Category Archives: J-K

The King and I

King-OBCOriginal Broadway Cast, 1951 (Decca) 3 Stars (3 / 5) Although the quality of Gertrude Lawrence’s singing as Anna in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The King and I was widely criticized, the effectiveness of her performance onstage was never questioned. While listeners may find the star’s vocal quality somewhat quivery here, the drama she brings to her songs gives substance to the superlatives that are still thrown around regarding her performance. Owing to space limitations on LPs of the 1950s, this recording has no dialogue lead-ins, little internal dialogue, and edits in many songs; the “Small House of Uncle Thomas” ballet and “Western People Funny” numbers are cut entirely. The exquisite Doretta Morrow as Tuptim wins the vocal prize with her solo “My Lord and Master” and her two duets with the stalwart but American-sounding Lun Tha of baritone Larry Douglas. Dorothy Sarnoff is wonderfully dignified in her rendition of “Something Wonderful,” and Yul Brynner’s first recording of “A Puzzlement” is essential, even though abridged. The sound quality of the recording was improved through remastering for digital media, and the preservation of the songs as originally performed, orchestrated by Robert Russell Bennett and conducted by Frederick Dvonch, shows this score to be a masterwork. Although subsequent recordings of The King and I are fare more complete and offer better sound, it would be a mistake to overlook this album.  — Jeffrey Dunn

King-HobsonOriginal London Cast, 1953 (Philips/Sepia) 1 Stars (1 / 5) Listening to Valerie Hobson as Anna, we can only wonder why, when so many people had issues with Gertrude Lawrence’s singing in the Broadway production, a stronger vocalist was not engaged for the role in London. Hobson has charm but fails to soar in her songs, except when she duets with Herbert Lom in “Shall We Dance?” Lom’s “A Puzzlement” is even further abridged than Yul Brynner’s on the original Broadway album, and not nearly as interesting. As Tuptim and Lun Tha, Doreen Duke and Jan Mazarus are generically legit singers. The only performance that rises above the level of “adequate” is Muriel Smith’s “Something Wonderful.” The Sepia CD is filled out with songs from two British musicals, Golden City and Bet Your Life. — J.D.

King-soundtrackFilm Soundtrack, 1956 (Capitol/Angel) 4 Stars (4 / 5) One of the best stage-to-screen adaptations, the film version of The King and I is largely responsible for the musical’s enduring popularity. To begin with, it captured Yul Brynner’s performance for posterity, and Marni Nixon’s gorgeous vocal dubbing for Deborah Kerr is uncannily perfect. The soundtrack recording contains three songs that are not in the film — “My Lord and Master,” “I Have Dreamed,” “Shall I Tell What I Think of You?” — and the audio portion of the “Small House of Uncle Thomas” ballet, performed almost complete in the film, is also included on the expanded version of the album. Orchestrations are credited to Robert Russell Bennett plus three others; supervised by musical directors Alfred Newman and Ken Darby, these orchestrations provide a majestic sound. Terry Saunders (LadyThiang) does her own fine singing, while Rita Moreno (Tuptim) and Carlos Rivas (Lun Tha) are respectively dubbed by Leona Gordon and Reuben Fuentes.  — J.D.

King-Cook2Studio Cast, 1964 (Columbia/Sony) 3 Stars (3 / 5) Unfortunately, this album features new orchestrations by Philip]. Lang, even though the originals for this score were among the best that Robert Russell Bennett ever created. Lang made a point of going his own way here, but his orchestrations actually work best when they are most reminiscent of the originals; when he seeks to improve, he fails. Nevertheless, this is a noteworthy recording in that it offers a superb performance by Barbara Cook, who had played Anna in a critically acclaimed 1960 staging of The King and I by the City Center Light Opera Company, run by Jean Dalrymple and devoted to faithful revivals of great musicals. While Cook’s performances of all of the songs are wonderful, her “Hello, Young Lovers” and “Shall I Tell You What I Think of You” are among the best on record, and her “Shall We Dance?” with Theodore Bikel as the King has great verve. Bikel delivers “A Puzzlement” in a stalwart manner; Jeanette Scovotti and Daniel Ferro are appropriate if unexciting as the young lovers; and Anita Darian is fine as Lady Thiang. — J.D.

