As a shameless Rodgers & Hammerstein fan, I think
Carousel is one of their best. With so many versions available,
it is especially frustrating to report that no single recording has everything in place.
- The Original Broadway Cast (MCA) was recorded for the 78 rpm format, so
several numbers had to be abridged. But that is made up for by other factors. Just listen
to John Raitt and Jan Clayton sing "If I Loved You" one of the most
sumptuous moments in cast recording history. The fine supporting cast suffers from the many
cuts. There is a brief section of "Soliloquy" here that you will hear nowhere
else soon after the recording came out, R&H cut it from the score. The
current CD remastering has excellent sound, making this more enjoyable than ever.
- The Soundtrack (Capitol) is so-so, despite the film being an
above average Hollywood adaptation. Gordon Macrae (last minute
replacement for a disgruntled Frank Sinatra) and Shirley Jones are in fine voice, but
their numbers are often abridged. Overall a good recording, but you're better off watching
the handsome film.
- The Command Studio Cast (Command/ABC) is not yet on CD (aaauuuggghhh!!!), but
is so sensational that you should grab an LP copy if one comes your way. Alfred Drake and Met
diva Roberta Peters are magnificent, with Jay Blackton conducting and NY City Opera
stars Norman Treigle, Lee Venora and Claramae Turner in the supporting roles.
Sumptuous singing! The title waltz is abridged, but that made it possible to include
more of the score. Hard to find, despite extensive cuts to the score, this is one of the best Carousel recordings.
- The ABC TV Cast (Columbia) is not on CD, but that's no loss. With a supporting cast of mostly unknowns,
Robert Goulet turns in a
self-indulgent performance that must have infuriated Richard Rodgers. Patricia Neway, (the original Mother Abbess in
Sound of Music) turns in a superb "You'll Never Walk Alone"
this recording only shows up on my turntable occasionally thanks to her.
- The Lincoln Center Cast (Sony CD) has John Raitt back in the lead,
and sounding great on the remastered CD. Susan Watson (Carrie)
and Jerry Orbach (Jigger) are on hand for some scene stealing, and Reid
Shelton is a charming Mr. Snow. For decades this was
the most complete LP recording of Carousel, and remains a pleasure
- The MCA Studio Cast (MCA) is a real treat, with the luscious Barbara Cook
preserving her acclaimed performance as Julie Jordan. Samuel Ramey is that rare thing,
an opera star who knows how to sing showtunes effectively his booming
bass is most pure heaven here. Sarah Brightman is a delightful Carrie, and David Rendall
a musically outstanding Mr. Snow. With Paul Gemignani conducting, this is as good as
a studio cast recording can be.
- The 1993 London Cast (RCA) is quite lovely, except that lead
Michael Hayden is not up to the vocal demands of Billy Bigelow. The rest
of the cast is uneven.
- The 1994 Broadway
Revival Cast (Angel) of the same production has Hayden repeating his musically
uneven performance, but otherwise I think the New York cast is much
stronger. I love
Sally Murphy's Julie, and Audra Ann McDonald is the finest Carrie I've ever seen or
heard. Along with the other uncut glories of this score, the revival recordings include
a sumptuous new version of the second act Pas de Deux. William David Brohn's new orchestrations are delicious.
Final Carousel verdict: Between them, the 1994 Broadway Revival Cast
and Command Studio LP give you the best of
everything but the MCA studio cast is also outstanding.
If Rodgers and Hammerstein are your thing, you can never
have too many good recordings of Carousel.
Fiddler on the Roof
The tale of Tevye and his family has delighted audiences the world over for more
than four decades, so it is no surprise that Bock and
Harnick's glorious score has been recorded in all sots of versions. But buy
cautiously playing with Fiddler's, a fan can get burned.
- The Original Broadway Cast on RCA Victor is a classic, with Zero Mostel's
visceral Tevya heading the superb ensemble. Maria Karnilova is definitive as Golde, and both
Burt Convy and Austin Pendleton are standouts. The excellent CD remastering includes the
wedding scene's famous "bottle dance," plus Bea Arthur's hilarious "Rumor."
The entire score shimmers an essential recording in any show lover's
- The London Cast on Sony/Columbia has Topol and a capable supporting cast.
Although enjoyable, this recording cannot match the original NY
- The London Studio Cast stars opera baritone Robert Merrill pleasant, but his
acting is strictly borscht belt. Molly Picon is (of course) enchanting as Golde.
- The Columbia Studio Cast preserves Hershel Bernardi's acclaimed Tevye an
- The Soundtrack has a fine performance by Topol and a capable supporting cast.
A joy on video/DVD, this film would have been stronger if they had picked up the pace a
bit. There is such a thing as too much Fiddler. The stunning violin solos were recorded by Isaac
- There are Foreign Versions in more languages than any other show score I know of.
