Cast Albums Blog

REVIEW: Peter Pan Live! Original Soundtrack of the NBC Television Event

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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.

The best thing the soundtrack has going for it over the broadcast itself is its length: with no commercials and thankfully little dialogue, it clocks in at a trim 61 minutes. And with the songs taking center stage, some of the more delightful elements of the show that seemed minor in the three-hour context get a slightly larger spotlight. Yes, I am talking about Kelli O'Hara as Mrs. Darling, whose part was enlarged for this version to include simply beautiful renditions of three songs: "Tender Shepherd" (with an additional "B" section borrowed from "Distant Melody"), "Distant Melody" (taking the part customarily sung by Peter Pan), and a reprise of "Only Pretend," a new lyric by Amanda Green set to the melody of "I Know About Love" from Do Re Mi. The 38-piece orchestra is nothing to sneeze at either.

But even aside from Kelli's performance and the lavish orchestra elevating the entire album, nearly every song benefits from being divorced from the rest of the show. Christopher Walken's Captain Hook, who seemed downright stoned on the broadcast, comes across as sprightly and winning when the audio is divorced from his befuddled face and dead eyes. Allison Williams never quite masters the bravado necessary for "I've Gotta Crow" or "I'm Flying," but she puts over the ballads particularly well. Taylor Louderman offers a sweet innocence to Wendy in her two ballads. And of course, the various choruses of Broadway powerhouses as pirates, lost boys, and islanders ensure that all ensemble numbers radiate with vivacity.

Beyond the performances, the material either created or resurrected for this production will make this soundtrack a must-have for certain fans. "Only Pretend" seemed to get the best reaction among fans on social media, and it's definitely the best of the new songs. "Wonderful World Without Peter," a battle duet for Pan and Hook fashioned from "Something's Always Happening on the River" (from Say, Darling) is skippable, but "When I Went Home" (dropped prior to the Broadway opening of the original production) is a lovely artifact. Hook's new introductory number, "Vengeance," (using the tune of "Ambition" from Do Re Mi) was jarringly out of place in the show, but it comes across as a pleasant enough personality piece for Walken on the album. And, of course, the number that got the most pre-broadcast press, "True Blood Brothers" (formerly known as "Ugg-A-Wugg"), will reportedly be included in the licensing materials for all future productions of the show, so the recording here may prove helpful to high schools and community theaters in need of guidance on how to pronounce the new, authentically Cherokee lyrics.

The 44-page booklet (designed by Van Dean) offers lots of color photos, drawn from both the broadcast itself and the pre-show publicity shots. There's the requisite plot synopsis and lyrics to all the songs, and of course the cast list and orchestra list. Oddly, although the songs with new lyrics by Amanda Green are identified, there is no indication which numbers were written by the original team of Charlap and Leigh and which were added by Styne, Comden and Green when they were brought on board to beef up the score before the show's initial Broadway bow.

REVIEW: Love's Labour's Lost - Original Cast Recording

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When composer/lyricist Michael Friedman and director/librettist Alex Timbers's musical adaptation of Shakespeare's Love's Labour's Lost debuted at New York's Shakespeare in the Park in the summer of 2013, it was met with something of a split response. Fans praised the production's no-holds-barred approach to comedy and catchy, contemporary score performed by a stellar cast including Colin Donnell, Patti Murin, Daniel Breaker, Bryce Pinkham, Rebecca Naomi Jones, and Rachel Dratch. Detractors found the humor sophomoric and the dramaturgy questionable. Ironically, the sophomoric humor and questionable dramaturgy (which allowed for more non-sequitors than your average episode of Monty Python's Flying Circus) were two of the things I liked best about the show, which I saw twice during its limited run in Central Park.

