues." The massive supporting cast includes several stand-outs, most notably Kaye Ballard's "Broadway Baby" and Lilianne Montevecchie finally mastering the "Ah Paree." tongue-twisters that troubled her on the NY Philharmonic recording.

And then there is Ann Miller, who received some of the best reviews of her career in this production. Everything that we heard was true, and then some. This gallant MGM trouper takes "I'm Still Here" and makes it the kind of knockout moment that cast album collectors cherish. Primarily remembered as a dancer, Miller proved in Mame and Sugar Babies that she is one hell of a singer. In a show biz career that spans more than sixty years (she made her film debut in the 1930s), Ms. Miller can honestly say she has known top billing, touring in stock, and all the other tribualations in this showstopper. Miller's heart and soul fill every line. Some incredible ladies have recorded this song over the years, but this lady beats them all.

Stephen Sondheim has written wondrous scores before and since, but Follies will always have a special place in my affections. Sondheim's deep love for and knowledge of musical theatre history adds to every number not just an authenticity of style, but of spirit. A lost era roars for the last time, giving the song styles of 1930s and 40s revues psychological punch. Songs like "Who's That Woman" and "Buddy's Blues" had enough melodic pizzazz to reassure matinee matrons, but the lyrics looked into dark regions of the mind that other composers had never dared venture into.

This recording which includes a great appendix of numbers cut from the show allows us to hear Follies in its full glory. It took a quarter of a century for this show to get its due. Thank heaven, Paper Mill, and record producer Robert Scher that we have this wonderful Follies on CD.

Footloose - Original Broadway Cast

If you like this show, you'll love this recording. For my money, this was nothing more than an attempt by cynical producers to come up with something for parents too scared to send their kids to see Rent. (Heck, Rent isn't really scary - just sophomoric.) I know that plenty of people enjoyed Footloose, and more power to them! To me, it was noisy drivel. But hey, any show that bucks the critics and keeps running deserves some respect, right? Like Merlin, Beatlemania, Sarava . . .

Forbidden Broadway Cleans Up Its Act - 1999 Cast (DRG)

The fifth recording in the Forbidden Broadway series is not the funniest, but has some great moments. Gerard Alessandrini's better parodies affectionately giggle at the weakness of hit shows and major stars as in "Super-Frantic-Hyper-Active-Self-Indulgent-Mandy," his latest swipe at Patinkin's eccentric vocal stylings. However, when Alessandrini's wit fails (as it often does here), the cleverness turns bitter and is sometimes downright mean. For example, attacks on Ragtime and veteran star Ann Miller are mean spirited and unfunny. As someone who's never been able to turn out a decent original show of his own, Alessandrini would do well to avoid such nastiness. He has churned out these parodies for so many decades that he had negun (intentionally or not) to repeat himself. Both the Patinkin and Miller numbers recycle jokes he used in previous editions.

It is great that Forbidden Broadway still provides performers with work, but I wonder if it might not be a waste to keep turning out cast CD's when there clearly is not enough new quality material to justify the effort.

42nd Street - Revival Cast (Q/Atlantic)

This smash hit revival looks and sounds sensational on stage, but it loses much of its impact in the transition to CD. That is no fault of the recording itself, which is handsomely produced and includes all the delightful additions to the score. Those who loved this production will find plenty to smile here, with the luscious Christine Ebersole as the sonic standout. But the orchestra sounds surprisingly subdued at times and some of the leads are not at their best. The most surprising disappointment: the tap ensembles which rumble so grandly at the Ford Center fizzle into mere clickety-clacks here no match for the rolling thunder captured on the classic 1981 recording. This is one time digital does not outclass analog.

Fosse - Original Broadway Cast

A revue consisting of great dance numbers is bound to lose a lot as a cast recording. The Fosse CD is strictly for those who want the music to some classic stage and screen dance sequences. The orchestra is tops, the singing is pleasant (if somewhat anonymous), and the sound quality flawless. Longtime collectors like myself have most of this material on other cast & soundtrack recordings. For those whose collections are relatively new, this CD may be more worthwhile.

The Full Monty - Original Bway Cast (RCA Victor)

When The Full Monty roared into town on a wave of rave reviews, I took heart. A hit musical comedy? It all sounded too good to be true. Well, it was. This energetically performed recording reveals a score that is little more than noisy pseudo-pop. Wit? The only real laugh-getting line is a string of unprintable profanities, and that is not musical comedy just locker room illiteracy. Some of the melodies are cheerful but all are forgettable. The gay love song is so generic that it sounds like a Shaker hymn. David Yazbek has never written a Broadway score before. The result isn't "pop" so much as it is "pap." Patrick Wilson leads the strong ensemble cast, which includes such superb veterans as Kathleen Freeman and Andre De Shields. Numbers that critics hailed as showstoppers fizzle out here, and if this talented bunch cannot make this stuff tick, no one can.

The critics - including Ben Brantley in The NY Times - should be ashamed of themselves for applauding this score. It has nothing to do with good theatre and everything to do with acclaiming a sow's ear as a silk purse. Terrence McNally's book is hilarious, but these songs are so banal that no libretto could redeem them.

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