All posts by Michael Portantiere

Mary Poppins

Film Soundtrack, 1964 (Buena Vista/Walt Disney Records) 5 Stars (5 / 5) Disney’s Mary Poppins has been beloved from the moment audiences first saw the film in 1964, permeating our culture and becoming a hallmark for family friendly entertainment. Even if you’re a neophyte to the story of the mysterious and magical nanny who teaches a British family the importance of love, fun, and compassion, you’ll understand why the film has attained classic status with just one listen to this soundtrack. The score, by brothers Richard M. and Robert B. Sherman, remains timeless, with many of the songs long ago having achieved the status of internationally recognized standards: “A Spoonful of Sugar,” “ Jolly Holiday,” “Supercalifragilisticxpialidocious,” et al. Indeed, it’s difficult to think of another original movie musical that has produced as many great songs — and even the lesser-known ones, such as “Sister Suffragette” and “The Perfect Nanny,” are clever and charming enough to avoid being the sort of “skippable” tracks that even some of the best Broadway cast albums contain. As the action of the film is set in London in the early 1900s, Irwin Kostal’s arrangements pay fitting homage to Edwardian music halls, and his incidental music (included on deluxe editions of the soundtrack) craftily rearranges the Sherman Brothers’ compositions to feel like new pieces. As for the cast, they remain unbeatable. Julie Andrews made one of the most smashing screen debuts in history as Mary Poppins, a role that showcases her immense range, from comedic vaudevillian (“Supercalifragilisticxpialidocious”) to intimate chanteuse (“Feed the Birds”). By her side is Dick Van Dyke, effervescent as Bert, a jack-of-all-trades and loyal friend to Mary and her charges, Jane and Michael Banks. Though Van Dyke’s Cockney accent is legendarily awful, it really doesn’t matter at this point, as its humorous inauthenticity has taken on its own charming, nostalgic quality. In short, this soundtrack is a perfect companion to the landmark film. — Matt Koplik

Original London Cast, 2005 (Walt Disney Records) 4 Stars (4 / 5) Although Disney’s Mary Poppins is a beloved classic, author P.L. Travers, who wrote the book series on which the film was based, famously hated it.  For this reason, Travers initially refused any further adaptations of her stories about the magical nanny while she was alive — that is, until producer Cameron Mackintosh persuaded her to grant him the rights to create a stage musical. Travers acquiesced on the condition that the entire creative team for the project would be British and would exclude everyone involved in the Disney movie. Mackintosh kept his word, to a certain extent:  Although he collaborated with Disney Theatrical Productions so that the show could contain the most famous songs from the film, Mackintosh did bring on an entirely British team, including West End regulars George Stiles and Anthony Drewe to create new songs, expanding the score and giving the work a drier tone. While the final result isn’t as ebullient as the film, it’s still charming. The work of Stiles and Drewe is enjoyable in its own right — and, partly thanks to William David Brohn’s intelligent orchestrations, the score feels like a unified work, even if it does have two sets of writers. As heard on the cast album, the supporting players are a bit of a mixed bag: A bold and unleashed Rosemary Ashe stands out as the show’s villain, Miss Andrew (a character added for the musical), in “Brimstone and Treacle,” while Linzi Hatley’s Mrs. Banks is miscast, her modern-style vocalization at odds with the character’s new song, “Being Mrs. Banks” (a replacement for the film’s more entertaining “Sister Suffragette”). Gavin Lee is a wonderful Bert, and Charlotte Spencer and Harry Stott give intelligent performances as Jane and Michael, rewritten here as far brattier versions than the characters in the movie. But the biggest perk of the album is Oliver Award winner Laura Michelle Kelly’s performance as Mary Poppins. Charming, elegant, and ethereal, Kelly swims through the score with her captivating voice, elevating new songs such as “Practically Perfect” while bringing new life to “A Spoonful of Sugar” and other classics. If this recording isn’t the monumental achievement of the soundtrack, with Kelly leading the charge, it stands on its own. — M.K.

