CD Reviews

by John Kenrick

(Copyright 1998-2002)

Little Me - 1998 Revival Cast

(Varese Sarabande)

I have always had a soft spot in my heart for this score. The original Broadway production starring Sid Caesar was only a modest success, and subsequent productions in New York and London have done poorly. With a book by Neil Simon and a score by Cy Coleman and Carolyn Leigh, you would think Little Me was destined for better, especially since with such jewels as "The Other Side of the Tracks," "I've Got Your Number," "Here's To Us," and the enchanting "Real Live Girl."

But the show is a cross between an epic, a satiric farce and a one-man tour de force, requiring its male lead to play seven wildly disparate roles. This worked for original star Sid Caesar, but the 1982 revival had two actors (Victor Garber & James Coco) share the task, which only made things more confusing. The latest revival did better casting the irrepressible Martin Short, but did not last beyond a limited run.

However, this production did leave behind an excellent cast recording. Some judiciously chosen snippets of dialogue make it easy to follow the story of Belle Poitrine, an impoverished girl who's generous bust leads her to wealth and fame. Faith Prince is easily the best Belle on record, making every comic twist count. Short has a blast playing most of the men in her life, proving again that he is a bona fide musical stage star. He gives each character a distinct sound, and the showstopping "Goodbye" never sounded funnier. It may be blasphemous to say it, but I would not argue with anyone suggesting that he more than matches the legendary Sid Caesar.

The supporting cast occasionally lacks the necessary spark. For example, Michael Park's "I've Got Your Number," does not have the smoldering edge that made this role a show stealer for Swen Swenson and Don Correa.

Perhaps that's why Little Me is such a difficult show to put over. This kind of high-voltage farce requires star quality performers in the brief supporting spots as well as the leads. Casting this show is not an easy task! However, it is very easy to enjoy this recording.

A Little Night Music – Original Bway Cast


There are numbers in A Little Night Music that have more style and delicate power than most full length contemporary musicals have in two and a half hours of over-produced vapidity. The original cast album has been a must-have from the day it was released in 1973 and this newly remastered CD gives it an extraordinary immediacy.

Every nuance of Hermoine Gingold's "Liaisons" shines through, and the interplay between Glynis Johns and Len Cariou in "You Must Meet My Wife" glows. Laurence Guittard and Mark Lambert's voices soar, and the original choral glories of "A Weekend in the Country" crackle as never before. Add to that D. Jamin-Bartlett's thrilling rendition of "The Miller's Son," the wonderful quartet singing "The Night Waltz" . . . you get the idea.

If musicals are your thing, stop reading – just get this release and love it! If you already have this recording in a previous format, the upgrade is more than justified. Oh yeah, they throw in a number written for the film – charming, but incidental. No additions are needed here!

Mame – Original Broadway Cast


This wonderful recording has always had good sound, even as an LP. However, the new release cuts some echo and warms things up nicely. Angela Lansbury, Bea Arthur and Jane Connell made musical theatre history here, and I know few cast album selections as delicious as Charles Braswell and the ensemble performing the title number.

The bonus tracks offer several of Jerry Herman's original demo recordings. Fascinating alternate lyrics ("It's Today" once began with "Pass the peanuts . . .") and Herman's audible enthusiasm make this must-hearing for show buffs – especially "Camouflage," a lost duet for Mame and Vera. If you already have Mame on CD, pass the old copy on and get this new edition.

Mermania - Her Private Recordings

Harbinger Records

When Ethel Merman died, it turned out that she kept a stash of private audio tapes made during her concerts and rehearsals. Now being released in a series of CD's created by composer Stephen Cole (who's work I've long admired), these lost recordings catch Merman live and unvarnished, with the power and well-timed humor that her films rarely captured.

Volume One is mostly Merman having fun with pop tunes unrelated to her career, while Volume Two is taken from a nightclub appearance in 1964. A promised third installment will include a state fair appearance she made in 1953. While the sound quality is less than optimal on some cuts, most of the selections are fascinating. Merman fans will adore this series. She was one of a kind, and we who love the golden age of the Broadway musical will always "get a kick" out of her. Can't wait for the next installment!

(If you have trouble finding this one, try – still the ultimate source for all Broadway-related recordings.)

Minnelli on Minnelli

Critics were unbelievably kind when Liza staged this tribute to her father's musical films, and they've also praised this recording. Encouraging a once-great talent in this kind of self-made humiliation is nothing less than sadism.

This performance makes it clear that Liza's voice has finally succumbed to her chemical dependencies. She sounds tattered, and her diction is downright horrifying – like she can't afford decent dental work? There isn't a single cut on this recording that doesn't leave me cringing. The saddest moment is probably when Liza makes the mistake of singing a duet with her mother's recorded voice – "The Trolley Song," of all things! She is so wildly outclassed that she let's her long-dead Momma take the final money note.

This whole project was not just unnecessary – it was pathetic. Liza Minnelli was one of the most dynamic musical entertainers of the late 20th century, but her talent is clearly a thing of the past. I will hold onto my memories of her wonderful performances in years past and put this CD in a dark corner. I take no pleasure in hearing a wasted talent prostitute herself.

