Cast Albums Blog
REVIEW: Jesus Christ Superstar: Live in Concert - Original Soundtrack of the NBC Television Event
Few scores have been recorded as many times in as many different interpretations as Jesus Christ Superstar. Perhaps owing to its origins first as a concept album, then as a concert tour, and then as a world-wide stage musical phenomenon (with each country's production independently envisioned by its own production team) and film (created simultaneously with and distinct from the stage version), this score has never had a standard mold into which subsequent renditions must fit. Further, the recent NBC "television event" is at least the fifth English-language video production of the material, so there was no pressure to preserve a "definitive" rendition.
The result was received fairly rapturously on television, with two major, near-universal caveats: the sound mix on the live broadcast was less than ideal, and the noisy audience was intrusive. (Yes, yes, there was also some disagreement about whether John Legend's less screamy version of Jesus was suitable; more on that in a bit.)
So, I'm pleased to report that the mix for the TV soundtrack album is entirely different from what we heard on television. If anything, it has been overcorrected for the broadcast issues, with the lead vocals being moved so far forward the band occasionally feels weaker than it should, and the audience moved so far back they occasionally sound phantasmic. This makes the audience less annoying, but also less effective in the moments when they are called upon to represent the population of Jerusalem reacting to Jesus's ministry and persecution. The vocal/instrumental balance smooths over any vestigial rock edge the score once had while obscuring some of the orchestration innovations this production employed. Admittedly, there weren't many -- the music staff wisely hewed closely to the original 70s sound rather than giving the music a contemporary veneer.
REVIEW: Working - Original London Cast
Over the past few years, London’s Southwark Playhouse has built an enviable reputation as the home of an eclectic series of productions of American musicals. Productions from a 250-seat fringe theatre south of the river, though, do not usually yield cast recordings, so the new (and thoroughly enjoyable) cast album from last year’s European premiere production of Working is a very welcome surprise. Luke Sheppard’s production was a dazzling, more-or-less perfect gem in the theatre, but plenty of theatrical gems have gone unrecorded. This one, though, has a unique selling-point: two brand-new(ish) songs by Lin-Manuel Miranda augmenting the score’s (already) eclectic range of songs from a diverse set of composers and lyricists.
REVIEW: Once on This Island - 2018 Broadway Cast
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!
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
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.