Australian Cast, 2011 (Walt Disney Records) 2 Stars (2 / 5) This live recording of a performance of the Australian production of Mary Poppins preserves all the revisions to the show that were made after the London cast recording was released. (No cast album of the Broadway production was issued.) While there are some tweaks in arrangements and lyrics, the most notable change is the replacement of “Temper, Temper,” a nightmarish fever dream in which Jane and Michael are reprimanded by the toys they abuse in their nursery, with the less sinister “Playing the Game.” Neither song is particularly noteworthy, but “Temper, Temper” has a bit more bite to it and would probably have been given Travers’ seal of approval over “Playing the Game.” Other than that, this album isn’t much different from the London recording in terms of material. William David Brohn’s orchestrations perhaps sound a little richer here, and the cast brings a good deal of energy to their performances. The album is billed as “live,” but the performance and the engineering are clean enough that it sounds as if it were recorded in a studio, aside from some applause at the end of certain numbers. Some casting perks here are Matt Lee as an entertaining Bert and Marina Prior as an improvement over Linzi Hatley in the role of Mrs. Banks. The rest of the cast members are either equal or inferior to their London counterparts, with Judi Connelli lacking the necessary vocal heft for “Brimstone and Treacle.” Sadly, although Verity Hunt-Ballard as Mary Poppins has a pleasant voice, she can’t match Laura Michelle Kelly’s luxurious soprano, and her characterization is no better than presentable and professional. This album may please first-time listeners, but there is a greater deal of fun to be had from the previous two recordings. — M.K.

Frozen

Film Soundtrack, 2013 (Walt Disney Records) 4 Stars (4 / 5) Arguably the most popular of Disney’s recent titles, Frozen revolves around two royal sisters: Elsa, who has the power to conjure snow and ice but is unable to control it, and Anna, who possesses no magical powers but is adventurous and desirous to be in love. By the end, they realize that the love they have for each other is strong enough to help Elsa control her powers, and is just as meaningful as any romantic relationship. A massive and enduring success, Frozen has received constant exposure in pop culture and media, leading many to become exhausted by the film, but first time listeners to this soundtrack will likely understand why it has continued to capture audiences. The songs, written by the married team of Kristin Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez (with incidental and choral scoring by Christophe Beck), are an intelligent blend of traditional musical theater and modern day pop, making the score feel both classic and current. (Doug Besterman once again provides lush and creative orchestrations.) The lyrics are often playful and cute while still offering strong character insight. “In Summer,” in particular, has a wittily morbid edge to it as sung by Olaf, a clueless snowman (Josh Gad) who wants nothing more than to experience warm weather, not realizing how it will effect his snow-based body. Frozen also benefits from having the strongest vocal cast for a Disney film since Beauty and the Beast, employing almost exclusively Broadway talent. In addition to Gad, we have Santino Fontana bringing credible Prince-ly charm to Hans,  Kristen Bell as Anna, and Idina Menzel as Elsa. Bell gets quite a few songs to showcase her pure, classic-Disney-Princess soprano (she and Fontana work particularly well together on “Love is an Open Door”), but it’s Menzel who does the vocal heavy lifting, as in the soundtrack’s phenomenal breakout hit, “Let It Go.” Though it has been overplayed to the point of its becoming a pop culture punchline, at its core the song is well-structured and catchy, belted out by Menzel with great relish. In the movie and on this soundtrack album, only Jonathan Groff is musically  wasted as Kristoff, a romantic foil for Anna, his singing limited to the thankfully short “Reindeers are Better Than People.” Otherwise, Frozen is a delight. — Matt Koplik

