Flops on CD: A to C
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Anastasia - OC Records
Eloquent and melodic, this score gets an intimate (piano only) but effective treatment on this CD. A dazzling cast is headed by three Tony winners. Judy Kaye, one of the finest performers the American musical theatre has ever known, dazzles in the title role. Opera diva Regina Resnik gives a moving performance as the Dowager Empress, and Len Cariou is perfect as General Bounine, the bold schemer out to capture the Romanov fortune. Broadway stalwarts Steve Barton, George Lee Andrews and Walter Willison are in the supporting ensemble.
Highlights include Anna's triumphant aria "I Live Again" and her endearing duet with the Empress, "Think Upon Something Beautiful." You won't want to miss Resnik's work in the finale. I don't know how this material would work on stage, but it is a treat to hear a first-class cast of singing actors make the most of such a demanding score.
Annie Warbucks - Angel
Ensemble highlights include "That's The Kind of Woman" and the under-utilized "When You Smile." If you love Annie, you will probably enjoy this recording too. Although this show has its weaknesses, theatre groups should consider producing it for family audiences.
The Baker's Wife -
Paul Sorvino (who took over the lead from Topol on tour) plays a middle aged baker who's wife leaves him for a young rake. His superb singing may take some fans by surprise, but he is brilliant in "Merci, Madam," "Any-Day-Now-Day," and the powerful lament "If I Have to Live Alone." Patti Lupone's powerful rendition of "Meadowlark" became a cult event in itself, and Kurt Peterson is wickedly funny in "Proud Lady." I know many who think Teri Ralston's "Chanson" is a jewel. No serious showtune collection is complete without this recording. The pricey double CD of the London Cast has more material but is not nearly as satisfying.
Ben Franklin in Paris - Angel
Robert Preston drips charm as Franklin, using diplomacy and romance to advance the cause of American liberty at the royal court of France. His numbers include the Harold Hill-ish "I Invented Myself" and Jerry Herman's lovely interpolated ballad "To Be Alone With You." Preston even has fun with the lesser numbers, including the silly drinking song "God Bless the Human Elbow." His monologue in the final track is a highlight.
Swedish stage star Ulla Sallert is delightful as the influential countess Franklin pursues, at her best in "How Laughable It Is" and Herman's other interpolation, "Too Charming." The ever reliable Susan Watson has several minor but endearing numbers as a Parisian girl who romances Franklin's stuffy grandson. The supporting cast is fine throughout. The CD release made this once hard-to-find recording readily accessible. Well worth having, especially for Preston fans.
The Biograph Girl - TER
What a delightful score! From the opening silent movie-style piano riffs, composer David Heneker (Half a Sixpence) offers a parade of catchy tunes in various 1912-1930 period styles. (The disco-style arrangement for "Diggin' Gold Dust" is a glaring misfit, but passes quickly.) Sheila White gets the lion's share of showstoppers as Pickford, including "Working In Flickers," "I Want to Be the Way I Am" and the first-rate title tune. The Gish and Griffith characters have less interesting material, but their ballads are good. The chorus gets the jaunty Charleston showstopper "Nineteen Twenty Five."
Though not on a par with Mack and Mabel (by the by, Mack Sennett shows up here too), The Biograph Girl makes for highly enjoyable listening and would certainly be worth investigating for community or college productions.
Little Whorehouse Goes Public - Varese Sarabande
This hopelessly tacky clunker closed in days. Leads Dee Hoty, Scott Holmes, Ronn Caroll do their damnedest. They and an energetic supporting cast all deserved much better material. "I'm Leavin Texas" is breezy and guaranteed to piss off jingoistic Lone Star natives. Otherwise, the Carol Hall score ranges from forgettable to just plain lousy. "Let the Devil Take Us" rates as one of the most confusing, irrelevant opening numbers in Broadway history. Theatre companies are advised to avoid this show especially if they are located anywhere in or near Texas.
Birds of Paradise - TER
Composer David Evans and lyricist Winnie Holzman provided a polished score, and the solid cast of Broadway musical favorites couldn't be better. Todd Graff, Donna Murphy, Christa Moore, John Cunningham, Andrew Hill Newman, J.K. Simmons and Barbara Walsh are all in top form, and Mary Beth Peil devastates with "You're Mine" a killer ballad that left the audience roaring the night I attended. The opening "So Many Nights" does a great job of setting the scene, and "Penguins Must Sing," from the show within the show, is a hoot. Birds of Paradise is a natural for community theatre productions, and the outstanding cast makes this recording a must-have for serious collectors.
Blues in the Night - First Night
The London cast recording has socko performances by Debby Bishop, Maria Friedman and Clarke Peters. Carol Woods is a standout as the "Woman of the World," scoring points with every number. The score consists of many familiar and lesser-known blues tunes. Any small theatre group that can boast four solid African American singers would do well give this show a try, and collectors will certainly enjoy this CD.
Bring Back Birdie - Varese Sarabande
The show was unwieldy and poorly staged, but the score offers plenty of campy fun. Chita Rivera (revisiting her Bye Bye Birdie role as Rose) offers showstopping renditions of "I Like What I Do" and "A Man Worth Fightin' For." As Albert, Donald O'Connor sings the humorous "Middle Age Blues" and has fun throughout. When I caught the show, the closing rendition of "Rosie," had the crowd roaring its approval indicating how much better off the composers might have been if they had simply revived the much-loved original.
Maria Karnilova, as Albert's hateful mother, makes the most of "I Love 'Em All," and Elvis-impersonator Marcel Forestieri tears the place apart singing Conrad's "You Can Never Go Back." This recording is a must-have for fans of the original Birdie, but I would warn theatre groups to think twice before trying to produce the disjointed book.
Canterbury Tales - Angel
You'll find no madrigals here. The score is pure 1960s British rock-pop, a sound which has not aged well. Most of the selections are less than two minutes in length, sounding more like snippets than complete songs. Consequently, the cast gets few opportunities to shine on this recording. D'Oyly Carte veteran Martyn Green plays the narrator, and his troupe of pilgrims includes George Rose, Ed Evanko, Sandy Duncan and Reid Shelton. As the Wife of Bath, Hermoine Baddley sings the boisterous "Come On and Marry Me Honey."
I saw the charming but unsuccessful 1978 Broadway revival, and can testify that this musical is very entertaining on stage a great choice for college groups. However, as a listening experience, I think Canterbury Tales leaves a lot to be desired.
The Burton Lane-Alan Jay Lerner score has moments of genuine magnificence. The romantic "It's Time for a Lovesong" is pure magic, as is "Love Before Breakfast." The sentimental trio "One More Walk Around the Garden" is gorgeous, and "Someone in April" is one of the most ingenious plot exposition numbers ever written. Brown has a blast with the understated "Why Him?" and the sizzling "I'm a Woman." Sorvino gets to work with playful Lerner rhymes in the title tune, and offers some impressive pyrotechnics throughout. One hopes Carmelina will get more stagings. It is too good a score to lie forgotten.
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