Cast Albums Blog

Category Archive:  Review

REVIEW: Lady Day at Emerson's Bar & Grill

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Lady Day at Emerson's Bar & Grill is one of those shows that feels like it's been around forever, making regular appearances at small venues around the country whenever a local singing actress wants to flex her chops a bit with a show that's pre-sold on the name of its subject, Billie Holiday. In reality, the show debuted in 1986 at the Alliance in Atlanta before coming to New York in a well-received off-Broadway production and has been twice recorded before, in 1997 with Gail Nelson in the title role, and in 1998 with Pamela Isaacs.

I had never given much thought to the play itself, structured as a concert during Holiday's drug-fueled decline, and when it was announced for Broadway with no less than Audra McDonald in the title role, I was frankly surprised she'd bother with the show. But once performances started, it quickly became a hot ticket, and I don't know anyone who's seen her performance and not been thrilled.

REVIEW: Violet and Here Lies Love

Principal among the reasons that many of us still collect cast recordings is the desire to capture the evanescence of musical theater. Indeed, cast recordings can be so much more than just a compendium of songs from a show, but instead can transport the listener deep into the theatrical experience itself by including dialogue and underscoring. With this purpose in mind, I turn our attention to two new recordings which on the surface might appear entirely dissimilar: the 2013 disco musical about Imelda Marcos, Here Lies Love, and the 2014 recording of the Broadway revival of the Jeanine Tesori-Brian Crawley musical Violet. Both shows get handsomely produced double-disc recordings that aim to capture their 100-minute productions in almost their entirety, yet each album offers a different strategy on how to preserve their “in-theater” experience which make for intriguing if slightly uneven listens.

REVIEW: West Side Story - San Francisco Symphony

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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.)


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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

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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...