Original Broadway Cast, 2018 (Walt Disney Records) 3 Stars (3 / 5) In the continuing line of movies translated to the stage, Disney has had an erratic track record, ranging from great success (The Lion King) to major disappointments (The Little Mermaid, Tarzan). The Broadway adaptation of Frozen, which this recording represents, lies somewhere in the middle. On the plus side, the show tries to dig deeper into its source material than most other Disney stage musicals, but the results are often middling. Kristin Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez have been brought back to expand their score from the film, and Dave Metzger’s orchestrations pretty much follow Doug Besterman’s blueprints. But while new songs like “Dangerous to Dream,” “Hans of the Southern Isles,” and “True Love” are commendable in their intentions to give the characters complexity, they really can’t be described as anything more than serviceably listenable. Of all the additions, the song that comes closest to standing out is “Monster,” a second-act number for Elsa — but, musically, even that feels more like a lesser “Let it Go” than a fully developed new piece. While the principal players may not be able to separate themselves completely from the original movie cast, they are all strong singers and inject plenty of personality into their performances. As the two sisters, Caissie Levy (Elsa) and Patti Murin (Anna) work particularly hard not to present cartoonish interpretations while skillfully navigating the demands of the score. The recording is also well worth a listen for Stephen Oremus’s stunning vocal arrangements, which give the pre-existing songs from the film a shot of Broadway adrenaline and provide the show’s ensemble with rich choral material (“Vuelie” and “Queen Anointed” are particularly haunting). If this recording isn’t good enough to replace Frozen’s original soundtrack, it’s worthy to stand alongside it — or a few steps behind, at least. — M.K.

Aladdin

Film Soundtrack, 1992 (Walt Disney Records) 3 Stars (3 / 5) Following the immense success of The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast, Disney Animation firmly solidified what is now known as “The Disney Renaissance” with the critical and financial success of Aladdin in 1992. The film features a score with music by Alan Menken and lyrics by Howard Ashman, previously best known for their work on Little Shop of Horrors. Aladdin was a passion project for Ashman, who envisioned the story of a teenage hoodlum who happens upon a magic lamp and genie as a madcap romp set in the Middle East. However, Ashman succumbed to complications from AIDS before he could finish work on the project, and some of the songs he co-wrote were ultimately not used. In fact, only three songs with lyrics by Ashman remain in the film — “Arabian Nights,” “Friend Like Me,” and “Prince Ali” — with Tim Rice providing lyrics for two additions , “One Jump Ahead” and “A Whole New World.” If Rice’s lyrics don’t have the same level of wit and character as Ashman’s, they’re still fun and don’t feel like a jarring departure.  This is a fun recording, and it boasts what remains the best vocal leads of any Aladdin recording. Brad Kane is a charismatic Aladdin, blending well with Lea Salonga’s Princess Jasmine on the Oscar-winning “A Whole New World,” and Robin Williams is definitive as the genie of the lamp. Note: The deluxe edition of this soundtrack album includes bonus tracks of Howard Ashman singing demos for two songs cut from the film, the moving “Proud of Your Boy” and the fun “High Adventure.” — Matt Koplik

Original Broadway Cast, 2014 (Walt Disney Records) 3 Stars (3 / 5) The success of Aladdin as an animated film led to a stage adaptation two decades later. The good news is that the results here are far more successful than many other Disney transfers, though with some caveats. Choosing to underline Ashman’s original concept of presenting the story as a zany romp, the Broadway Aladdin is shinier, zippier, and sillier than the film. But while the show benefits from the inclusion of three songs with lyrics by Ashman that did not make it into the movie (“Proud of Your Boy,” “High Adventure,” and “Babkak, Omar, Aladdin, Hassim”), Chad Beguelin’s libretto isn’t quite clever enough to hold it all together. Although this is less of a problem on the cast recording than it was on a stage, enough of Beguelin’s meta-commentary jokes are peppered throughout (“Everyone here has a minor in dance!”) to make you roll your eyes. On the bright side, the score is given loving treatment in Danny Troob’s vibrant orchestrations and Michael Kosarin’s tight vocal arrangements. The one major misstep is turning the Genie’s “Friend Like Me” into a nearly 10-minute-long production number. While it’s performed energetically by James Monroe Iglehart, the song now feels overstuffed and tiresome. Iglehart is given a much better opportunity with “Prince Ali,” which has also been expanded from the film version, but to more satisfying effect. New additions to the score, such as “These Palace Walls” and “A Million Miles Away,” are pleasant enough, with Menken once again proving his gift for ear worms, but Beguelin’s lyrics are not on the same level as his predecessors’. Adam Jacobs gives an earnest performance as Aladdin, which works in ballads like “Proud of Your Boy” and “A Whole New World” but less well in peppier songs like “One Jump Ahead.” Courtney Reed’s Jasmine is mostly serviceable, though her voice is not as comfortable a fit for “A Whole New World” as Lea Salonga’s. And in a fun bit of déjà vu, Jonathan Freeman vamps it up as the evil villain Jafar, the part he voiced in the 1992 film. If this recording doesn’t have the overall charm of the original soundtrack, it’s still enjoyable, and it introduces audiences to some wonderful Ashman/Menken songs that had previously gone unheard. — M.K.