King-StevensMusic Theater of Lincoln Center Cast, 1965 (RCA) 3 Stars (3 / 5) The King and I was the inaugural production of the regrettably short-lived Music Theater of Lincoln Center — Richard Rodgers, producer. The major news about this cast album was that it contained the first recording of the “Small House of Uncle Thomas” ballet (in a skillfully edited version), supervised by Rodgers and featuring Lee Venora as a superb Tuptim. Risë Stevens is a gushingly operatic Anna, Darren McGavin as the King makes a strong showing in “A Puzzlement,” Frank Poretta lends his glorious tenor to the Lun Tha/Tuptim duets, and Patricia Neway is a supremely stately Lady Thiang. — J.D.

King-77Broadway Cast, 1977 (RCA) 3 Stars (3 / 5) A lot of previously unrecorded music from The King and I (but not the “Small House of Uncle Thomas” ballet) can be heard here. Included are the offstage chorus that leads into “I Whistle a Happy Tune”; the crossover scene of monks chanting in counterpoint to the King’s children singing “Home Sweet Home”; the charming “Royal Bangkok Academy” song; the reprise of “A Puzzlement” for Anna’s son, Louis, and Prince Chulalongkorn; the droll “Western People Funny”; the lovely instrumental “Dance of Edward and Anna”; and the finales of Acts I and II. The completeness of this recording gives Yul Brynner a much stronger presence than displayed on the original Broadway album or the film soundtrack. Constance Towers is in excellent voice as Anna, even if she’s hampered occasionally by some of conductor Milton Rosenstock’s slow tempi. June Angela and Martin Vidnovic are fine as the “young lovers,” but this is the first recording to make adjustments in “I Have Dreamed,” giving Lun Tha more and Tuptim less of the second chorus. A wiser idea was the casting of an Asian actress as Lady Thiang, and Hye-Young Choi’s beautiful singing helped make this concept de rigueur for subsequent stagings. The original orchestrations sound excellent here, and the inclusion of so much music and dialogue earns-this recording a worthy place next to the original Broadway cast album. — J.D.

King-AndrewsStudio Cast, 1992 (Phillips) 3 Stars (3 / 5) Despite what sounds like a dream cast in the leading roles, this recording is strangely underpowered. It uses the arrangements and orchestrations from the film version of The King and I, which had internal cuts in many of the songs. On the plus side, several sections of dialogue are included, lending dramatic context to some numbers. The casting of Julie Andrews as Anna benefits the recording greatly. Ben Kingsley offers a well-sung, dramatic King, Marilyn Horne sings a majestic “Something Wonderful,” and if we must have a pop-vocalist approach to Tuptim and Lun Tha, Lea Salonga and Peabo Bryson at least sound tasteful and pleasant. If you are a fan of Andrews and have always longed to hear her as Anna, this recording is a must. The fact that her voice is not in pristine shape here matters little; her mere presence in the role, which fits her like a glove, makes up for any deficiencies. — J.D.

King-MurphyBroadway Cast, 1996 (Varèse Sarabande) 2 Stars (2 / 5) This revival starred Donna Murphy and Lou Diamond Phillips. While their singing was fine, what made their performances noteworthy was the revelatory acting that they brought to many scenes. Happily, a good amount of their dialogue is included on this recording. It gets down to business immediately with an overture that is really no more than a brief prelude and goes right into the Anna/Louis scene containing “I Whistle a Happy Tune.” Some listeners may have problems with Murphy’s use of chest tones rather than the expected soprano for Anna, but her “Hello, Young Lovers” comes from a place of great depth, and her “Shall I Tell You What I Think of You?” is compelling. However, “Getting to Know You” seems painfully slow, even if Murphy’s performance almost justifies the tempo. Phillips explores ”A Puzzlement” with such spontaneity that you may feel you are hearing it for the first time. Together, the stars score quite well in the scene leading into the finale of Act I and in the “Shall We Dance?” sequence — but, somehow, that song does not soar musically. This cast album also boasts many rarely recorded inclusions: “Confrontation” (between Anna and the Kralahome); “Procession of the White Elephant,” with dialogue from the Kralahome, Captain Orton, and Prince Chulalongkorn; “The Letter,” read by Anna to Lady Thiang; and the final scene, wherein Jimmy Higa as the Prince makes a game attempt at becoming kingly. As Tuptim and Lun Tha, Joohee Choi and Jose Llana were heartbreaking lovers onstage, but they come across as rather bland here. On the plus side, Taewon Yi Kim makes an impact as Lady Thiang; her”Something Wonderful” is enhanced by the inclusion of her scene with the Kralahome, in which Randall Duk Kim’s presence is strong. Still, what was a thrilling stage experience is not fully captured on this recording. — J.D.