The Israeli, German and Japanese casts are all enjoyable to one degree or
another. There are also versions in Swedish, Spanish. . . even one in a mixture
of Italian and Yiddish. Your call.
The final Fiddler verdict: The Original Broadway Cast is the
Stephen Sondheim's cult classic has enjoyed several star-studded recordings. Some are clearly
superior, but "faced with these Lorelei's, what man can moralize?"
- The Original Broadway Cast (Angel/Capitol) was sensational, but time constraints
forced some painful cuts ("Broadway Baby" get only one verse!) in this often
thrilling recording. Alexis Smith, Dorothy Collins, Gene Nelson
and John McMartin are the stuff that theatrical legends are made of, and Yvonne DeCarlo belts
the heck out of "I'm Still Here." Buffs so loved this recording that it kept the show's
memory alive and led to all that followed. I can't imagine any serious showtune fan not
owning this one.
- Sondheim - A Musical Tribute preserves a gala concert that featured several
original Follies stars. A knowing audience cheers sensational performances by
Alexis Smith, Dorothy Collins, and a nifty "I'm Still Here" by Nancy Walker. The clincher
is Ethel Shutta's show-stopping, full length "Broadway Baby" justice at last! You
also get a cavalcade of stars from every Sondheim show up to Night Music. For
Sondheim fans, this two CD set is cheap at any price.
- The 1985 RCA Concert Cast brought together one of the greatest all-star line ups in
musical theatre history. The New York Philharmonic and an audience of wild theatre queens
provide the background electricity, as Barbara Cook, George Hearn, Lee Remick and Mandy
Patinkin give their all. The show-stealing cameos of Comden and Green, Elaine Stritch
and Met diva Licia Albanese are too good to miss, and producer Arthur Rubin is beyond thrilling
in "Beautiful Girls." One of the most exciting musical theatre events ever recorded,
it is hard to resist this one.
- The London Cast is uneven but not without its points. Daniel Massey is not up to
the vocal demands of Ben, and David Healy's Buddy is often downright annoying. Julia McKenzie
and Diana Rigg fare far better, and the mostly unknown supporting cast is good. This production
may have been exciting on stage, but it does not come across on CD.
- The Papermill Playhouse Cast should have transferred to Broadway, but idiotic
haggling over the rights wasted a glorious production. (It was infinitely
superior to the dreary revival that flopped on Broadway two years later). What a cast!
This is easily the strongest
and most complete recording. Donna McKechnie gives the finest vocal performance of
her career, and co-stars Dee Hoty, Laurence Guittard and Tony Roberts are sensational in
every track. Phyllis Newman and Lillianne Montevecchi repeat and improve on their 1985
concert performances, and Ann Miller delivers a definitive "I'm Still Here." The
excellent addendum preserves numbers cut from the score or used in alternate
productions. Sondheim and orchestrator Jonathan Tunick were on hand to insure that this
would be a Follies for the ages.
The final Follies verdict: The Papermill
Cast is the strongest and most complete recording, but the Original Broadway and 1985
Studio versions are too good to miss. And the Sondheim Tribute cast is electrifying . . .
Nope. Sorry. There simply is no such thing as too many Follies. If this score is
a favorite, get every version you can.
Guys and Dolls
Even this foolproof score has suffered from its share of
fools, so not all recordings of Guys and Dolls are created equal. Some are
divine, and some could make "a person develop a cold."
- The Original Broadway Cast recording (MCA) had dismal sound as
an analog album, but digital re-mastering brought it new life on CD. Now
the classic cast comes through loud and clear, especially the definitive performances
of Vivian Blaine as Adelaide and Stubby Kaye as Nicely.
- The Goldwyn soundtrack has been available in various formats over the
years, but no amount of re-mastering can make up for the hopelessly miscast leads.
I adore Jean Simmons, but her "If I Were a Bell"
makes me cringe. Some find a horrifying charm in Marlon Brando's purported rendition
of "Luck Be A Lady Tonight" and Sinatra fails miserably
as Nathan. Vivian Blaine and Stubby Kaye repeat their Broadway triumphs in
what is otherwise one of the worst soundtrack treatments a Broadway score ever
- The 1975 Broadway revival (Motown) mauled Frank Loesser's score
with updated pop arrangements. "I've Never Been In Love
Before" as a disco ballad? Oy! The all-black cast includes many gifted singers (the
male chorus is glorious), but they have a hard time rising above the ill-advised
approach. Two fine standouts are Robert Guilliame as a rueful Nathan and Ken Page as
an irresistible Nicely his "Sit Down" is a socko gospel
- The National Theatre of Great Britain cast (Chrysalis) is ruined by garish
new orchestrations and generally poor singing. Even the great Julia McKenzie is at
less than her best as Adelaide. Some might enjoy hearing Brit movie stars Ian
Charleson (Chariots of Fire) and Bob Hoskins attempt to sing.