Film Soundtrack, 2019 (Walt Disney Records) 1 Stars (1 / 5) This is the soundtrack recording of Disney’s recent live action remake of Aladdin, a trend the company has continued ever since the massive financial success it had with its remake of Beauty and the Beast. The Aladdin soundtrack is not nearly the disaster that Beast was: the arrangements are mostly the same as the originals (though some pop and hip hop influenced percussion has been added), and the cast is of a higher vocal caliber (if still auto-tuned).  Yet, the recording is mostly free of personality. Everything is clear and pleasant enough, but it’s missing energy and character. Nowhere is this more evident than in Will Smith’s performance as the Genie. Whereas both Robin Williams and James Monroe Iglehart gave everything they had to their performances in the role, Smith goes for a more laid back, casual approach to the magical sidekick. This is a mistake, and though he doesn’t completely bungle his two big songs “Friend Like Me” and “Prince Ali,” they barely register. Mena Massoud and Naomi Scott are both fine as, respectively, Aladdin and Princess Jasmine, but they certainly don’t wipe away memories of the originals. Scott has been given a new number written by Menken with lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, “Speechless,” but the lyrics are so nondescript and the melody so jarringly different from the rest of the score that it doesn’t do anything to distinguish Scott’s Jasmine from Salonga’s or Reed’s. So, while this isn’t the worst soundtrack of a Disney remake, it’s the blandest of all three Aladdin recordings and is really more for completists than for anyone who want to be exposed to the score for the first time. — M.K.

Inner City

Original Broadway Cast, 1971 (RCA/Masterworks Broadway) 4 Stars (4 / 5) Perhaps the source material was too obscure for audiences to really understand this show. What poet Eve Merriam originally wrote was Inner City Mother Goose, a new take on nursery rhymes from an urban, sometimes violent perspective. So the familiar “Fee Fi Fo Fum” was followed by the less-expected “I smell the blood of violence to come,” while “Now I lay me down to sleep” was followed by “and I pray the double lock will keep.” Helen Miller set the poems to theatrical rock music. Most of them last a minute or less, but they’re memorable minutes. In “Hushabye Baby,” an unwed teenager sings about the child she’ll soon have, and it sounds like something that Brecht and Weill might have written had they been around in the early 1970s. Other highlights include “On This Rock,” a statement of urban pride; the jaunty “City Life”; and the pulsating “Law and Order,” which the TV series of the same title should have used as its theme song. “Deep in the Night” and “It’s My Belief” are solid anthems that helped win Linda Hopkins a Tony Award as Best Featured Actress. Then there’s “The Hooker,” in which a prostitute sings, “If they want to hear a story, then I give out with a story…I need ten dollars for grandma, who is coughing and spitting up blood. But whaddaya say we cut the crap?” The same socko melody is used for both “The Pusher” and “The Pickpocket,” but that last one didn’t make the album. That’s all right; we should be very grateful that this short-running show yielded a cast recording at all. — Peter Filichia

