CastAlbums.org: REVIEW: New solo discs from Cheyenne Jackson and Jose Llana

Originally published on CastAlbums.org.

Jose Llana: AltitudeThis summer, two of Broadway’s leading men released new recital discs capturing studio versions of recent concert set lists: Jose Llana‘s Altitude, based on his Lincoln Center American Songbook concert of last year, and Cheyenne Jackson‘sRenaissance, adapted from the “Music of the Mad Men Era” pops concert he’s performed with a number of different orchestras.

Llana’s album is largely a career retrospective, featuring songs from On the Town,Saturn Returns (aka Myths and Hymns), The King and I, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, and Here Lies Love, with a few additional songs from both Broadway and the world of pop. The songs from On the Town (“Lonely Town“) and Saturn Returns (“Icarus,” “Hero and Leander,” and the title number) are particularly welcome, as neither production resulted in original cast albums and the material highlights what Llana does best: sensitive singing right at the border of art song and pop. Continue reading

CastAlbums.org: REVIEW: Paint Your Wagon – Encores! Cast Recording

Originally published on CastAlbums.org.

Paint Your WagonPaint Your Wagon is exactly the kind of show Encores does best. It was an early effort by one of Broadway’s most successful songwriting teams (Lerner & Loewe), working in an explicitly American idiom (gold-rush Americana). The show was a moderate success, but the cast album was severely truncated. The film bore little resemblance to the show, nor was it very good. So despite a couple of hit songs (“I Talk to the Trees” and “They Call the Wind Maria“), the show more or less faded into obscurity.

When the curtain rose at City Center in March, 2015 to a gloriously large orchestra (44 musicians!) playing a pulsing overture that immediately evoked the American west, audiences knew they were in for a treat. With a trio of perfectly cast leads — Keith Carradine as old miner Ben Rumson, Alexandra Socha as his daughter Jennifer, and Justin Guarini as the love interest Julio — songs familiar and surprising sprang to life.  Continue reading

CastAlbums.org: REVIEW: Three Alfred Drake Reissues

KismetOriginally published on CastAlbums.org.

Alfred Drake is having a moment. Sure, he died nearly a quarter-century ago, but with three of his albums newly available, it’s a great time to be an Alfred Drake fan – or to become one.

Once Broadway’s leading baritone, Drake famously originated roles in Babes in Arms, Oklahoma!, Kismet, and Kiss Me, Kate, recording the latter two twice, with later stereo discs complementing the original monaural versions.

That stereo version of Kismet, a recording of the 1965 Music Theater of Lincoln Center revival, is the first of the Drake reissues, out now from Masterworks Broadway. Drake reprises the role he originated, Hajj, joined this time around by Anne Jeffreys as Lalume, Lee Venora as Marsineh, Richard Banke as the Caliph, and Henry Calvin as the Wazir.  Continue reading

CastAlbums.org: REVIEW: Merman’s Apprentice – Original Cast Recording

Originally published on CastAlbums.org.

054871If you’ve ever uttered the phrase “they don’t make ’em like they used to anymore,” I would kindly direct your attention to Merman’s Apprentice, the new musical byStephen Cole (book & lyrics) and David Evans (music), which tells “a musical fable” about La Merm mentoring a teenage star to take over the role in David Merrick‘s all-children version of Hello, Dolly!

Wait, what? No, Merrick never pulled off that stunt, though one can easily imagine him hearing about this show from the afterlife and ruefully thinking, “Why didn’t I think of that?” This is fable, not documentary. But like the best fables, it has plenty of heart and you might learn a little something from it too.  Continue reading

CastAlbums.org: REVIEW: The Hunchback of Notre Dame – Studio Cast

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300_hunchbackIf you only know The Hunchback of Notre Dame from the 1996 Disney animated film, you’re in for a surprise the first time you listen to the newly released Studio Cast Recording of Disney Theatrical’s stage adaptation. Taking a more “adult” approach to the material by hewing closer to the Victor Hugo source, composer Alan Menken, lyricist Stephen Schwartz, and librettist Peter Parnell have given us a Hunchback that bleeds, lusts, and ultimately soars.  Continue reading

CastAlbums.org: REVIEW: The Wiz Live! Original Soundtrack of the NBC Television Event

Originally published on CastAlbums.org.

197.pngIt makes sense that The Wiz Live!, the best of NBC’s recent live musical broadcasts, should produce the best album of the three as well. Even so, you might be surprised by just how good this soundtrack is. As exciting as the live show was, there were some iffy notes and more than a few moments of sub-par sound mixing. None of that is in evidence on the album. Superstar producer Harvey Mason, Jr. and co-producer/music director Stephen Oremus have lovingly spun the raw material from the broadcast into recording gold. And despite the addition of effects (most obviously a lot of additional reverb and yes, some auto-tuning) to create a sonic experience more akin to a studio-recorded pop album, The Wiz Live! never sounds overproduced and, oddly enough, comes out more theatrical than the self-consciously pop original cast recordingContinue reading

CastAlbums.org: REVIEW: What About Today? Melissa Errico Live at 54 Below

What About Today?Originally published on CastAlbums.org.

