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.  Continue reading

CastAlbums.org: REVIEW: Pageant – 2014 Off-Broadway Cast

Originally published on CastAlbums.org.

pageantWhen Side Show hit Broadway in 1998, I became fascinated with the career of lyricist Bill Russell. I had never heard of him before, but I discovered he somehow went from penning tiny, queer off-Broadway musicals like Elegies for Angels, Punks, and Raging Queens (music by Janet Hood) and Pageant (music by Albert Evans, lyrics written with Frank Kelly) to working with the composer of Dreamgirls. I wanted to know more, but at the time Elegies was only available as an import and Pageant had never been legally recorded. (An unauthorized album had been made in Australia, but I’ve never seen or heard it.)

Since then, Elegies was made available in the U.S. (and a second, American recording was produced in 2001), and although Pageant popped up at regional theaters all the time, a recording remained elusive. That has finally changed, thanks to an off-Broadway revival and John Yap of Jay Records. Continue reading

CastAlbums.org: REVIEW: The Golden Apple – First Full-Length Recording

Originally published on CastAlbums.org.

goldenappleThe Golden Apple is one of those scores that has taken on something of a mythic air, which is entirely appropriate for this Broadway rethinking of The Iliad and The Odyssey through the lens of turn-of-the-century Americana. The original production was an early transfer from off-Broadway, and despite critical enthusiasm, it shuttered within four months. It left behind a frustratingly truncated original cast album, which (to add insult to injury) was out of print for many years. Despite fans’ adoration of this score (music by Jerome Moross, lyrics by John Latouche), the scope of the show (24 named characters plus chorus and full orchestra) has made it difficult to revive or record. (A persistent rumor of Encores! artistic director Jack Viertel‘s dislike of the show has further aggravated fans.) All of which is to say, when PS Classics announced a full-length recording of the show’s recent production at the Lyric Stage of Irving, Texas, with massive cast, expanded chorus, and 36-piece orchestra, a certain segment of the show tunes collecting community let out massive cheers. Continue reading

CastAlbums.org: REVIEW: Life of an Actress: The Musical – Soundtrack

Originally published on CastAlbums.org.

lifeofanactressIt’s always a little suspicious when a film’s soundtrack gets a wider release or more notice than the film itself. Suffice it to say, I had never heard of the 2014 film Life of an Actress when I received my review copy of the soundtrack. Normally, between that the even more glaring red flag of a film that was written, composed, directed, and produced by the same person — Paul Chau, a former banker whose only previous artistic credits of note were a previous documentary film of the same name and producer billing on a couple of revivals — I wouldn’t even bother. But with a cast including Orfeh, Taylor Louderman, and Allison Case, I figured it was worth giving the album the benefit of the doubt.

How much you’ll enjoy this soundtrack depends entirely on how much you’re able to let some great performances carry you past other shortcomings: pleasant but undistinguished music set with leaden lyrics (sample: “I want to be an accountant / that’s my dream / the first in my family / with a college degree”), and a four piece, synthesizer-heavy band that would sound cheap in a tiny off-Broadway setting. (The band is particularly egregious given how far forward in the mix it is, with its single violin often overpowering the singers.)

Maybe this is the kind of album that coheres a bit more once you’ve seen the film, but I can find no trace of it existing beyond single screenings in New York and Los Angeles last year. The project’s website speaks of an in-development stage version, and you’ve got to admire Paul Chau’s pluck, if not his talent.

CastAlbums.org: REVIEW: Marin Mazzie: Make Your Own Kind of Music – Live at 54 Below

Originally published on CastAlbums.org.

marinmazzieFor years, when you polled Broadway fans for their choices of singers they wished would record a solo album, Marin Mazzie‘s name would always top that list. Thanks to the good people at Broadway Records, the wait is over, and once you hear Make Your Own Kind of Music, recorded live at 54 Below, I’m sure you’ll agree it was worth the wait.

