Cast Albums Blog
REVIEW: West Side Story - San Francisco Symphony
Leonard Bernstein only wrote five Broadway musicals in his career, and all five already have widely available symphonic recordings to complement their various stage cast recordings and film and television soundtracks. What need could there possibly be for new recordings of any of these scores in 2014? (Okay, no one is really happy with The White House Cantata, the symphonic version of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, but that's a subject for another blog post.) The new symphonic recording of West Side Story from the San Francisco Symphony, under the baton of Michael Tilson Thomas, makes such questions irrelevant by sheer force of artistry. (We’ll revisit this question in the fall when the 2014 revival cast recording of On The Town debuts.)
If you enjoy original cast albums in the Goddard Lieberson mold, which is to say, those that reconfigure the songs to be enjoyed without needing to follow the story from which they’re drawn, then you’re well-primed to appreciate If/Then, the new Idina Menzel vehicle by Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey. The show follows two different life stories of the same urban planner, Elizabeth, exploring how one inconsequential choice might set off two entirely different life paths. These two parallel lives are portrayed in alternating (and occasionally overlapping) scenes on stage, with different color schemes, nicknames (“Liz” and “Beth”) and the hardest working pair of eyeglasses this side of Clark Kent cueing the audience which timeline they are seeing.
REVIEW: Bullets Over Broadway
When it was first announced that Woody Allen and Susan Stroman were teaming up to bring Bullets Over Broadway to the musical stage, the news was greeted with tremendous anticipation, tempered only slightly by the news that the show would feature a score cobbled together from songs from the 1920s, the era in which the show is set. As the show approached Broadway, anticipation built around the casting of Helen Sinclaire, the role for which Dianne Wiest won an Oscar in 1995. When Marin Mazzie won the role amidst rumors that the show's creators were hoping for a star but couldn't find one who matched Mazzie's winning take, Broadway fans rejoiced. And then the show opened...
REVIEW: Nice Fighting You: A 30th Anniversary Celebration Live at 54 Below
Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty have the kind of versatility that makes it hard to consider their output as one body of work. Do the Caribbean rhythms of Once On This Island have anything in common with the Americana of Ragtime or the soft rock of Rocky? This new release on Broadway Records argues not only that they do, but that each of these scores and the rest of the Ahrens and Flaherty catalog bear revisiting.
Review: Adrift in Macao
One might be forgiven for stumbling over the name of Adrift in Macao composer Peter Melnick -- in the liner notes, he's even quoted referring to himself as "Richard Rodgers' 'other' grandson," an oblique reference to his famed cousin Adam Guettel. It's unclear on the basis of the album whether this state of affairs will continue. While far from a major work (one could argue that all three of Guettel's scores rank with the work of Sondheim -- but let's stop inciting a family feud, shall we?), the score to this noir pastiche is an old-fashioned, light, infectious piece that will play well in regional theatre.
The lyrics, on the other hand, are entirely modern--parodies of torch songs, songs with lyrics supposedly improvised on the spot, songs about themselves--in the manner that's taken over Broadway in the last decade or so. Fortunately, slumming lyricist Christopher Durang has sufficient skill and talent to bring most of them off ("Rick's Song" is a shaky mashup of "The Song That Goes Like This" and "The Diva's Lament" from Spamalot, but "Pretty Moon Over Macao," "In a Foreign City," and "The Chase" all score).
Unfortunately, this still means it's at best a matter of taste; one wonders whether the audience that wants to hear Melnick's score is the same as the audience that wants to hear Durang's lyrics. And when it comes to the weird "Asian" numbers for "Tempura" (Orville Mendoza), one wonders how many people want to hear any of it at all.
The cast is uniformly strong: Mendoza, who has the most floppo material, manages to sparkle with natural charm. Rachel deBenedet and Alan Campbell have the rare treat of playing (with gusto) romantic leads with better and funnier songs than their comic foils; still, Michele Ragusa and Will Swenson (the latter as "Rick Shaw"; ugh) acquit themselves well.
And whatever is lacking in individual numbers, all can be forgiven when the cast breaks into the charming title song or, better, the intoxicating "Ticky Ticky Tock" finale. In fact, if there's anything that inspires confidence in the future of Melnick and Durang as a songwriting duo, it's this simple, silly, pleasingly anachronistic sing-a-long for the company.
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