CD Reviews: 2002-2003

Reviews by John Kenrick

(Copyright 2002-2003)

Barnum - Original Broadway Cast (Sony/Columbia)

While this remastering does improve the sound of the original CD release, the main attraction for theater buffs is a quartet of demo tracks featuring composer Cy Coleman and lyricist Michael Stewart. Along with spirited renditions of "Come Follow the Band" and "Join the Circus," we get two ballads that are so damn good you may wonder why they were cut from the show – in particular, "So Little Time" (intended as a final ballad for Charity) deserves a life of its own, in cabaret at the very least. Handsomely packaged, this joyous score still gets me cheering. Jim Dale and Glenn Close are tops, and Terri White a standout in the glorious supporting cast. Hey, its been over twenty years – why hasn't someone staged a Broadway revival.

Bravo Giovanni Original Broadway Cast (DRG)

Not all flops are created equal. Bravo Giovanni is set apart by some delightful melodies and vocally delightful performances by Met opera bass Cesare Siepi, Michelle Lee and others. The plot, involving a Roman trattoria  that fights a competing chain restaurant by stealing from its kitchen, was too silly to be believed – but thanks to this DRG release, we can skip the old liner notes (which is, sadly, all that DRG's package offers) and enjoy the handsomely remastered recording. Highlights include Maria Karnilova singing the insane "Kangaroo," and her real-life husband George S. Irving cuts his usual capers. And its grand to hear Siepi pour his black velvet voice into a showtune. Certainly not a classic, but I've seen worse shows run far longer. Fun for buffs with a taste for little-known scores.

Ernest in Love

Original Off-Broadway Cast (DRG)

This delicious adaptation of Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Ernest started life as a 30 minute TV musical, winning so much praise that the authors expanded it to full length for an off-Broadway run. The results still sound fresh, aided by a first class remastering courtesy of DRG. "A Handbag is Not a Proper Mother" and "Wicked Man" are showstopping treats, but the entire score augments Wilde's classic comedy effectively. Long overdue for a new hearing, this show – and this fun recording – will give fans of musical comedy lots to smile about.

Hairspray - Original Broadway Cast (Sony Classical)

Praise be, a shameless Broadway musical comedy! Let the dancing in the street and shouting from the housetops begin! Songwriters Marc Shaiman (who co-created the hilarious score for the South Park movie) and Scott Wittman have turned out a tuneful score that artfully teeters between hysterical humor and nostalgic sentiment, easily the best musical comedy score to hit New York since Little Shop of Horrors. Uniformly superb performances from everyone here, with special kudos to Marissa Jaret Winnokur as overweight Baltimore teenager Tracey Turnblad, and Harvey Fierstein as Tacey's omnivorous but still-sexy mother Edna. They are supported by a sensational ensemble, particularly Matthew Morrison, Corey Reynolds, Kerry Butler and Broadway veterans Dick Latessa and Mary Bond Davis. This CD is one of the most enjoyable cast recordings in decades – no wonder the show is such a sensational hit.

The It Girl - Original Off-Broadway Cast (Jay)

This charming adaptation of Clara Bow's classic 1927 silent film had an acclaimed run at NY's York Theatre, and it deserves a lot more attention from musical theatre lovers. Paul McKibbins provides a parade of period-perfect melodies, and the B.T. McNichols lyrics fit the characters to a T. Jean Louisa Kelly sparkles as the lingerie clerk who has "it" – and finds love and fame in 1920s New York. The super cast also features Jonathan Dokuchitz as the handsome boss, and Jessica Boevers as the villainess "so crooked she could hide behind a corkscrew." If a copy of this comes your way, it is well worth a listen.

Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris

Original Off-Broadway Cast (Sony/Columbia)

If you do not know this show or this classic recording, it is high time you got aquainted! With a cast of four, this intimate revue of songs by a charismatic (but then little-known) Belgian singer-songwriter won Off-Broadway's heart back in 1968. It ran for years, toured the world and became a staple of community and college theaters for more than a decade. A dazzling mix of searing ballads and pointed up-tunes, this is not fluff – "Amsterdam," "Jackie" and "If We Only Have Love" remain staples in the cabaret repertoire. If you don't fall in love with this on the first listen, trust me and stick with it – Brel is an acquired taste, but one well-worth acquiring. Elly Stone, Mort Shuman, Shawn Elliott and Alice Whitfield are all sensational, even when their sound is anything but conventional. Complete on one disc (with one added track), this is a must for serious collectors.

La Boheme - Original Broadway Cast

Dreamworks Records

Baz Luhrmann's acclaimed 1993 Australian Opera production of Puccini's beloved opera took its time getting to Broadway, but critics and audiences greeted it with cheers. We only get highlights of the score on this sonically lush recording, with all three sets of leads taking turns. Don't ask me to pick a favorite team – they all know what to do with this material. Most purists will be thoroughly satisfied, since every note is played and sung with all the heart and soul one could ask for. The only crime is that we have not been allowed to enjoy the complete score. The 1993 cast is available on a superb uncut DVD that collectors should track down.

