Cast Albums Blog

REVIEW: Once on This Island - 2018 Broadway Cast

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Can a cast recording be "too perfect?" That's the question I kept asking myself as I listened to the new Broadway cast recording of the 1990 Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens musical Once on this Island, now receiving its first-ever Broadway revival. The answer is an unfortunate "yes." Before I explain how I get to this unusual pronouncement, some context is in order. This might be the third cast album of Once on this Island, but there was really a need for a new recording of this score. Both the original Broadway cast album and the London cast album, while full of musical vitality and energy, are marred by some pitchy performances (the London album in particular), so much so that at least for this reviewer, despite the wonderful breakout performance of La Chanze on the original cast album, I always found a number of tracks on both recordings to be uncomfortably unlistenable.

Which brings us to the new Broadway cast recording. Produced by Broadway Records (it’s their 100th release-congrats!) and featuring a first-rate cast, led by newcomer Hailey Kilgore, the new album is technically flawless. Not a single pitchy performance in sight and full of warmth and musicality. So why then my hesitation in wholeheartedly recommending this recording? What the album has in spades: smoothness, clarity, and polish, it sadly lacks in excitement and personality. It’s unclear as to whether the performers were asked to tamp down their performances or if the album is simply mixed in a way by Elliot Scheiner that put the vocals on the same level as every drum or xylophone, but the result is an album that is "pleasant" and "nice," when it should be electrifying and musically transcendent. Because in the theater, that’s exactly what these performances are: exhilarating and rafter-raising. On stage, Hailey Kilgore is a strong, passionate Ti Moune, but her performance here doesn’t hold a candle to that of La Chanze. But again, maybe that’s not her fault.

REVIEW: Donnybrook! reissue featuring The Pete King Orchestra Plays the Music of Donnybrook!

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Donnybrook! Is one of the rare golden age cast albums that's never received a proper digital transfer, despite the near-mania for releasing so many relatively obscure titles that characterized the cast recordings industry in the ‘90s and 2000s. Did Decca Broadway (who now owns the Kapp catalogue to which Donnybrook! belongs) lack appropriate masters, or did they simply deem the material less worthy? Whether as cause or effect, this musical adaptation of The Quiet Man has never achieved even the cult status of shows with similar pedigree from the same era.

REVIEW: The Band's Visit -- Original Broadway Cast

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In the entrancing new musical The Band’s Visit by composer/lyricist David Yazbek and librettist Itamar Moses, Dina, the owner of a local Israeli café, sings about musician Umm Kulthum and film star Omar Sharif who, via Egyptian movies, “came floating on a jasmine wind/From the west, from the south/Honey in my ears/Spice in my mouth/Dark and thrilling/Strange and sweet.” Such lush lyrics, evocative and exotic, also perfectly describe the score of this gorgeously understated musical about an Egyptian military band that takes a wrong turn and ends up in the Podunk Israeli town of Bet Hatikvah for the night.

REVIEW: Hamlisch Uncovered

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When composer Marvin Hamlisch passed away at age 68, he had already achieved a remarkable career, including being an EGOT winner, that would be the envy of almost any artist. Listening to Hamlisch Uncovered, a collection of lesser-known and cut songs from the composer leaves one, though, with a real sense of loss. If only Hamlisch had lived longer, what else would he have produced? Hamlisch is, of course, best known as the Tony Award-winning composer of A Chorus Line and while Hamlisch's career continued long past the 1974 work, with perhaps the exception of They're Playing Our Song, he never really had a hit on the scale of A Chorus Line. Hamlisch was hardly resting on his laurels though. From serving as conductor for Barbra Streisand to writing for film (he wrote "The Way We Were" and "Nobody Does It Better") Hamlisch was always at work on one project or another. But Broadway was probably where Hamlisch was most at home and in the years following A Chorus Line he produced a number of scores that while chock full of melody and heart, never brought commercial success, most only running for a few months on Broadway.

REVIEW: Legally Bound - Orfeh & Andy Karl Live at Feinstein’s / 54 Below

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This live concert album is everything you could possibly want. Witty banter - check. Great songs - check. Delightful couple being adorable - check. Belting - CHECK!! Seriously, I have not enjoyed a live concert album this much in a long time.

For the uninitiated, Orfeh and Andy Karl are not only bona fide Broadway stars, they are also married, and also fantastically funny, charming, and talented. Orfeh, known for Legally Blonde and Saturday Night Fever is a beltress of the highest order, and absolutely brings down the house on this album. Her rendition of "Piece of My Heart" is the stuff of legend. Karl, known for Groundhog Day and Rocky, holds his own on the album, especially when he takes centre stage for the song "Keep on Standing" from Rocky, written by the incredible Ahrens and Flaherty.