The album, recorded in live in February, 2015, takes us on a musical journey through Marin’s childhood, starting with a few numbers she recalls from her parents’ record collection (“Come On-A My House,” sexier than Rosemary Clooney ever imagined it, “That’s All,” and a Sammy Davis, Jr.-inspired “Begin the Beguine,” the set’s only show tune). From there, it’s all ’70s, from the Partridge Family to Barry Manilow, and Mazzie manages to avoid camp to give us knock-out renditions of each and every song. Continue reading

CastAlbums.org: REVIEW: Dames at Sea – Original London Cast Recording

Originally published on CastAlbums.org.

damesDames at Sea is the quintessential “little show that could,” growing from a sketch to a nightclub show to a proper off-Broadway musical to an international hit that’s spawned multiple cast recordings, a television production, rumors of a forthcoming Broadway revival, and, oh, it helped launch the career of an ingenue by the name of Bernadette Peters. Originally performed with two pianos and percussion, the original off-Broadway cast recording featured sumptuous new orchestrations by Jonathan Tunick.

Ironically, the presence of those gorgeous charts and the unmistakable Peters are two of the best arguments for adding the London Cast Recording to your collection. The London production, which opened a year after its off-Broadway progenitor, features no such breakout performance, enabling the entire ensemble to shine. (Sheila White, who plays the part originated by Peters, does a fine job, but her biggest credit was Brigitta in The Sound of Music.) The London cast recording doesn’t return to the show’s two-pianos-plus-drums orchestrations, but the new charts by Bill Shepherd are closer to the “let’s put on a show” aesthetic of the show. Continue reading

CastAlbums.org: REVIEW: Jack the Ripper – Original London Cast Album

Originally published on CastAlbums.org.

jackIf you ever wondered what Sweeney Todd might have sounded like in the hands of Lionel Bart, you should give Jack The Ripper a spin. The long-lost cast recording — recorded in 1975, but unreleased for 40 years — has finally been given its due by Stage Door Records, and if it’s not exactly an undiscovered gem, it certainly has much to recommend it. Composer Ron Pember names Bart as a primary influence in the liner notes of this release, but that’s evident from the first note of the jaunty opening number, “Saturday Night.” Pember and his co-lyricist/co-bookwriter Denis De Marne chose the music hall as a setting for exploring the infamous murderer, and the festive nature of the setting trumps the dark nature of the story, making for a tuneful if perplexing collection of songs. The lack of a plot summary in the liner notes doesn’t help. Continue reading

CastAlbums.org: REVIEW: The Fortress of Solitude – Original Cast Recording

Originally published on CastAlbums.org.

050413I’ve had The Fortress of Solitude cast album on my phone for a week and I can’t stop listening to it. Michael Friedman has given us one of those scores that offers new delights on each visit, brought to life through fantastic performances by Adam Chanler-Berat, Kyle Beltran, Kevin Mambo, André De Shields, Rebecca Naomi Jones, and the rest of the cast. Continue reading

CastAlbums.org: REVIEW: Stars of David – World Premiere Cast Recording

Originally published on CastAlbums.org.

Stars Of DavidOn the surface, Stars of David sounds like a cynical cash-grab show: a small-cast revue based on journalist Abigail Pogrebin’s 2005 collection of interviews with prominent Jewish Americans sounds like it was designed to tour the Jewish Community Centers of this country ad infinitum. Whether it was any good or not would have almost no bearing on whether Jewish grandparents would buy tickets by the bushel. So, I was surprised and delighted when I saw the show in its off-Broadway incarnation last year to discover that the show was also entertaining and at times moving. Now, a year later, Yellow Sound Label has released a “World Premiere Recording” featuring the off-Broadway cast (Janet Metz, Alan Schmuckler, Aaron Serotsky, and Donna Vivino) plus three performers from the world-premiere production at the Philadelphia Theater Company, Alex Brightman, Joanna Glushak, and Brad Oscar. Continue reading

CastAlbums.org: Review: Peter Pan Live! Original Soundtrack of the NBC Television Event

Originally published on CastAlbums.org.

Peter Pan Live!Broadway Records took a double gamble by releasing the soundtrack to NBC’s Peter Pan Live. By releasing a true soundtrack (rather than a pre-recorded cast album, as the previous year’s Sound of Music Live did), they passed up any chance to sell the album to those of us curious to get a peek at the broadcast before airdate, and they staked their success on a positive reception of the broadcast itself.

While the television production had its moments, it largely seemed dead on arrival: neither the thrilling spectacle NBC dreamed of, nor the campy disaster hate-watchers hoped for. As the broadcast limped along, I couldn’t imagine wanting to revisit this experience on a soundtrack album. I’m glad to report that I was wrong. Continue reading