Pretty Woman

Pretty WomanOriginal Broadway Cast, 2018 (Atlantic) 0 stars; not recommended. Movies that were popular in the latter part of the 20th century have become the go-to source material for Broadway musicals these days. If a film is beloved, a show based on it has a built in audience, and if the movie was made more than 20 years ago, the show can cash in on the “nostalgia factor.”  Or so the thinking goes. This cynical mentality is nowhere more prominently seen than in Pretty Woman: The Musical. Based on the wildly successful 1990 romantic comedy, the show tries to please its audience by sticking so closely to the original screenplay that whole scenes are recreated line for line. (Garry Marshall, the film’s director, worked on the libretto with J.F. Lawton before his death in 2016.) It also trades on nostalgia by bringing in ’80s-’90s pop-rock team Bryan Adams and Jim Vallance to write the score,  and if none of the songs are offensively unlistenable, they’re all ultimately unnecessary. Each one starts by stating the basic intention of the character singing it, usually at a grooving tempo, with the following verses essentially rewording that same sentiment in a higher key and at a faster tempo. While this allows power belters like Samantha Barks and Orfeh to wail appropriately, it does little for the story. One need only read generic song titles such as “I Can’t Go Back,” “Something About Her” and “Never Give Up On a Dream” to understand the lack of insight Adams and Vallance have brought to the score. Set in a sanitized version of LA, the show follows Vivian (Barks, in the role that made Julia Roberts a movie star), a down-on-her-luck hooker who’s hired by reserved billionaire Edward (Andy Karl) as his escort for the week. After some playful banter and small blowups, the two fall in love, and all turns out well in the end. As Vivian, Barks decides not to channel Roberts’ bubbly charm in the film and go for a more nuanced performance, but her attempts are undermined at every turn by the banality of the lyrics and the repetitiveness of the music. Though Karl’s faux rock and roll growl suits the score’s style, he is ultimately wasted in the role of the withdrawn Edward. As Vivian’s spunky fellow prostitute Kit, Orfeh goes for broke and pulls out every vocal trick she has on songs like “Rodeo Drive” and “Never Give Up on a Dream.” But, like her costars, she’s failed by the lifeless pop tunes. Only Allison Blackwell, in a featured spot, gets any music with energy in it, during the sequence when Edward takes Vivian to the opera — but this is because she gets to sing a bit of La Traviata, which orchestrator/arranger Will Van Dyke seamlessly incorporates into the Adams-Vallance song “You and I.”  It’s a memorable moment in a recording you’ll otherwise forget about as soon as you finish listening to it. — Matt Koplik

Hadestown

Hadestown - ConceptStudio Cast, 2010 (Wilderland Records) 3 Stars (3 / 5) Though indie singer/songwriter Anaïs Mitchell always meant for Hadestown to be a stage musical, its first incarnation was in the form of this concept album, recorded for posterity and to give the piece greater audience outreach. The response was overwhelmingly strong, and Hadestown grew a dedicated fan base over the years until a production opened at the New York Theatre Workshop in 2016, followed by the show’s Broadway premiere in 2019. Considering the immediately intense response from fans, it’s surprising now to hear how simplistic the concept album is; compared to other concept albums that became stage musicals (Evita, for example),  this one is a much more relaxed affair. Based on the Greek myth of Orpheus, who travels to the Underworld (“Hadestown”) to bring back his love Eurydice, the piece as heard on this recording is a fairly straightforward retelling of the myth and is mostly a platform for Mitchell’s talents as a songwriter. Her music can groove festively (“Way Down in Hadestown,” “When the Chips Are Down”) or float dreamlike (“Wedding Song,” “Wait For Me”), always with an edgy undercurrent that foreshadows the danger lying ahead. Mitchell’s lyrics are poetically expressive, though they become sharper and more story-driven on the later cast albums. Here, Mitchell herself sings the role of Eurydice while Justin Vernon performs Orpheus. An odd choice is made in the mixing of Vernon’s vocals so that it sounds like multiple Vernons are singing together each time Orpheus is present. (According to the myth, Orpheus possessed a mystically beautiful singing voice, and the mixing may have been meant to reflect that, but the effect is off-putting.) Those who were unfamiliar with Hadestown until it came to Broadway and who desire to hear its origins will find this album mostly engaging, but both subsequent recordings of the score are superior and, of course, more indicative of what the piece eventually became. — Matt Koplik