One of the joys of spending an hour of so with a Broadway star in a cabaret setting is the ability to really get a sense of who they outside of the parts they play. Melissa Errico‘s new album, What About Today? Live at 54 Below, gives you the sense that Errico is all over the place. Capturing a cabaret act conceived and directed byRichard Jay-Alexander, the disc opens with a track called “Why are actors so nuts?” and that very well could be the title of the album.

The good news is that Errico’s brand of nuts has produced a diverse and often thrilling set of songs that might not otherwise find their way onto the same album, from the art-pop ofMichel Legrand (“The Summer Knows”) and Burt Bacharach (“April Fools”) to musical theater classics like “How Are Things in Glocca Morra?” (Finian’s Rainbow) and “Small World” (Gypsy) to more contemporary fare like “The Heart is Slow to Learn” (Dracula) and even a dip into disco (“Last Dance”). Her voice is as beautiful as ever, equally at home lending warmth to the soprano numbers and character to her belt. The three-piece band under the direction of Tedd Firth provide a strong backbone for the evening, and producer Michael J. Moritz Jr. preserves the intimacy of the 54 Below experience — just add your own cocktail.

As for the bad news? Well, patter isn’t Errico’s strong point, and there’s a lot of it on this album. She doesn’t always trust her material, leading to oddities like half-a-rendition of “It’s An Art” from Working, like she hadn’t convinced herself as to whether the number was in her act or not.

Still, the album’s delights far outweigh the questionable moments (and for those, we have the “skip” button). Errico’s “No More” (from Into the Woods) prove the she’s as good with a lyric as she is with a melody, and her long-time fans will thrill to finally have a recording of her feisty “Show Me” from My Fair Lady (which Errico starred in on Broadway in 1993).

CastAlbums.org: REVIEW: Cry-Baby: The Musical – Studio Cast

Originally published on CastAlbums.org.

Cry-BabyCry-Baby was one of the more anticipated musicals of the 2008 Broadway season. Coming on the heels of Hairspray, the show gave a similar treatment to the film John Waters made after the original Hairspray. Hairspray‘s book writers, Thomas Meehan and Mark O’Donnell, were once again on board, this time teamed with the songwriting team of Adam Schlesinger (best known then as the bassist from Fountains of Wayne, the band that gave us “Stacey’s Mom“) and David Javerbaum(then executive producer of The Daily Show). Despite a talented cast (full of youthful enthusiasm but no star names to speak of) and a fun rockabilly score, the show failed to find its audience and closed within a couple of months.  Continue reading

CastAlbums.org: REVIEW: Ann Veronica – Original London Cast

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Ann VeronicaTiming is not Ann Veronica’s strong point. She was first dreamed up by H. G. Wells for his 1909 novel, which was ahead of its time in its portrait of a young woman seeking to make her own way in the world untethered by the patriarchal restrictions of British society at the time. Consequently, the novel was denounced as a bad influence. Lyricist David Croft had the idea to adapt the novel for the musical stage in the mid-1960s (when literary shows such as Oliver! and Half a Sixpence were all the rage), but circumstances pushed the show’s debut off until 1969. By that time, the toe-tapping score and polite feminism of the story seemed quaint in the shadow of Hair, and the production closed quickly. The show has been subsequently forgotten, save for one 2005 concert staging and now, at long last, the debut of the cast recording on CD. Continue reading

CastAlbums.org: REVIEW: Woman of the Year – Original Broadway Cast

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woman of the yearThere are certain shows by the giants of musical theater that have lesser reputations. While often these reputations are earned (e.g. late-period Andrew Lloyd Webber), too often scores are unfairly maligned simply because they pale in comparison to the real masterpieces in their writers’ catalog. Women of the Year is unquestionably in the latter category. Kander & Ebb’s 1981 star vehicle for Lauren Bacall is no Cabaret, but believe me, it’s no Stephen Ward either.

Based on the 1942 Tracy/Hepburn film, the musical updates the story to the 1980s, with Bacall as TV star Tess Harding in a rocky relationship with cartoonist Sam Craig, played by Harry Guardino. The score produced two genuine classic songs: the tender ballad “Sometimes a Day Goes By” and the hilarious duet for Bacall and Marilyn Cooper, “The Grass Is Always Greener.” The show nabbed four Tony Awards, for book (Peter Stone), score, Bacall, and Cooper.  Continue reading