CastAlbums.org: REVIEW: Doctor Zhivago – Original Broadway Cast Recording

Originally published on CastAlbums.org.

Doctor ZhivagoI don’t think any of us expected to hear a cast recording from Doctor Zhivago, a show that had more above-the-title producers than performances on Broadway. But we are living in an improbably generous new golden age of cast recordings, where all but one musical from last season (Holler If Ya Hear Me) were preserved this way, and to my ears, it’s the shortest-lived shows that have benefitted the most. 

By most accounts, Doctor Zhivago on stage was a long, confusing bore. I can’t say that the recording is any less confusing, but it’s far from boring. Its five-way love tangle set against a complicated political war makes Doctor Zhivago feel like the love child of Les Misérables and Aspects of Love, with a splash of Anastasia for good measure. There are a lot of characters, relationships, locations, and historical events to follow. However, the score by composer Lucy Simon and lyricists Michael Korie and Amy Powers also benefits from comparison to those shows, with soaring love ballads, atmospheric choral scene-setting, and pulsing battle numbers keeping things varied and lively.Danny Troob‘s Disney-esque orchestrations (for an 18-piece ensemble) heighten both the romance and the Russian flavor of the music. (Additional orchestrations were written by Steve Margoshes, Ned Ginsburg,Louis King, and David Siegel.)

Tam Mutu made his Broadway debut as the titular physician, and he possesses a strong, romantic baritone that should make him a good candidate for future revivals of musicals from the 1950s. He’s at his best in the love duets, and the show provides plenty for him to sing with both Kelli Barrett as Lara and Lora Lee Gayer as Tonia. Barrett’s Lara is the main love interest, and she possesses a gorgeous vocal mix that brings layers of complexity to a part that could have easily been flattened into that of a generic ingenue. She particularly shines in her early solo “When The Music Played.” Gayer has a more traditionally legit soprano voice, and she’s given ample room to shine in numbers like “Watch the Moon” (a duet with Mutu) and “It Comes as No Surprise” (a duet with Barrett). Paul Alexander Nolan, playing one of the competing lovers who becomes (SPOILER ALERT) a rebel commander (like he’s both Marius and Enjolras in the same show!) has a strong tenor voice well-matched to songs like “No Mercy At All.” The love pentagon is rounded out byTom Hewitt as Komarovsky, who has fewer moments in the spotlight but provides the kind of solid character work he’s become known for over the years.

The album, produced by Robert Sher, features very little dialogue, which makes trying to follow the story nearly impossible without the aid of the long and detailed plot synopsis included in the liner notes. The upside of this choice is that so many of these numbers excerpt well from the album, should you be in the habit of creating your own playlists. The booklet, designed by executive producer Van Dean, includes close to two dozen gorgeous color production photos (by Matthew Murphy), all the lyrics, a brief essay by Jonathan Schwartz, and some background on the bonus tracks. Those tracks — two on the physical CD, three on the digital release — are pleasant but unnecessary piano-solo and “cabaret” versions of songs from the show. Giving over that time to a little more dialogue for the sake of storytelling might have been wiser.

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