Hadestown - NYTWOriginal Off-Broadway Cast, 2017 (Warner Classics) 4 Stars (4 / 5) Recorded live at the New York Theatre Workshop, this album has high-energy performances and a number of welcome changes to the piece since its original incarnation. The biggest change is that the Hadestown heard here is no longer so straightforward a re-telling of the Orpheus and Eurydice myth, but builds upon it by expanding characters that didn’t have much presence on the original recording and giving them more active roles. These include the messenger god Hermes (Chris Sullivan), who now narrates the proceedings. A trio of actresses called The Fates are more fully present as a Greek Chorus, and the myth of Hades (a quietly domineering Patrick Page) and his wife, Persephone (Amber Grey), is explored with greater depth here, showing us how their marriage, once passionate but now cold, has detrimentally effected the characters on earth. These changes make Hadestown a more fulfilling and well rounded piece, but they also create a new problem: Mitchell has written the supporting characters with a hard edge and a playful attitude, whereas her songs for Orpheus and Eurydice have a more earnest romanticism. On a surface level, this makes sense, as the young pair are meant to provide the heart of the piece. But in giving the supporting characters such rich, lively material, Mitchell has made them more interesting than the two leads. It doesn’t help that several of Orpheus and Eurydice’s songs included in the NYTW production are inexplicably not on the album. (“Wedding Song” is a major loss). Considering all of this, Damon Daunno and Nabiyah Be do admirable work as the doomed lovers. In fact, Daunno, is perhaps the best Orpheus heard on any of the official Hadestown recordings; he gives the character a confident, passionate swagger, and his voice sails smoothly through Mitchell’s score, seamlessly gliding in and out of a pure falsetto. Generally speaking, what’s presented on this recording is so well done that it almost makes up for the material that isn’t included. Fan favorites from the concept album, such as Orpheus’ “Wait for Me” or Hades’ scarily relevant “Why We Build the Wall,” are still here, but Mitchell’s additions are also worth noting: Persephone is given the jaunty “Livin it Up On Top,” gracefully vamped by Grey, and Hermes begins the show with a new opening number, “Road to Hell.” From the moment a trombone wails a jazzy, New Orleans-fueled intro to that song (orchestraters Michael Chorney and Todd Sickafoose continue from the concept album), you know that the energy of Hadestown has shifted from relaxed mysticism to hot theatricality. It’s a welcome change. — M.K.

Hadestown - OBCOriginal Broadway Cast, 2019 (Sing It Again Records) 5 Stars (5 / 5) After the workshop production at NYTW, Hadestown was staged in Canada and at the Royal National Theatre in London, where it continued to develop until it finally came to Broadway nearly a decade after the release of the concept album. On stage, the result is often breathtaking, with Mitchell’s score embracing its theatrical potential and director Rachel Chavkin and her team of designers working visual wonders. Some have complained that, in turning Hadestown into a full evening of theater, Mitchell overstuffed the piece with unnecessary material. There’s some truth there, in that, when the show is experienced live on stage, some numbers feel less important than others and/or seem to reiterate points made previously. But when listening to the recording, all of those complaints melt away, and we’re left with Mitchell’s fantastic work sung by a phenomenal company. Grey and Page are back as Persephone and Hades, with André de Shields offering a wiser and kinder Hermes than his predecessors. Eva Noblezada is a passionately sung Eurydice; her performance, and the addition of “Any Way the Wind Blows” (an already established song of Mitchell’s), give the character some much needed grit. Reeve Carney’s interpretation of Orpheus aims more towards a wandering man-child than the swaggering heartthrob offered by Daunno. This is fine, although it robs the character’s romantic pairing with Eurydice of heat. Also, while Carney has a strong voice and does well by the material, his singing is not quite as smooth and effortless as Daunno’s. Still, these are small quibbles about what’s overall a terrific album. One of its major highlights is “Wait for Me,” Orpheus’ cry to Eurydice as he travels to the Underworld to save her.  While the song was moving and pretty on the concept album, Mitchell, Chorney and Sickafoose here have shaped it into something spectacularly theatrical. And, speaking of waiting: Fans of Hadestown had to wait almost 10 years for the piece to become a completely satisfying stage musical, but their patience has been well rewarded. — M.K.

