Cast Albums Blog
REVIEW: The Robber Bridegroom (2016 Cast Recording)
For the handful of cast album collectors out there that happen to own a copy of the original 1976 Broadway cast recording of The Robber Bridegroom, they know what a poor listening experience this album is. Despite fantastic performances by Barry Bostwick (who won a Tony Award for his portrayal of the titular character) and a great supporting cast, the sound of this album, at least on the CD transfer, is completely muddy, as if the microphones were covered in peanut butter, submerged in water, and then placed in a room next to the recording studio. That major failing aside, the cast album, with its collection of bluegrass-flavored tunes by Robert Waldman, is still a fun album and with no other commercially available version of the score available has earned many repeated listens on my playlist, flaws and all.
Jump ahead to 2016 and the news that Roundabout Theatre Company would be producing a major revival of The Robber Bridegroom off-Broadway starring Broadway leading man Steven Pasquale. I, for one, was more excited about the potential of a new cast album coming out of this production than the production itself and indeed, thanks to Ghostlight Records, we have a new, sharply produced cast album to celebrate. And yet . . .
Despite all it has going for it, this album fails to electrify. With so much working technically against the original cast recording, this new version should be miles ahead and yet to this reviewer, the result is a clean, professionally produced musical preservation of the show that never really sparkles. This is surprising given that on stage, this production as directed by Alex Timbers was a real hoot. The cast led by Pasquale and also featuring the talented and very funny Leslie Kritzer as Salome and Ahna O'Reilly as Rosamund was immensely entertaining. On disc, though, their performances, while on point, feel tame. Not flat, just missing a sort of je ne sais quoi. Did Timbers’s eclectic and even frenetic staging lend some magic to the production that doesn’t translate to a purely aural version of the production?
And it’s the performances that matter with this show, because The Robber Bridegroom is a slight fairy tale about a whole lot of nothing. When a bandit (Steven Pasquale) falls in love with and takes the honor of Rosamund, the daughter of Clement Musgrove (Lance Roberts), a very rich man, Musgrove asks Jaime Lockhart, who is actually the very same bandit, to avenge his daughter's name. Meanwhile, Rosamund’s greedy and nasty stepmother Salome (Kritzer) wants to "off" Rosamund whom she dislikes. A great deal of mistaken identity ensues over the show's rapid 90 minutes, resulting in Salome getting the axe and Rosamund and Lockhart coming together in classic musical theater fashion. As constructed in a book by Alfred Uhry (Driving Miss Daisy and Parade), these characters are over-the-top and as portrayed on the original Broadway cast recording, the performances are equally outrageous in ways that are quite delightful. Here though, the cast’s performances feel wholesome and clean in ways that if not disappointing, never truly delight. The saving grace is the show's score itself which has its fair share of wonderful, toe-tapping numbers including “Once Upon the Natchez Trace,” “Nothin’ Up,” “Goodbye Salome,” and “Sleepy Man.”
What’s also less than exciting on this album are the show’s new orchestrations as arranged by Justin Levine and Martin Lowe. Now featuring a piano in addition to fiddles and guitars, this version sometimes feels more “Broadway” and polished than Waldman’s original arrangements. Not helping matters is that the vocalists on this new album feel like they are fighting the band the whole way with the latter at times overpowering the former.
For those who don’t own The Robber Bridegroom and are looking for a decent recording of the show, this new album is fine and can hold its own. But for my taste, I’m holding on to the original Broadway cast album, warts and all, for performances that are delightfully idiosyncratic.
REVIEW: Funny Girl - London Revival Cast
On the back of Sheridan Smith's name, the initial run of the London revival of Funny Girl sold out in a single morning. The producers announced a transfer into the West End before it had even opened at the Menier. The reviews were mostly sensational, but Smith's tenure in the role has been somewhat troubled, especially since the show transferred to the Savoy, and she missed several weeks of performances due to "exhaustion." Is Ms. Smith "the greatest star," as she sings near the top of the show? Well... perhaps this revival's cast recording doesn't play to her greatest strengths.
