Cast Albums Blog
REVIEW: Ride the Cyclone - World Premiere Cast Recording
When I saw Ride the Cyclone off-Broadway in 2016, I came away mostly impressed with the stylish visuals achieved through an excellent collaboration among designers and director. The musical spotlighted the teenage victims of a fatal rollercoaster accident, with a touch of mystery added by the presence of a Jane Doe victim found decapitated and unidentifiable. The show at its best was a neo-vaudevillian concept revue about the meaning of mortality, but at times it felt weighed down by the inertia built into the format where you can count the number of bodies on stage and calculate how many songs are likely left in the evening.
Five years later, revisiting the show as a purely aural experience through its World Premiere Cast Recording, the strengths of the score are more palpable, but they don't fully outshine its weaknesses either.
REVIEW: The Liz Swados Project
Liz Swados was the kind of artist not easily categorized. When she died (in January, 2016), the headline of her New York Times obituary remembered her as "Creator of Socially Conscious Musicals." Although "creator" has become an over-applied term in our current moment, it is certainly apt for her: composer and lyricist, writer, director, choreographer, memoirist, filmmaker and teacher.
While none of her projects ever really penetrated pop culture consciousness to become part of the canon, Swados's impact might best be measured by the influence she had on the generation that learned from her, and by that measure, she was a giant. The presence of a number of notable writers performing on this album, including Dave Malloy, Taylor Mac, Shaina Taub, The Bengsons, Michael R. Jackson, Grace McLean, and in a poignant posthumously released track, Michael Friedman, speaks volumes about Swados's standing among her colleagues.
The Liz Swados Project offers audiences a taste of what Swados had to offer, a survey course that will surely inspire more than a few to sign up for further study. A songwriter of remarkable range, the selections here range from vaudevillian musical comedy (such as "The Red Queen" from Alice in Concert, performed with aplomb by Mac) to free verse ("Song of a Child Prostitute" from Runaways, essayed by Sophia Ann Caruso, who sang the song in the recent Encores! Off-Center production) to experimental performance ("Bird Lament," recorded by Swados herself).
REVIEW: Linda Lavin – Love Notes
Although Linda Lavin has been singing for as long as she's been acting – her Broadway debut was in the ensemble of A Family Affair, and shortly thereafter she introduced the most memorable songs in The Mad Show and It's A Bird, It's A Plane, It's Superman – I suspect most of us think of her as an actor who sings than a singer qua singer. Her voice has always been more distinctive than distinguished, but her ability to put across a number is elevated by superb acting chops and comedic ability. That said, this album is a jazz record, not a cabaret act, so expect something closer to Ella Fitzgerald (minus the scatting) than Julie Wilson.
Releasing a jazz rectial disc at age 82 might have taken some chutzpah, but that is a quality Lavin has never lacked. Benefitting from collaboration with Billy Stritch (producer, pianist, and on one track, duet partner), the chutzpah pays off. Look, I grew up watching Alice in reruns, and at a moment in history where everything is terrifying, a recording of my tv mom singing standards is a welcome security blanket when we most need one.
REVIEW: The Michael Friedman Collection
When Michael Friedman died at age 41 from HIV/AIDS complications, the entire musical theater community was struck speechless. Beyond the real, human loss of a beloved man felled by a disease that should be treatable, there was the sense that an artist had been cut off right on the verge of coming into his prime. Despite some justly lauded achievements such as Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, Love's Labour's Lost, and Fortress of Solitude (all three produced by New York's Public Theater), he never quite broke through to the top echelon of creators.
Beyond his affiliation with The Public Theater, Friedman's other artist home was The Civilians, a company interested in "the intersection between the theatrical and the real." Much of their work is research-based and often verbatim, meaning the words spoken and sung by their characters are exact (or lightly edited) transcripts of interviews the artists conducted with real people. Gone Missing, Friedman's first cast recording, was the product of such a process.
When Friedman died, The Civilians (led by artistic director and frequent Friedman collaborator Steve Cosson) teamed up with Ghostlight Records to preserve his work through a long-term program of recording studio cast albums of nine of his previously unrecorded scores. Dubbed The Michael Friedman Collection, the project kicked off with three releases in October, 2019: The Abominables, The Great Immensity and This Beautiful City.
REVIEW: Broadway & Beyond – Marin Mazzie & Jason Daniely Live at Feinstein\'s/54 Below
Let's start with the obvious: the quality of Broadway & Beyond – Marin Mazzie & Jason Danieley Live at Feinstein's/54 Below is likely irrelevant to most of the people who will buy a copy, at least on its initial release. As a recording of the last concert these married Broadway stars gave before Marin died from ovarian cancer at age 57, the album (which, thanks to a successful crowd-funding campaign, will also be released as a video) makes a meaningful keepsake for fans.
That it just so happens to capture an absolutely gorgeous performance is gravy. The album was recorded June 1, 2017, slightly more than two years after Marin's diagnosis, but there's absolutely no sign of illness or weakness in her singing. (Jason sounds great too.) Backed by a three-piece band (musical director Joseph Thalken on piano, Pete Donovan on bass, and Rich Rosensweig on drums), the couple present highlights from their careers, starting with a medley of standards that had been incorporated into the avant garde production of The Trojan Women on which they met and including songs from The King and I, South Pacific, Kiss Me, Kate, The Full Monty, Curtains, The Visit, Ragtime, and even My Favorite Broadway: The Love Songs. You'll also hear a couple of familiar cuts from the first album they cut together, Opposite You, and for an encore, the song they danced to at their wedding, "Our Love Is Here To Stay."