Lil' Abner - Original Broadway Cast (Sony/Columbia)

This delicious Johnny Mercer-Gene DePaul score is a longtime favorite of mine, pure 1950s musical comedy fun served up with tons of style. "If I had My Druthers" and "I'm Past My Prime" are delicious, and the beloved Stubby Kaye stops the show with both "Jubilation T. Cornpone" and "The Country's in the Very Best of Hands." Pity that the decline of this once-popular comic strip has made this show a rarity. This release claims to be the first ever on CD (not true – I've had it on a Columbia CD release for years), and includes three numbers not included on the original album plus an alternate version of the overture. Fellow Abner fans, rejoice!

The Music Man - TV Soundtrack (Disney Records)

It pains me to tell you that this is easily the worst performance of The Music Man that I have ever heard -- and I've heard some real howlers over the years. Matthew Broderick is not just miscast as con man Harold Hill – he sounds as if he is reading through much of the score for the first time, giving a lifeless performance. Kristin Chenowith offers a luminous "Goodnight My Someone," but the keys are brought down on all her other numbers, wasting a chance to hear her at her best. The rest of the cast is competent but uninteresting – even Debra Monk's performance of Mother Paroo sufferes from an Irish brogue that comes and goes from word to word. The new orchestrations are not bad, but far from inspired. Overall, a surprising disappointment.

My Fair Lady - Original Broadway Cast (Sony/Columbia)

I will gladly grab any excuse to listen to this classic recording again, the best-ever recording of my nominee for the greatest musical ever. To my surprise, there is an audible improvement in the sound – warmer and more satisfying than the previous CD release. Harrison, Andrews, Holloway and company are just magical, and the score has more genius per track than Broadway usually manages in a full season. We also get two fun bonus tracks – one of the cast interviewed at the end of the exhausting 14 hour recording session, and another of Lerner and Loewe that includes bits of some unknown songs.

The Night of the Hunter - Studio Cast

Varese Sarabande

Don't ask me how this 1998 recording escaped my attention for so long – just take my word that it is a knockout! This is a musicalization of the powerful 1955 film about a murderous religious fanatic chasing two children to get at a fortune stolen by their father. While the subject matter sounds unlikely, the results are riveting. Claibe Richardson's melodies range from haunting to vivacious, and Stephen Cole's lyrics bring the characters to vivid life. Ron Raines makes the bloodthirsty preacher three dimensional, and Sally Mayes is irresistible as the latest widow he sets his sights on. But the show-stealer here is Dorothy Loudon, who is simply sensational as the old woman who offers the escaped children a safe home – her rendition of "One More Harvest" is everything great theatre music should be. If you are serious about musical, this challenging recording will offer you tons of pleasure – now if only someone would give New York a first-class staging of this remarkable show!

Oklahoma! - Columbia Studio Cast (Sony/Columbia

Yes, the new orchestrations are no match for the originals, and the overall effect is off base, but who can complain about a chance to hear John Raitt at his best soaring through a classic Rodgers and Hammerstein score? A very young Florence Henderson is on hand as a so-so Laurie, Met bass Ara Berbarian rumbles menacingly as Judd, and Phyllis Newman is surprisingly laid back as Ado Annie. The main problem is that the atmosphere is too syrupy, missing the edge that makes Oklahoma believable. (Case in point – this slow take on "People Will Say We're in Love" sounds downright sappy.) So the main issue here is Raitt, who played Curly throughout his career. His solos are great fun. Is that reason enough to buy this recording? That's your call.

Sibling Revelry! - Ann Hampton Callaway and Liz Callaway (DRG)

If you want to hear one of the most entertaining cabaret acts of all time, grab a copy of this delicious recording. Ann and Liz, two of the most talented siblings in the business, have a shameless blast with songs and banter aimed to delight, and oh, the harmonies are sweet! Each sister is a powerhouse – together, they offer a non-stop thrill parade. Recorded live in performance, this is as good as it gets, a showtune lovers treat.

Victor/Victoria - Soundtrack (Turner/Rhino)

We gat far more material and much better sound than on the previous independent CD release of this soundtrack. Julie Andrews, Robert Preston and Leslie Ann Warren sparkle in this, the last truly great live-action musical film to date. Among other pleasures, we get the full version of the "Cherry Ripe" aria, and Preston's campy reprise of "Shady Dame" in a laugh-filled rehearsal. This coincides with the release of the film on DVD – which is delightfully done too, I might add. The Mancini-Bricusse score is a joy to hear again – this will be spending a lot of time in my player!

Yankee Doodle Dandy - Soundtrack (Turner/Rhino)

Well its about time! For years, fans have had to settle for a lousy pirate version of this soundtrack. We finally get the real thing, with a first-class remastering and generous bits of crucial dialogue included. The best of several bonus tracks is Cagney singing the little-known Cohan song "You Remind Me of My Mother." Now what will it take to get Turner to put this classic on DVD as well?

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