Tina: The Tina Turner Musical

TinaOriginal London Cast, 2019 (Ghostlight) 3 Stars (3 / 5) When experienced live in the theater, a “bio-musical” — like any other show — may be judged on several levels, including the production values and the quality of the storytelling, over and above the performances. But a cast album is all about the music. In that regard, this recording of Tina: The Tina Turner Musical, shorn of the show’s execrable book and direction, succeeds  thanks to the searing, passionate singing of Adrienne Warren in the title role. Also a pleasure to hear are the arrangements (by Nicholas Skilbeck) and orchestrations (by Ethan Popp), which deftly approximate the original charts of the songs that brought Turner worldwide fame during her decades-long career as a rock music goddess.  Warren was an Olivier Award nominee for this role on the London stage, and her portrayal was considered so vital to the show’s success that she was signed to repeat it on Broadway. Pick any tracks from the album at random — for example, “River Deep – Mountain High,” “Proud Mary,” “Private Dancer,” or “What’s Love Got to Do With It?” — and you may find yourself marveling at how skillfully Warren tributes the icon’s one-of-a-kind voice and delivery while still making the performance sound organic, something deeper than sheer mimicry. The other singers heard here are fine, including Kobna Holdbrook-Smith as Ike Turner. Still, the recording is All About Warren, and she will not disappoint those who feel they want an audio memento of this show even though, of course, Turner’s actual recordings of these songs are still and no doubt always will be very much available — Michael Portantiere

Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations

Ain't Too ProudOriginal Broadway Cast, 2019 (Universal Music) 5 Stars (5 / 5) There’s always a sense of déjà vu when a jukebox musical opens on Broadway,  as most people walk in humming the tunes. If Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations doubles that feeling, it might be due to another “ain’t” from distant memory: Ain’t Misbehavin’, the first jukebox revue to take home the Tony Award for Best Musical. Ain’t Too Proud offers audiences just what that 1978 show did, with great songs delivered in great performances. Praised for its spirited direction (Des McAnuff), clever book (Dominique Morisseau), and high-voltage choreography by Sergio Trujillo, who took home a Tony for his work, Ain’t Too Proud also delivers the goods in its cast recording. The energy of what’s being performed eight times a week at the Imperial Theatre is all here in an album made up of more than two dozen Temptations songs, featuring the one-of-a-kind Detroit rock & roll rhythms and harmonies for which the group became famous. Highlights include such favorites as “My Girl,” “Just My Imagination,” “Get Ready,” and “Papa Was a Rolling Stone.” As the show’s storytelling reveals, there were more than a few “Temps” over the course of the group’s long career besides its original foursome. But Derrick Baskin, James Harkness, Jawan M. Jackson, Jeremy Pope, and Ephraim Sykes stand front and center, leading a tremendously talented cast. The recording also offers a good deal of interstitial narrative, directly from the show’s book, that aids in the appreciation of the story.  (Of course, if you so choose, you can eliminate those tracks and custom design the album for your own listening pleasure). Mention should also be made of the fine orchestrations by Harold Wheeler, who at age 75 had his legendary, 50-year Broadway career capped with a special 2019 Tony Award for his contribution to the American musical. — Ron Fassler

