REVIEW: Lost West End
Back in the 90s, record label Varese Sarabande released a series of albums called Unsung Musicals, which were studio recordings of songs from Broadway shows that never got recorded. For many cast album collectors, these CDs were greedily consumed as a way to access some lost treasures from musical theater history.
Now British label Stage Door Records has done something similar with Lost West End: London's Forgotten Musicals, a collection of 20+ tunes from overlooked or quickly closed British musicals from 1976 to 2009. Unlike the Unsung Musicals series which was comprised of studio recordings, Lost West End consists of tracks from sample albums or other recordings that were, for the most part, never commercially released, often showcasing the original performers and full orchestrations. This makes the album a nice collector’s piece as it allows listeners to get a pretty clear sense of what some of these lost moments of British musical theater history were like. (Quick tidbit, many of these short-lived or "flop" shows played at the Piccadilly Theater. Note to self: do not open a musical at the Piccadilly Theater.)
The album sounds great, but like many compilations, the quality of the music is rather rangy and probably explains why some of these shows were never successful. The opening tune “Call Me Robin Hood” from Robin Prince of Sherwood is a silly bombastic pop anthem, but the album quickly finds some hits with other tracks. Angela Richards does nicely with the 60s-sounding “Beautiful Colours” from Liza of Lambeth, based on a novel by W. Somerset Maugham. Also interesting are two moody songs from a show that had two different incarnations: “The Four Dames” from I and “Illusions” from Y. Miriam Stockley offers the tender and lyrical “Like a Child” from the flop show Bernadette: The People’s Musical, while Simone Dee belts out “I Never Told Him I Loved Him” from Prisoner Cell Block H, based on the Australian TV show of the same name. The album ends with “One Night” from The Far Pavilions, which stylistically blends West End pop with the sounds of India.
The plots of the musicals range from shows about Leonardo da Vinci and Toulouse Lautrec to a musical version of Gone with the Wind, and while liner notes provide some nice back story, removed from their plots here, it’s often hard to figure out how many of these songs worked in the context of their respective shows. A further challenge for the American listener of this album is that almost all of these shows are virtually unknown on this side of the pond so even many of the names of these shows will be unfamiliar.
Still, the CD features many of Britain’s best musical performers including Alexander Hanson (known here for his stint in the recent revival of A Little Night Music), Graham Bickley, and David Essex, making the album a pleasant listen. (The exception to these great performances is Robert Fardell’s vocally uneven rendition of “Touch Me” from Behind the Iron Mask.)
Lost West End might not make converts of any listener to these particular musicals, but it's still nice to hear lesser known musical theater works from Britain performed so well as these shows will most likely never be be seen or heard in the States.
BroadwayGuy wrote on October 16, 2015
For the selection from LIZA OF LAMBETH, I would have preferred Angela Richards' haunting Act 2 ballad "Why Can't We Choose?", but I can understand why the more up-tempo "Beautiful Colours" was chose instead.
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Unsung Musicals - 1994 Studio Cast Lost West End: London's Forgotten Musicals - 2015 Various Artists A Little Night Music Bernadette Liza of Lambeth The Far Pavilions Prisoner Cell Block H David Essex Robert Fardell Alexander Hanson Angela Richards Graham Bickley Miriam Stockley Simone Dee Toggle Additional (11)