Cast Albums Blog
REVIEW: Ann Veronica - Original London Cast
Timing 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.
At the top of the show, Ann Veronica is a young woman studying biology in college, a rarity in her day. Chafing under her father’s restrictions – the last straw comes when he forbids her attendance at a fancy dress party – she gets involved with the suffragette movement to assert her independence. As various suitors attempt to woo her, Ann Veronica longs for romance that feels less transactional. Each negative courtship experience with men drives Ann Veronica deeper into suffragette activities, eventually landing in prison following a protest. Beaten down by the system, she nearly marries the man her father and aunt have chosen for her before making a last-minute escape to run away with her true love, one of her teachers who has separated from his wife.
Encountering the album without any foreknowledge, one would assume the show must have been a hit. The show features tuneful songs by Pickwick’s Cyril Ornadel, clever lyrics by Croft (who also directed the show and co-produced the album), and a book by Frank Wells (son of H.G.) and Ronald Gow (who had previously written a straight stage adaptation of the novel). The cast is made up of British television stars, including Mary Millar in the title role, and the musical-comedy powerhouse Hy Hazell as the feminist rabble-rouser Miss Miniver. Across the board, the leads sound like they were likely cast for reasons other than their singing ability, but they can all sell their songs, and they’re supported by a fantastic ensemble.
The score is memorable for its hummable odes to the suffragette movement interspersed with dance-ready demands that even radical activists want to be swept off their feet. The orchestrations by Ornadel and Bobby Richards omit a string section in favor of a horn-heavy arrangement (buoyed by harp) offering a unique sound that gives the protest numbers spirit without sacrificing the romantic atmosphere of the love songs.
Stage Door Records has put together a satisfying package (designed by Ray Leaning) with extensive notes by Stewart Nicholls (director of the 2005 concert), plot synopsis by librettist Gow, and 15 black & white production photos.
In our current political moment, Ann Veronica’s story of seeking balance between independence and romance, self-reliance and community seems remarkably timely. Perhaps after a century of poor timing, Ann Veronica’s time has finally arrived.
FIRST LISTEN: Hamilton - Original Broadway Cast
To listen to the cast recording, visit http://www.npr.org/2015/09/16/440925873/first-listen-cast-recording-hamilton
REVIEW: Woman of the Year - Original Broadway Cast
There 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.
REVIEW: Doctor Zhivago - Original Broadway Cast Recording
I 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.)
REVIEW: Pageant - 2014 Off-Broadway Cast
When 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.