Adapted from one of Shakespeare's earliest comedies, Love's Labour's Lost takes on the question of extended adolescence, particularly among men of means. Shakespeare's original four nobles who pledge to spend three years in monastic study become in this version the closest contemporary equivalent: privileged Ivy League graduates at their fifth reunion. When four women from their past reconnect at the reunion, the men suddenly question whether forsaking sex and other kinds of fun for three years is really how they want to spend their mid-twenties. Hilarity ensues. There are also subplots involving their friend (Caesar Samayoa), a Spanish Duke in love with a barmaid (Jones), his friend (bandleader Justin Levine) with a peculiar love of his own, and the working class of the town who are just tired of getting wrapped up in the nonsense of the wealthy.

Divorced from the show, the score holds up as a tuneful collection of songs representing quite a bit of genre diversity. Friedman's lyrics are clever and specific, doing much of the heavy lifting in distinguishing each of the eight main lovers. The disc starts off with strong, pop-influenced introductory numbers for the boys ("Young Men") and the girls ("Hey Boys") that establish the central tension of the show in their very names and create a musical vocabulary for these groups of characters that persists throughout the score. While the group number for the leads have a pop inflection, much of the score for the secondary characters sits firmly in musical-comedy territory. You may hear echoes of Man of La Mancha in "Jaquenetta" (sung by Samoya) and of How to Succeed in "Brabant Song" (led by Andrew Durand).

Standouts include Jones's smoky, nightclub number "Love's A Gun," the comedic bluegrass-influenced trio for the working-class characters "Rich People" (Jones with Charlie Pollack and Kevin Del Aguila), and the show-stopping anthem "Tuba Song" (showcasing the entire company, but sadly missing the high school marching band that stormed the stage each night in a brilliant moment of excess). Even some of the lesser songs are elevated by the tremendous talent of the cast: e.g. the King's Sonnet isn't particularly memorable, but Breaker croons the heck out of it. And there's even a bit of inevitable boyband authenticity in the form of "To Be With You," the 1991 hit by Mr. Big, performed here by the four male leads plus Levine.

The non-sequitor nature of many of the numbers combined with a near total absence of dialog on the album may leave you wondering how this ever cohered into a score. (The answer? Well, they only partially did.) But the good news is that's okay, because the songs are mostly great, and recording producers Matt Stine and composer/lyricist Friedman have crafted a listening experience akin to the great cast albums of Goddard Lieberson's tenure at Columbia, in which most numbers are presented as stand-alone tracks, sometimes with the aid of slightly different arrangements than we heard on stage. (This also saves the listener from spoilers, if a 400-year-old story can in fact be spoiled.) The beautiful 40-page booklet (designed by Robbie Rozelle) includes all the lyrics, a helpful plot synopsis James Shapiro, a Shakespeare professor at Columbia University, three essays that provide a sense of what this all felt like on stage, and nearly two-dozen full-color production photos.

REVIEW: Kristin Chenoweth's Coming Home

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If there's one word that can describe Kristin Chenoweth's new live album Coming Home, it's "heartfelt." From a song about her father to a shout out to her beloved college vocal teacher Florence Birdwell, this concert, taped in Chenoweth's hometown of Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, is full of songs, people, and experiences that have touched and shaped Chenoweth's life and career in the theater.

First Listen: New live 2014 London Cast recording of MISS SAIGON

The new London Revival of MISS SAIGON is set to release its cast album (recorded live in performance at the Prince Edward Theatre) on September 22. Check out a preview of the opening of the show below.

REVIEW: Lady Day at Emerson's Bar & Grill

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Lady Day at Emerson's Bar & Grill is one of those shows that feels like it's been around forever, making regular appearances at small venues around the country whenever a local singing actress wants to flex her chops a bit with a show that's pre-sold on the name of its subject, Billie Holiday. In reality, the show debuted in 1986 at the Alliance in Atlanta before coming to New York in a well-received off-Broadway production and has been twice recorded before, in 1997 with Gail Nelson in the title role, and in 1998 with Pamela Isaacs.

I had never given much thought to the play itself, structured as a concert during Holiday's drug-fueled decline, and when it was announced for Broadway with no less than Audra McDonald in the title role, I was frankly surprised she'd bother with the show. But once performances started, it quickly became a hot ticket, and I don't know anyone who's seen her performance and not been thrilled.