The Most Happy Fella - Jay Studio Cast

At three disks, this is one of the most expensive cast recordings on CD. If you like this glorious Frank Loesser score, it is worth every penny. You get the entire show, dialogue and all. Yes, the original 1956 recording did the same, but this new set offers excellent digital sound and a fascinating line-up of material cut from the show before it opened. We also get a cast that with unique credentials.

Emily Loesser is Rosabella, the role her father wrote and her mother originated. This legacy would matter little if she was not such a fine singing actress. As it is, Ms. Loesser makes this bittersweet character radiate from start to finish. The late Metropolitan Opera star Louis Quilico is both lovable and moving as Tony, a role that won him rave reviews in a NY City Opera production several years ago. When these two sing "My Heart is So Full of You," it is a lush cascade of aural magic – digital technology gets to show its full potential at moments like this.

It has been two decades since Richard Muenz played Joey on Broadway – while he still captures the character flawlessly, his vocal powers are not what they were. So his Joey is a mixed blessing. On the other hand, Karen Ziemba is delicious as Cleo, and Don Stephenson (Emily Loesser's hubby) is thoroughly charming as Herman, and the various supporting roles are performed with capable flair. Nancy Shade brings her substantial operatic talents to the role of Marie, Tony's embittered spinster sister – a role that gets new dimension here thanks to the appendix of numbers cut from the show. Marie remains a semi-villain, but we can hear that she was far more understandable before time concerns led to cuts.

In a gesture that will delight musical buffs, Jo Sullivan Loesser sings one of Rosabella's lost numbers, her gorgeous voice and solid technique still enriching this material after 45 years. A perusal of the full cast list will reveal several familiar names in the ensemble – an indication of how anxious people were to be part of this outstanding project. If there are small flaws here and there, they disappear in the flow of so much that is wonderfully right. This is easily the best thing the Jay label has done in a long time – and a great monument to the talent of Frank Loesser. The 1956 recording remains definitive, but I'm glad I made room in the budget for this new set.

The Music Man - 2000 Bway Cast

Q Records/Atlantic

What a sensational cast recording – the best in years! Meredith Willson's masterpiece is not just done well – in some ways, its better than ever in this CD that no collector can afford to miss. The entire score is here, with delectable new orchestrations by Doug Besterman and a cast that leaves nothing to be desired.

Craig Bierko occasionally bears an audible resemblance to Robert Preston, but this intentional homage does not make his performance any less a triumph. If anything, it adds to the sense of this show's history, an ongoing delight for almost half a century. Rebecca Luker is glorious as Marian – her "My White Night" had me cheering, and both "Lida Rose" and the ravishing "Till There Was You" left me weeping with joy. Her lustrous voice is a balm for this Broadway buff's weary ears, and Marion Paroo is the role she was born to play.

The supporting cast and chorus are uniformly excellent, giving every number a rousing and soul satisfying rendition. What a pity Willson is no longer around to hear his score handled so beautifully. The much talked about finale is included – sounding hilarious! No matter how many versions of The Music Man already grace your collection, you'll be delighted to have this one. If you're anything like me and want to remember why you fell in love with musical theatre, this CD will set your face smiling and your feet tapping.

No, No, Nanette

Original Broadway Cast (Sony/Columbia)
Yes, Nanette is corny and kitschy – and I love every second of it! This recording has always been a personal favorite, but the echo in its original mastering was a bit much. This new edition clears that up, giving every selection a fresh and immediate sound. The ukuleles and tap steps in "I Want To Be Happy" sound better than ever. Vincent Youmans had a winning way with a melody – even the lesser tunes in this score are fun to hear. This is 1920s musical comedy at its sweetest and most irresistible.

Two previously unreleased tracks recorded by the original cast are included here – the "Peach on the Beach" chorus, and a charming duet for Ruby Keeler and Jack Gilford called "Only A Moment Ago." (What a pity this little gem was cut from the show!) There are also some cast radio interviews that make for fun listening. If Nanette is your thing, you will want this edition. If you don't know the score, then treat yourself to a little mindless merriment.

Oklahoma! – 1998 London Cast

First Night Records

When producer Cameron MacIntosh insisted that he had to bring his London cast of Oklahoma to Broadway because director Trevor Nunn did not have time to teach American's how to do the show properly, it was no surprise that Actor's Equity turned him down cold. What nerve! This recording has a decent performance from Hugh Jackman as Curly – but there are too many moments when his uneven vocal technique is apparent. Josephina Gabrielle is a musical disappointment as Laurie, offering the kind of singing that would barely pass muster in a suburban high school production. The most impressive performance comes from Shuler Hensley as Judd – proving the difference between a singing actor and actors who sorta kinda sing. The rest of the cast ranges from unremarkable to inappropriate. In the end, this is no match for the 1943 and 1979 Broadway cast recordings – so much for the MacIntosh ego. Pity. Rodgers and Hammerstein's landmark score deserved far better treatment than this.

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