King-and-I-MastersonStudio Cast, 1997 (JAY, 2CDs) 4 Stars (4 / 5) This is a note-complete recording of the score, with a very suitable cast superbly conducted by John Owen Edwards. British opera star Valerie Masterson and film star Christopher Lee fill the roles of Anna and the King well. Here is the first absolutely complete recording of the “Small House of Uncle Thomas” ballet, and only the second recording of the charming “A Puzzlement” reprise for Louis and Prince Chululongkorn. Overall, the score is very well sung, and a worthy attempt was made to create a dramatic listening experience. Masterson sings earnestly throughout, Lee is suitably grave (if a bit humorless), and Sally Burgess’s “Something Wonderful” is splendid. As the lovers Lun Tha and Tuptim, Jason Howard and Tinuke Olafimihan might have been oddly matched in a stage production, but they sound terrific here. This is a necessary recording for anyone who truly loves The King and I. — J.D.

King-animatedAnimated Film Soundtrack, 1999 (Sony) No stars; not recommended. If you think of this as a studio cast recording, rather than a soundtrack recording, you might get through it without grimacing. The singing of Christiane Noll as Anna and Martin Vidnovic as the King is excellent, but anyone who has seen the animated film that yielded this soundtrack album will find it impossible to shake off that awful memory. Here’s a scary thought: One day, a kid will be sitting in a theater at a revival of The King and I, and when “I Whistle a Happy Tune” begins, the child will ask: “Mommy, where’s the dragon?” — J.D.

King-PaigeLondon Cast, 2000 (WEA-Warner Music) 4 Stars (4 / 5) With the casting of Elaine Paige as Anna, it was evident that this London revival and cast album would be defined by the sterling vocal powers of the leading lady. Not only is Paige’s singing expectedly excellent, her acting is top-notch, and all other elements of this recording very strong. Instead of slavishly imitating the 1996 Broadway cast album, producer Mike Moran took a fresh approach with this recording, giving it a dramatic tension that’s sustained throughout its 70 minutes. The brief prelude is rich, taking us into the Captain Orton scene with Louis, then to Anna’s entrance as Paige sings a beguiling “I Whistle a Happy Tune.” Her magic continues in “Hello, Young Lovers” and “Getting to Know You.” Paige’s “Shall I Tell You What I Think of You?” reveals a mixture of humor, anger, warmth, and bottled-up fury. As the King, Jason Scott Lee delivers “A Puzzlement” and “Song of the King” with brio, and he and Paige wring everything possible out of “Shall We Dance?” As Lady Thiang, Taewon Yi Kim, who was also in the 1996 Broadway production, evinces a deeper understanding of the character now; this influences her singing of “Something Wonderful” to stunning effect. Tuptim’s “My Lord and Master” is sung with intensity and some welcome anger by Aura Deva, who also adds urgency to “We Kiss in a Shadow.” Sean Ghazi as Lun Tha is equally impressive here, and the well-played scene following the song gives the reprise enormous weight. Then this Tuptim and Lun Tha bring a totally different quality to “I Have Dreamed”; no longer fearful, their voices glide to a sweeter place as they ardently caress this glorious Rodgers and Hammerstein song. Other delights: Alexander Deng is an excellent Prince who will be King, and the entire “Small House of Uncle Thomas” ballet is included under the direction of John Owen Edwards’ skillful baton. So, what’s missing that was on the 1996 Broadway album? “Royal Dance Before the King,” “Procession of the White Elephant,” the reprise of “Something Wonderful,” and some dialogue. But with the excitement that this recording whips up, let’s not quibble. — J.D.