The Band’s Visit

TBVOriginal Broadway Cast, 2017 (Ghostlight) 5 Stars (5 / 5) Stranded in an Israeli desert town by mistake, an Egyptian band stays overnight with the locals before heading on to their engagement. Composer-lyricist David Yazbek has created a luminous score that highlights not the differences between these strangers, but their commonality, mankind’s shared needs for love and connection. The music incorporates klezmer influences and American jazz, but especially Arabic folk and classical idioms and instruments: the oud, riq, and darbouka. Katrina Lenk’s nuanced voice brings life to the role of cafe owner Dina; she and her friends offer the Egyptians a heaping dish of sarcasm and watermelon in “Welcome to Nowhere.” (Their sleepy village has more “blah, blah, blah” than that Gershwin song.) “It Is What It Is” hints at Dina’s history, but the haunting “Omar Sharif” reveals more, describing how young Dina and her mother adored Sharif movies and the exotic singing of Oum Kaltoum. This admission resonates with Tewfiq, the Egyptian band’s buttoned-up conductor (Tony Shaloub). His single solo is an a cappella number in Arabic, “Itgara’a,” hinting at inner sorrows. Yazbek deftly slides the concluding phrase of “Itgara’a” into Dina’s response, “Something Different.” The other Egyptians also forge bonds with the Israelis, often through music. “The Beat of Your Heart” is an exuberant memory song, evoking how former musician Avrum (Andrew Polk) met his late wife; Camal (George Abud) and Simon (Alok Tewari) joyfully add their violin and clarinet. The awkward Papi (Etai Benson) relates his trouble with girls in the hilarious “Papi Hears the Ocean,” so Haled (Ari’el Stachel) advises him in the style of his idol, Chet Baker (“Haled’s Song About Love””). Camal accompanies Itzik (John Cariani) as he soothes his child in “Itzik’s Lullaby.” The transcendent “Answer Me” concludes the vocals, sung by the “Telephone Guy” (Adam Kantor), who’s forever waiting by the village’s single pay phone in the hope that his girlfriend will call. For a few glorious seconds, the entire company joins in, reflecting the basic human need for connection. Like the Telephone Guy, our ears are “thirsty” for more of that. – Laura Frankos

Tootsie

TootsieOriginal Broadway Cast, 2019 (Decca Broadway) 3 Stars (3 / 5) Librettist Robert Horn and composer/lyricist David Yazbek made some wise moves in translating the popular 1982 comedy film Tootsie into a stage musical — for example, shifting the milieu from a soap opera to a present-day Broadway musical in trouble. The focus remains on Michael Dorsey (Santino Fontana), a jerk of an actor whose desperation leads him to impersonate a woman (“Dorothy Michaels”) to land a role. Michael’s frustrations and hopes are echoed by his better-behaved show biz colleagues, as Yazbek’s brash and brassy score reveals the vicissitudes of the actor’s life. The ensemble expresses joy in “I Like What She’s Doing” when their show starts to improve in rehearsals, and opening night nerves in “The Most Important Night.” Julie Nichols (Lilli Cooper), the actress cast opposite Dorothy in the musical, Juliet’s Nurse, relates the toll that acting takes on personal relationships in the poignant “There Was John.” Sandy (Sarah Stiles), Michael’s neurotic ex-girlfriend, unloads her audition anxieties (“What kind of masochist keeps coming back for more?”) in the rapid-fire mambo number “What’s Gonna Happen.” The song is not quite a match for “Model Behavior” in Yazbek’s Women On The Verge Of a Nervous Breakdown, but it’s easily the funniest number in the score. During all of this, Michael’s roommate Jeff (Andy Grotelueschen) acts as a fresh, raunchy facet of Michael’s conscience. Fontana’s dual roles come alive through his vocal skills, and he nails Michael’s progression. At first, he’s an annoying narcissist making terrible choices, cleverly conveyed in “Opening Number” and “Whaddya Do.” Next, he’s an “Unstoppable” stage success as Dorothy, starting with the diegetic anthem “I Won’t Let You Down.” This serves as Dorothy’s killer audition — Fontana builds and builds triumphantly — and also hints at how “she” will help the show within the show. While the songs reflect Michael’s growth, they’re less successful at showing how Dorothy affects those around her. This isn’t Yazbek’s strongest score, but it serves the comedy of the plot very well. — Laura Frankos