Cast Albums Blog

Month Archive:  April 2018

REVIEW: Hello Again - Soundtrack

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When RCA released the cast album of Lincoln Center's production of Hello Again in 1994, they introduced a bold new voice of the American musical theatre to the world: Michael John LaChiusa. While savvy New Yorkers had already encountered his complex, challenging work in First Lady Suite, that score had gone unrecorded at the time. I remember not quite knowing what to make of the score; I was a teenager who had little to no experience with the subject matter, but I could tell this was the first composer to make a case that the post-Sondheim generation could keep pushing the form in the ways he had without becoming pale imitations of the master.

Over the next few years, with the premiere of Adam Guettel's Floyd Collins in 1996 and especially with Audra McDonald's debut solo disc in 2000, it became clear that LaChiusa was on the vanguard of an entire school of composers straddling the worlds of musical theatre and art song/chamber opera. McDonald's inclusion of two songs from the score ("Tom" and "Mistress of the Senator") on How Glory Goes (which drew its name from a Floyd Collins ballad) was the first time I (and I suspect many others) could appreciate the component parts of Hello Again as stand-alone songs, and genius ones at that. That album came in the same six-month period that LaChiusa debuted two new musicals on Broadway (The Wild Party and Marie Christine, a vehicle for McDonald), and his place in musical theatre was solidified.

While LaChiusa has never achieved mainstream success, his music has been debated and prized by connoisseurs of sophisticated musical theatre for more than two decades. And yet despite this -- or perhaps because of it -- when a film version of Hello Again was announced, it was met with disbelief. But here we are in 2018 with an honest-to-God film version of Hello Again that played short arthouse engagements and has now produced a soundtrack.

REVIEW: Prince of Broadway - Original Broadway Cast

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On paper, this should be a tremendous celebration. Harold Prince, the director and producer whose astonishing body of work is the subject of this revue, has arguably made as large a contribution to the evolution of musical theatre as any individual since the end of World War Two. He's worked with Bernstein, Sondheim, Lloyd Webber, Bock and Harnick, Kander and Ebb, and nearly everybody in between. He's produced and/or directed musicals that are now widely – universally – hailed as landmarks of the genre. His biggest hit – The Phantom of the Opera – has now been running on Broadway for more than thirty years. This revue's songstack contains an embarrassment of riches: peerless classic after peerless classic, performed by a brilliantly talented ensemble cast, all of whom have turned in distinguished work in other productions, with new arrangements and a new finale by the astonishingly talented Jason Robert Brown. You can practically feel the fireworks beginning in the instant before you press 'play'. What could possibly go wrong?

REVIEW: Pat Suzuki - Complete Album Series & Singles and Rarities 1958–1967

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Had Pat Suzuki only ever appeared in Flower Drum Song, her knock-out performance of Rodgers & Hammerstein's "I Enjoy Being A Girl" would have secured her place in musical theater history. How lucky we are, though, that she also had a lengthy, if somewhat forgotten, career as a recording artist. And how lucky we are that Stage Door Records is releasing two collections of her studio work: Complete Album Series (out next week) and Singles and Rarities 1958-1967, out now.

REVIEW: Jesus Christ Superstar: Live in Concert - Original Soundtrack of the NBC Television Event

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Few scores have been recorded as many times in as many different interpretations as Jesus Christ Superstar. Perhaps owing to its origins first as a concept album, then as a concert tour, and then as a world-wide stage musical phenomenon (with each country's production independently envisioned by its own production team) and film (created simultaneously with and distinct from the stage version), this score has never had a standard mold into which subsequent renditions must fit. Further, the recent NBC "television event" is at least the fifth English-language video production of the material, so there was no pressure to preserve a "definitive" rendition.

The result was received fairly rapturously on television, with two major, near-universal caveats: the sound mix on the live broadcast was less than ideal, and the noisy audience was intrusive. (Yes, yes, there was also some disagreement about whether John Legend's less screamy version of Jesus was suitable; more on that in a bit.)

So, I'm pleased to report that the mix for the TV soundtrack album is entirely different from what we heard on television. If anything, it has been overcorrected for the broadcast issues, with the lead vocals being moved so far forward the band occasionally feels weaker than it should, and the audience moved so far back they occasionally sound phantasmic. This makes the audience less annoying, but also less effective in the moments when they are called upon to represent the population of Jerusalem reacting to Jesus's ministry and persecution. The vocal/instrumental balance smooths over any vestigial rock edge the score once had while obscuring some of the orchestration innovations this production employed. Admittedly, there weren't many -- the music staff wisely hewed closely to the original 70s sound rather than giving the music a contemporary veneer.