Flops on CD: O to R
Reviews by John Kenrick
(Copyright 2000, Revised 2003)
Click on the links below to reach a specific review.
Oh, Brother! - Original Cast Records
This sweet musical comedy and its fantastic cast deserved far better than the off-handed dismissal they got from the critics. Like re-setting the plot of Shakespeare's Comedy of Errors in the Middle East was a sin? Composer Michael Valenti and lyricist Donald Driver wrote a charming score, and this cast recording proves that those of us who liked it were far from wrong.
The delightful ensemble opening "We Love An Old Story" sets the farce in motion. David-James Carroll and Harry Groener play twins separated at birth, getting into mistaken identity situations that involve them with a bevy of harem maidens - including Judy Kaye, Alyson Reed and Mary Mastrantonio. Those three ladies offer the appropriately named "Loud and Funny Song," a genuine showstopper. Highlights include "OPEC Maiden" and the raunchy "How Do You Want Me?" If you are looking for a few good laughs, or need a great show for a college or community theatre, Oh Brother! is worth checking out.
Out of This World - Sony & DRG
In the wake of Kiss Me Kate's massive success, Cole Porter wrote a delightful score for this adaptation of Amphitryon the story of the heavenly and earthly chaos that ensues when Jupiter peruses mortal women. The original production fared poorly, but the music survives in two recordings available on CD.
The original 1950 cast recording will delight any Porter buff, with comedienne Charlotte Greenwood shining as Juno, Jupiter's frustrated spouse. She is featured in "I Sleep Easier Now" and "Nobody's Chasing Me." She is joined by David Burns for the envenomed reprise of "Cherry Pies Ought to Be You" a classic Broadway moment! William Eythe, Priscilla Greenfield, William Redfield and Barbara Ashley unleash their fine voices on "Where Oh Where," "I Am Loved," "They Couldn't Compare to You," "No Lover" . . . hard to beat this score!
The acclaimed City Center "Encores" cast recorded their performance for DRG in 1995. It is a fine version, with Andrea Martin a delight as Juno, and Marin Mazzie, La Chanze, Ken Page and Peter Scolari in the solid supporting cast. This version includes several minutes worth of material that did not fit onto the original recording, as well as some extra bits of dialogue.
While I think the 1950 cast is stronger, both recordings are very entertaining, and this score gives us Cole Porter at his peak. So treat yourself to either version and think back to a time when something this rich could be lightly dismissed.
Pacific Overtures - RCA Victor
If you are serious about Broadway musicals, particularly the works of Stephen Sondheim, you have to include this CD in your collection. Using oriental stage techniques (screens, an almost all-male cast, etc.) to tell the story of Admiral Perry forcing the Japanese to trade with the West, Pacific Overtures was simply too much for mainstream Broadway audiences in 1976. An acclaimed Off-Broadway revival also proved a hard sell maybe Americans will never fully cotton to this innovative show.
There are several versions on CD, but the original Broadway cast recording remains definitive. Mako heads the talented cast of unknowns. There are several beautiful songs ("There is No Other Way," "Pretty Lady"), as well as three extended musical scenes that almost rate as mini-musicals
- "Chrysanthemum Tea" has the weak-willed Mikado being urged by his ruthless mother to do something about the fearsome American visitors. His inaction leads her to apply an ancient remedy.
- "Someone in a Tree" combines the eyewitness (and ear-witness) accounts of common folk who were on hand for Japan's historic negotiations with Perry.
- "Please Hello" uses a potpourri of 19th Century musical styles to parody the Western powers sweeping in to take advantage of Japan's diplomatic naivet .
No one including Sondheim himself has ever tried anything quite like this again. An excellent director open to the unconventional could work wonders with Pacific Overtures, and the adventurous listener will find this recording a prize.
Parade - RCA Victor
I know this score won a Tony and has its fans, but to be blunt, Parade bored me. I never heard anyone say a kind word about the show during its brief run. After it closed and people realized that Footloose (shudder) was the other major new Broadway musical that year, many of the same theatre buffs who originally yawned at Parade suddenly proclaimed its virtues. Go figure.
It was certainly a noble effort, telling the true story of how an innocent Jewish man was accused of murder and lynched by a Southern mob. Jason Robert Brown's score is literate and thoroughly professional, which set it above the meager competition. Brent Carver and Carolee Carmello headed a solid cast, and their duet "This Is Not Over Yet" is a standout moment. Although Parade has its virtues, I don't think any production will make an electrifying evening of this preachy, pretentious tuner.
Prettybelle - Varese Sarabande
The story of a Southern housewife driven to debauchery and alcoholic schizophrenia by a series of family tragedies was a bizarre choice for a musical. Composer Jule Styne and lyricist Bob Merrill came up with a score that took amazing risks and boasted several bona fide showstoppers. Sadly, the material was just too much for audiences to take. Even the great Gower Champion was unable to make the show work, and it closed in Boston. The leading cast members reunited years afterwards for this fine recording, which is prized by collectors because of its outrageous humor.
The divine Angela Lansbury dazzles in an array of wacky numbers, including "Manic Depressives Don't Do Re-writes," "The No-Tell Motel" and "When I'm Drunk I'm Beautiful.". Her more tender moments ("I Met a Man," "To a Small Degree") are also vintage Angela and guaranteed to please. Mark Dawson is a hoot as her redneck sheriff husband, especially in the misogynistic "You Ain't Hurtin' Your Ole Lady None," and Peter Lombard and Michael Jason are both first-rate in supporting roles. If the unconventional appeals to you, this recording may prove to be a major favorite.
Rex - RCA Victor
There is probably no way to make a man who beheads his wives into a sympathetic character, but Richard Rodgers and Sheldon Harnick sure as heck made this one sing. Even though the musicalization of the life of Henry VIII seemed ponderous on stage, the magnificent score makes for a fascinating cast recording.
Shakespearean actor Nicol Williamson sings beautifully, and Penny Fuller does brilliant double duty as Anne Boleyn (Act I) and Princess Elizabeth (Act II). Williamson and Fuller share the luscious ballad "Away From You," and Williamson teams with Ed Evanko for the delightful "No Song More Pleasing." Barbara Andres as Catherine of Aragon sings the heartbreaking "As Once I Loved You," and Glenn Close makes her Broadway musical debut as Princess Mary in the ironic "Christmas at Hampton Court." There are some impressive ensemble numbers, including a witty assessment of Henry's randy mating habits called "The Chase." This lush recording is a longtime personal favorite and comes highly recommended.
The Robber Bridegroom - Original Cast Records
After this pleasant but forgettable show's brief run, Barry Bostwick won a Tony for his performance as the sexy title hero. This CD does little to fix the sound problems that made the LP hard to listen to. The Robert Waldman-Alfred Uhry score has a folksy hillbilly feel and "Once Upon the Natchez" is a fun opening number. While I can't say too many of the other songs appeal on this recording, friends tell me that the show works well in performance. Bostwick was a great choice for the title role, and Ernie Sabella and Stephen Vinovich are featured in the solid supporting cast. I strongly suspect that any number of regional theatres could do well with this show. If you have a roguish hunk of a leading man on hand and an audience with a taste for country music, go for it.