Cast Albums Blog

REVIEW: Lost West End Vintage

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From Stage Door Records, another worthwhile curiosity. Lost West End Vintage is a compilation of tracks from British musicals that premiered during what is generally considered the American musical’s “golden age” – that is, between the mid-1940s and the 1970s. These shows almost all predate the ascendance in this country of the Lloyd Webber megamusical, and they have mostly sunk without trace; you’re unlikely to see a revival of Wild Grows the Heather or Expresso Bongo or Cage Me a Peacock anytime soon. That doesn’t mean they don’t contain any worthwhile music, though, and the 52 – yes, 52 – tracks included on this compilation’s two discs include several unappreciated gems. They include some things you’ll listen to once and subsequently skip, of course, but that’s the nature of this kind of album; fortunately, the good here far outweighs the bad, and the best of this recording is very entertaining indeed.

The first disc contains songs from cast albums, and the list of shows recalls an increasingly distant, far more innocent era in British popular culture. Gay’s the Word, Zip Goes a Million, Romance in Candlelight, Grab Me a Gondola, Lock Up Your Daughters, Carissima, Valmouth, Lady at the Wheel – some of these were reasonably substantial hits in their day, and it’s surprising that their music has dropped so far out of the public consciousness, particularly given that at least some of the bigger pop singers from that period are still very well known (a few of them put in an appearance on this compilation’s second disc). It’s impossible to tell whether everything in these scores is at the same standard of the songs included here. Some of these songs are merely curiosities – the most interesting thing about the late Jeremy Brett’s rather lugubrious rendition of a song called A Boy Called Johnny from a show called Johnny The Priest is the distance between this performance and his work in the role that elevated him to stardom late in his career. Some, though, are gems. The peerless Millicent Martin gives a lovely, dreamy performance of a song called ‘I Am’ from Expresso Bongo; the song itself is pretty good, and she’s even better. Bertice Reading has enormous fun with ‘My Big Best Shoes’ from Valmouth. And Frankie Howerd singing drolly about how he wants to be a ‘Song and Dance Man’ in a number from a show called ‘Mister Venus’ is probably worth the price of the album in itself. He’s not the most polished singer, true, but it’s an effortlessly funny, utterly charming performance. Elsewhere on the disc, there are fascinating performances from Cicely Courtneidge, Sally Ann Howes, Elisabeth Welch, Anna Neagle, Hy Hazell, Pat Kirkwood, and Lucille Mapp; some (not all) of them are not as polished as the singers you’d expect to hear in today’s West End, but there’s an individuality to these performers that these days, unfortunately, is rarer than it should be. The songs aren’t always pure gold, but the performers are.

The second disc is a compilation of pop covers of songs from musicals of the era, and how much you enjoy it will very much depend on your opinion of the eclectic range of performers involved. There are three Tommy Steele numbers in a row, for example – to be expected, given how big a star he was at the time – and if you’re (like me) basically allergic to him, none of them are going to make you change your mind, although it’s amusing to compare his take on ‘My Big Best Shoes’ with the original cast performance from Bertice Reading on disc one. There are lively performances from Pearl Carr, the Beverley Sisters, Beatrice Lillie, and Edmund Hockridge; Cliff Richard meanders through a song from Expresso Bongo sounding exactly like he does today, only slightly off-pitch, and Lionel Bart lasciviously talk-sings his way through the title song from Lock Up Your Daughters. It’s all good fun, but the meat of the collection is on the first disc. Still, as a trip back to a time before the British musical was dominated by singing cats and trains and murderous masked stalkers, this compilation is well worth your time and money. It’s a delightful whistle-stop tour through a chapter of musical history that is now starting to feel very remote.

REVIEW: Bubble Boy - Studio Cast

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Most albums that we get to review here at are preservations of major Broadway productions, shows that many of us have gotten to see. It's a nice treat then to be given the recording of Bubble Boy -- a little known musical with a loopy premise -- without any sense of how it plays on stage, for a listen. Based on the 2001 film starring a young Jake Gyllenhaal, the show tells the improbable story of Jimmy Livingston, an autoimmune-deficient young man who has been forced to live his life in a plastic bubble. In more serious hands, this would be the stuff of Dear Evan Hansen teen-angst, but this wacky musical, fashioned by original screenwriters Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio, is a laugh-out-loud romp. The story, which isn't too hard to follow from the songs (and there are a whopping 23 numbers on the album including reprises), follows a fairly well-worn formula: Boy (in a bubble) meets Girl (not in a bubble), Boy (in a bubble) and Girl fall in love. Girl falls for another Boy (not in a bubble). Boy (in a bubble) goes on a journey to stop Girl from marrying Boy #2. Suffice it to say a tidy ending wraps everything up.

REVIEW: The Man in the Moon - Original Cast

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As they were making final tweaks to She Loves Me prior to its initial Broadway bow in 1963, Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick had another show on the main stem just a couple block away. The songwriting team, who already had a Best Musical Tony and a Pulitzer Prize to their name, lent their talents to a Broadway puppet show created by Bill and Cora Baird, perhaps the best-known puppeteers of the pre-Henson age. (Even if you don’t recognize their names, their work will surely look familiar even today, if only from the “Lonely Goatherd” number in the film version of The Sound of Music.)

The Man in the Moon formed the first act of a special, limited production presented by the Bairds at the Biltmore for 22 performances. Golden Records, purveyor of children’s records, released an original cast recording featuring dialogue, narration, and songs, capturing the voice performances of the Bairds along with a cast including Frank Sullivan, Franz Fazakas, Margery Gray, Gerald Freedman, Eric Carlson, and Rose Marie Jun. Although fondly remembered by those young enough to have been in the target audience for the album’s initial release, it has otherwise largely been forgotten.

REVIEW: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Original Broadway Cast

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I love an overture. I lament the fact that most new musicals do not have them. That is why I was so excited when I saw that the original Broadway cast recording of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory had one. I actually thought my iPhone had made a mistake when, after only 27 seconds, the next song began. I cannot stress this enough: 27 seconds does not an overture make! My indignation at this aside, the word that kept coming to mind when I listened to this album was "serviceable". This is a good show for families, especially those with young children who are fans of Roald Dahl's stories.

The music, by Marc Shaiman, with lyrics by Scott Wittman and Shaiman, is accessible and peppy, but nothing really grabs you. There are none of the catchy yet meaningful songs such as those found in Hairspray, or even my long lost love SMASH. The best songs in the show are those carried over from the 1971 film, penned by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley, specifically "Pure Imagination" and "The Candy Man".

REVIEW: Bandstand - Original Broadway Cast

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On the penultimate track of the new cast recording of Richard Oberacker and Robert Taylor's Bandstand, the final new Broadway musical of the 2016-2017 season, the marvellous Laura Osnes tears into a furious diatribe against the horrors seen by World War two veterans during their service and the difficulties they face in readjusting to civilian life. The song – "Welcome Home" – is genuinely electrifying, the band (which includes six of the show's actors) is red hot, and Osnes is sensational. It's one of those performances that forces you to sit up and pay attention. If everything else in the score was this good, Bandstand would have won every award going. It isn't, and it didn't, but this is still a rather more enjoyable score than you might guess from some of the show's reviews.