CD Reviews

by John Kenrick

(Copyright 1998-2002)

The Pajama Game - Studio Cast (Jay)

Producer John Yap's series of "complete score" studio cast recordings on Jay has been a mixed blessing to collectors. There are some cases where uninteresting casting or overly familiar material did not justify the $30 two-disk price tags. But every now and then, they come out with something like this delicious set.

Up to now, the only Pajama Game recordings available were the almost identical Original Cast and Soundtrack versions – with most fans preferring Hollywood's endearing Doris Day to Broadway's often-flat Janis Page. This new recording outclasses both.

Judy Kaye uses her dual belt and legit talents to sing the role of Babe Williams as no one has before. "I'm Not at All in Love" is a riot, and her tender moments are just as effective. She has as much fun with the part as she did when I saw her in the 1986 NY City Opera revival. Luckily, the role of Sid is sung by Ron Raines, one of the few current leading men who can match such vocal and theatrical power. Raines pours his ravishing baritone into "A New Town" and "Hey There," making both rare pleasures. He joins Kaye to turn "There Once Was a Man" into an atomic duet – getter here than ever before.

Kim Criswell (won't somebody write this lady a new role?) has a blast as Gladys, in particular singing the delightful "Hernando's Hideaway." Brooks Almy as Mabel and Avery Saltzman as Hines (both alumni of the NYCO production) are just right in "I'll Never Be Jealous Again."  Conductor John Owens Edwards handles the orchestra and chorus deftly. The only bonus track is Raines singing a pop version of "Hey There," which is not much different from the show version but fun to have anyway. If you like Pajama Game, "take this advice I hand you like a brother" - this delightful version is well worth your time and money.

Parade - (RCA/BMG)

Yaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaawn!!! Only in the worst of Broadway seasons could this score have merited such a fuss. It is not terrible – in fact, it is a clearly professional effort, which is more than I can say for a number of recent shows. However, it is uninteresting. A Tony for Best Score? Better they should have cancelled the award that year!

Like most contemporary musicals, Parade takes itself far too seriously and winds up a victim of its own self-importance. Instead of characters, it offers singing icons; in place of basic human conflict it has principles and issues; and instead of telling a compelling story, it preaches. The cast has some fine voices, most notably Brent Carver and luscious Carlee Carmelo in the leads, but their inspired performances cannot fully redeem this often ponderous material.

Parade was a noble idea that simply did not work. The CD is as fine as any failed show could hope for. I just hope this recording does not inspire ill-advised producers/directors to try "fixing" a musical that even Harold Prince could not crack.

Peter Pan - Revival Cast (Jay Records)

I have loved this musical version of Peter Pan ever since I was a little kid in the 60s watching Mary Martin fly across my parents' black and white TV screen. So I am pleased to find the new Cathy Rigby recording is such a joy.

Anyone who has seen Rigby as Peter can testify what a well-crafted performance she gives in the role. The lady is a heck of a singer. I loved and adored both Mary Martin and Sandy Duncan in this role – and Rigby is a worthy successor. "Never-Never Land" gets its full due and the glorious "I'm Flying" scene is finally recorded with all the music and dialogue intact. While I miss the campy "Mysterious Lady," I admit that I've never seen the number work for anyone other than Mary Martin and Cyril Ritchard, so I fully understand the decision to cut it.

The supporting cast is uniformly strong, and the British accents of the children and Lost Boys are appropriate to this extremely English fairy tale. Paul Schoeffler gives a dazzling semi-operatic performance as Captain Hook, but I still wish the recording had used Rigby's first and best Hook, Stephen Hanahan.

So this new Peter Pan CD is a real winner.

Rex - Original Broadway Cast (RCA)

The creators of Rex faced an insurmountable obstacle: How do you make an audience empathize with England's Henry VIII, a bloody tyrant who massacred wives and friends for the sake of his libido and then blamed it all on his need for a male heir? Composer Richard Rodgers, lyricist Sheldon Harnick (Fiddler) and librettist Sherman Yellen gave it their best shot, but the result failed quickly and has rested in relative obscurity.

All that was left after the closing were a few horror stories about infamous leading man Nicol Williamson (among other tidbits, he slapped a chorus member's face on stage during curtain calls one night) and a rare RCA cast album that was cherished by collectors – including Andrew Lloyd Webber, who eventually convinced ex-wife Sarah Brightman to record the Rex ballad "Away From You."

RCA's CD re-mastering has stunning sound/ Rodger's next-to-last score is brimming with gorgeous melodies and Harnick's lyrics are often quite lovely. "No Song More Pleasing," "The Chase" and "Elizabeth" are first rate, and "Away From You" is one of the most ravishing love songs in any show, any time, anywhere. Ambitious choral numbers like "Te Deum" and "Christmas at Hampton Court" show that Rodgers was still in great melodic form.

Williamson displays a rich baritone voice and an adept sense of lyrical interpretation – what a shame this is his only musical to date. Along with solid performances by Ed Evanko and Tom Aldredge, we hear Glenn Close in her Broadway musical debut as Princess Mary. The idea of Applause star Penny Fuller playing both Anne Boleyn and later the Princess Elizabeth works well, and Barbara Andres makes Queen Catherine's "As Once I Loved You" heartbreakingly beautiful.

If you like the music of Richard Rodgers, Rex will be a crucial addition to your collection – and if you don't like Richard Rodgers, what the hell are you doing reading this website?

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