REVIEW: State Fair - Original 1962 Film Soundtrack
For years, the 1962 remake of State Fair was considered the worst film in the Rodgers & Hammerstein canon, and were it not for the 1998 animated atrocity committed upon The King and I, it might still hold the title. Yet despite its many shortcomings, chiefly that it's slow and bloated, it produced an enjoyable soundtrack notable not only for performances by Ann-Margret, Bobby Darin, Alice Faye, and Pat Boone, but also for the couple of new songs Rodgers (post-Hammerstein) added to the score. Now, Stage Door Records has given the original soundtrack album its first CD issue as part of their limited edition Collector's Series, so Rodgers & Hammerstein devotees should act quickly before the edition sells out.
REVIEW: Two Cities - Original London Cast
It was the best of shows, it was the worst of shows. The appeal of Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities as source material for a musical isn’t difficult to fathom: it can easily be presented as a sweeping romance with an epic historical backdrop, there’s plenty of room for spectacle, and the story can accommodate a large chorus. It’s also a familiar title, and (like Les Misérables for the French) everybody knows the most famous lines, and has at least some idea of the basic plot. It’s been adapted for the musical stage several times – at least four musicals, plus a couple of operas – but (unlike Les Misérables) it’s never become a major stage hit.
This particular adaptation, titled simply Two Cities, opened at London’s Palace Theatre in 1969, and it has two headline attractions: music by Jeff Wayne, who went on to compose the score for the War of the Worlds concept album, and Edward Woodward making a (relatively) rare musical appearance as Sydney Carton. They’re both worth your attention; as for the show itself, it received a decidedly mixed critical response, and based on the material on this album, it’s not at all difficult to see why.
REVIEW: New solo discs from Cheyenne Jackson and Jose Llana
This 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's Renaissance, 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.
The King and I numbers suffer the most from the cabaret-sized band (piano, bass, drums, guitar, and woodwinds), with his medley of "We Kiss in a Shadow / I Have Dreamed" sounding particularly square coming after two Saturn Returns numbers. (This transition was smoother on stage, which benefitted from applause and patter to break up the numbers.) The inclusion of "A Puzzlement," which he sang during his two terms as a replacement King in the recent Lincoln Center revival, is a nice idea but it similarly falls flat.
The Here Lies Love numbers are better served by the band, and it's a particular treat to hear Llana sing "Child of the Philippines" (which belonged to his character's rival, played by Conrad Ricamora, in the show) with guest star (and co-star from both Here Lies Love and The King and I) Ruthie Ann Miles. Pop songs from the catalogs of Ed Sheeran ("Thinking Out Loud") and Billy Joel ("Lullabye (Goodnight, My Angel)") fit comfortably in with the show tunes, and "She Is More" from AnnMarie Milazzo's stage version of Pretty Dead Girl will send you Googling for more information about this work-in-progress.
With Cheyenne Jackson's matinee idol looks and confident baritone, it was only a matter of time before he dove deep into the pre-rock and roll music of the 1950s. With Renaissance, he proves all our suspicions true, definitively demonstrating that should the Rat Pack reform tomorrow, he should be first in line. Beginning with a boldly stated "Feeling Good," you would never know these beefy orchestrations were actually reduced (quite skillfully, by John Baxindine) from the symphonic charts Jackson used on tour. Of course, reduced is a relative term, and the 22 pieces here sound fantastic.
The front half of the album stays firmly in the swing lane, mixing vintage hits with the more recent "Americano" (from the Brian Setzer Orchestra's 2000 swing revival album Vavoom!). Jackson is joined by a close harmony trio on the smokey "Angel Eyes" and the playful "Walkin' My Baby Back Home," and his costar from 30 Rock, Jane Krakowski, makes a fine (and appropriately subdued) partner on "Somethin' Stupid."
Halfway through the album, where "Side B" would start had this been a genuine product of the era it celebrates, the tone takes a turn away from the era with Joni Mitchell's "A Case of You." Jackson sings the number well, accompanied by Ted Firth on piano, but it jars as an interloper from another period. Unfortunately, it marks a turn as the rest of the album focuses on 1970s pop and soul (with one jump back to the 50s and one new tune penned by Jackson and Michael Feinstein). While it's hard to complain about any particular track or performance, because they are all lovely in the aggregate, the shift in tone is palpable and uneasy. It feels curmudgeonly to be disappointed that we didn't get a full disc of "Mad Men Era" tunes (and then another disc of 70's music), but the failure to cohere after such a strong start diminishes the collective result.