Cast Albums Blog
REVIEW: Jessica Vosk - Wild and Free
You might not yet be familiar with the name Jessica Vosk. As a performer whose most significant credits are Fruma-Sarah in the Fiddler revival and the 20th Broadway Elphaba, she hasn't yet had the opportunity to breakout and ascend to true Broadway stardom. If we live in a just universe, her debut album, Wild and Free, would be that opportunity.
Vosk has the kind of backstory that press agents dream about: she left a successful Wall Street career in her twenties to pursue showbiz, working her way quickly up the musical theatre ladder while amassing a cult following of fans and establishing herself as a first-rate cabaret performer. Those fans rallied with remarkable speed to crowdfund this album while she was touring the country in Wicked, and now the album drops not long after she stepped into the Broadway production.
REVIEW: Bat Out of Hell - Original London Cast
Released in Canada last year to coincide with the show’s Toronto opening and only now getting a full UK release several months into the second London run, the original cast recording of Bat out of Hell: the Musical turns out to sound exactly the way you’d expect it to if, like me, you’ve yet to see the show. At twenty-one (long) tracks over two discs, the album appears to give a reasonably complete account of the show’s principal musical numbers, most of which have been lifted from Meat Loaf’s Bat out of Hell trilogy. Either you like Jim Steinman’s floridly grandiose, quasi-operatic brand of rock or you don’t; I do, and I was prepared to love this album, but I never quite got there. It’s never bad, but it’s also never surprising: divorced from the show’s context, you’re left with a selection of mostly familiar songs presented in arrangements which never stray too far from Steinman’s trademark sound, performed by a superb band and a cast of apparently iron-lunged singers, none of whom are as distinctive or as interesting as the people who performed the songs on the original recordings.
REVIEW: How We React and How We Recover - Jason Robert Brown
Many of us first fell in love with Jason Robert Brown's music through the cast recording of his first show, the revue Songs for a New World. His ability to create entire worlds through words and music, telling complete stories in three-minute chunks, lent itself extraordinarily well to cast recordings and concerts -- as the concert revival of the show now playing at New York City Center is demonstrating to a new generation.
It's fitting that Brown has followed a bit of the singer-songwriter path with frequent concert appearances (including a cabaret residency at Subculture) and the occasional album. That How We React and How We Recover, his first studio album since 2005 (with a 2011 concert album in between), drops the same weekend as the Songs revival invites comparison, although given the subjects treated in both that comparison is inevitable: if Songs is about turning-point moments in one's life (often filtered through the somewhat wide-eyed optimism of a writer in his 20s), React/Recover is about the turning point moment we all find ourselves in at this moment in history, filtered through the eyes of a writer in his 40s trying to reclaim the optimism of his youth.
REVIEW: Back to My Roots - Kate Rockwell
Kate Rockwell’s debut solo album Back to My Roots is an ode to the “Second Golden Age of Broadway,” which Rockwell defines as the 1970s-1990s. I’ll leave it to others to decide if it was such a Golden Age, but regardless, Rockwell’s album is a smooth and polished orchestrated album (a bit of throwback to Bruce Kimmel’s Fynsworth Alley solo discs), full of both well-known and lesser-recorded Broadway songs. The album shoots out of the gate with a brassy rendition of Cy Coleman’s “Hey There Good Times” from I Love My Wife. From there through the next six songs, it’s one up tempo song after another: a saucy “Bring on the Men” from the better-left-forgotten Jekyll and Hyde, a mashup of “I Know Things Now” from Into the Woods and “Now You Know” from Merrily We Roll Along, and then two numbers from Falsettos: “I’m Breaking Down” and a song typically sung by a man, “The Games I Play.” Rockwell brings panache, exuberance, and excitement to each of these tracks. Rockwell’s Falsettos numbers are followed by a duet with Ariana DeBose on “What You Don’t Know About Women” from City of Angels, before tackling the mother of all-belt songs, “Buenos Aires” from Evita. If all this sounds like an exhausting listen so far, it is. Perhaps the album should have been titled “Back to My Belt,” because while Rockwell has an astounding full gorgeous belt (Seth Rudetsky would be in heaven), the album could stand from a bit more variety or at least some better ordering of the tracks.
REVIEW: Hello Again - Soundtrack
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.