- The 1994 Broadway Revival (RCA Victor) recording manages to match and
occasionally outshine the 1951 original. Faith Prince is a perfect
Adelaide and Nathan Lane plays his namesake to perfection, but
all of the leads kick major butt here. Far more complete than any
previous recording, this CD preserves one of the best Broadway revivals
- The TER studio cast two disk version records every note of the score
and has some fine performers, but it can't match the
theatrical punch of a real cast recording. However, there is a special pleasure
in hearing the delightful Emily Loesser (as Sarah) in one of her father's
scores, and the ensemble includes many of the "usual suspects"
that theatre buffs enjoy in studio cast recordings of the 1990s.
- The US Touring Cast is pleasant but unremarkable. Theatre buffs
may enjoy hearing Maurice Hines, but this hard to find CD is not strong
enough to justify taking up still more space on a collector's overcrowded
Final Guys and Dolls verdict: The
1994 Broadway revival cast is the clear favorite, but the Original 1950 cast has some
performances too delicious to miss if you really like the show, get both.
Few shows have received as many worthwhile recordings as Gypsy, but that
doesn't mean there aren't some clunkers to stay away from:
- The Original Broadway Cast (Sony/Columbia) has Ethel
Merman in the greatest role of her career. Her "Everything's Coming Up
Roses" and shouts of "this time FOR ME!" are sacred musical
theatre moments, making
this recording a must-have. Jack Klugman is a game (if unmusical) Herbie, and the
rest of the supporting cast struggles to shine beside the ultimate Mama Rose.
Stephen Sondheim made his recording debut uttering the line "You ain't
getting eighty-eight cents outta me, Rose!" (He covered for an actor who
did not make the recording session.) The most recent CD release includes Merman
in several fascinating demos. No respectable collection is complete without this
- Rosalind Russell's singing was partially dubbed for the movie
soundtrack by Broadway's Lisa Kirk a fact she vehemently denied to
the day she died. The film is highly entertaining, but these
performances do not stand up without the visuals. This is a weak Gypsy,
and its release on CD only made it a mixed bag with clearer sound. Dear Roz should
have skipped playing "Mama" and stuck to being an "Auntie."
A mediocre British studio recording featuring Kay Medford in the lead has
not made it to CD, but that is no loss.
- The London Cast (RCA) is so good it makes you wonder why
it took over a decade for this classic to reach the West End. Angela Lansbury is
totally different from Merman but totally wonderful, more accessible yet still
someone you ultimately want to smack. This recording is
about the star, with a supporting mostly unremarkable ensemble. Zan Charisse is the
exception with a smashing "Let Me Entertain You" strip sequence. If you love
Lansbury, this is required listening.
- The 1990 Broadway Revival (Elektra Nonesuch) is a treat. While Tyne
Daly can't out-belt Merman, she can out-act damn near every other Mama Rose imaginable,
making the character a fascinating multi-layered monster. You'll hate Mama like never
before, but you're sure to love Tyne. The supporting cast includes Jonathan Hadary's
endearing Herbie, Tim Lambert's joyous Tulsa, and the funniest trio of strippers ever.
Christa Moore turns in a superb performance in the title role, and Eric Stern
conducts a definitive version of the much-loved overture.
- The TV soundtrack (Atlantic) captures Bette Midler in a sensational performance
her "Rose's Turn" is a knockout! Some may find her occasional rock/pop
vocal mannerisms jarring, but that's all part of putting her stamp on the role. A
suggestion: this production is better appreciated on DVD/video than on CD. Vocally, the
supporting cast ranges from okay (Cynthia Gibb) to well-intentioned (Peter Riegert),
but on screen they are all fun to watch.
- The 2003 Broadway Revival (Angel) has lots of great dialogue and incidental music thrown in. The digital
sound is dazzling throughout a superb job. A strong supporting cast is
ultimately overshadowed by Bernadette Peters' problematic performance as
Mamma Rose. Vulnerable, funny and seductive, Peters has superb moments but audibly
strains in "Everything's Coming
Up Roses" and the climactic "Rose's Turn." In all fairness,
Peters hits notes here she didn't bother attempting the night I saw her on
stage, but it
is disquieting to hear her forcing key notes. We should be
reacting to the character, and instead wind up feeling for the
actress ouch. Overall, this is more enjoyable here than on stage,
where a dreary physical production detracted from the
overall impact of a fine cast and glorious material.
- The 2008 Broadway Revival (Time Life) is one of the most
exciting, thoroughly satisfying cast recordings of all time, period!
Patti Lupone is electrifying as Rose, and Laura Benanti provides the
most powerful performance of the title role on record -- this is a
very different show with equally powerful talents in these two roles.
This CD includes an addendum of cut numbers performed
with brio, and the special two disc edition includes extra incidental music
and dialogue -- all gravy to
an already savory feast.
The final Gypsy verdict: Get the Original Broadway Cast
to savor Merman's legendary performance, then immerse yourself in the 2008 Revival
recording for everything else.
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