REVIEW: Jack the Ripper - Original London Cast Album

Recording CoverIf 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.

There is a certain sameness to the songs, perhaps a side effect of the music hall concept: everything sounds like a drinking song. While one number may remind you of the title tune from Mame ("The Ripper's Going To Get You") and another may invoke the spirit of Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse's best collaborations ("What A Life"), nothing from Jack the Ripper approaches the level of invention to raise the numbers quite to the levels of the more famous songs they resemble.

But really, if you like ladies who belt and cut-time marches, you'll find much to admire in Jack the Ripper. Terese Stevens, perhaps best remembered as the girl replaced out of town in the title role of the original Broadway production of Gigi, makes the strongest impression as Marie, delivering her numbers with a verve reminiscent of Eileen Rogers. She gets the most material of anyone in the show, and her jazz waltz "Love" is by far the best number in the score.

It's not hard to see how this show might have charmed audiences for a couple of years, but it's also not hard to understand why it never made it to Broadway or into the musical theatre canon. If you find yourself longing for the days of simpler melodies and voices with character, Jack the Ripper might just hit the spot.


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