KingBroadway Cast, 2015 (Universal Music Classics-Decca Broadway) 3 Stars (3 / 5) While the Lincoln Center Theater production that yielded this recording was gorgeous and compelling overall, the performance of the score as recorded on the cast album and heard in isolation is disappointing in several respects.  Kelli O’Hara brings her famously beautiful voice to Anna’s music, but her tendency to sing much of the part very lightly and lyrically, plus some uncharacteristic toying with phrasing, does not make for ideal interpretations of these immortal songs. The energy and grit that O’Hara brought to the show’s book scenes, which helped win her a Tony Award, are present here only intermittently. Ruthie Ann Miles as Lady Thiang also won a Tony for her performance, yet she does not have quite the sumptuous vocal tone one wants to hear in “Something Wonderful,” nor is the pop-ish quality of her phrasing and pronunciation right for the character. Conrad Ricamora as Lun Tha sounds strained and uncomfortable in the higher-lying measures of the beautiful “We Kiss in a Shadow” and “I Have Dreamed”; Ashley Park fares considerably better as Tuptim. Although Ken Watanabe’s heavy accent and less than sturdy singing in the role of the King came in for some criticism, his performance is charismatic and engaging. The orchestra sounds great under musical director/conductor Ted Sperling, but the overture is marred by the addition of “Shall We Dance?” for some inexplicable reason. Finally, this recording includes a lovingly conducted, skillfully edited version of the “Small House of Uncle Thomas” ballet that’s undercut to some degree by Park’s rather melodramatic delivery of Tuptim’s narration. — Michael Portantiere

Kelly

KellyStudio Cast, 1998 (Original Cast Records) 1 Stars (1 / 5) Kelly closed on its opening night, and this latter-day studio recording shows why it was one of the biggest flops of the 1960s. Eddie Lawrence’s book focuses on the title character, who plans to jump off the Brooklyn Bridge for fame and profit, but the sketchy notes in the CD booklet provide few clues as to how the plot develops. The score, by Lawrence and Moose Charlap, is a raucous evocation of 1880s New York that reaches for a Brecht-Weill astringency without achieving it. There is a standout in “I’ll Never Go There Anymore,” an ambitious musical-dramatic scene with a haunting melody. In the roles of Kelly and his love interest, Angela, Brian d’Arcy James and Sally Mayes make their material seem better than it is. (Mayes shares Angela’s numbers with pop singer Sandy Stewart.) Lawrence himself appears in several numbers, and there are contributions from solid pros Marcia Lewis, Jane Connell, Conrad John Schuck, and George S. Irving, although they’re pretty much defeated by the generally monotonous melodies and sub-par lyrics. A bonus track features Stewart in a lovely 1965 rendition of “I’ll Never Go There Anymore.” — David Barbour

Kean

KeanBroadway Cast, 1961 (Columbia/DRG) 5 Stars (5 / 5) Some people may think of Robert Wright and George Forrest as mere “adapters” because the team famously took the works of classical composers and massaged them into such musicals as Song of Norway and Kismet, but here’s proof positive that they could craft their own wonderful music and lyrics. Based on a play by Dumas, the show tells a somewhat true version of the life story of the man who at one time was considered Britain’s greatest actor, Edmund Kean. In the title role, Alfred Drake is in top form as he delivers the romantic ballads “Sweet Danger” and “To Look Upon My Love” and the comedic “Civilized People,” proving again that he could do it all. As for the song “Elena,” had that name been as popular in 1961 as Maria was in 1957, the Kean tune might have become as popular as that little number from West Side Story. There’s much more to like here, including the rollicking “The Fog and the Grog,” the swirling waltz “Swept Away,” and, in “Penny Plain, Twopence Colored,” the most glorious melisma in all musical theater — six measures long, and exquisitely sung by Alfred De Sio. Finally, Drake gets to put over a highbrow answer to “Rose’s Turn” in “Apology,” crafted by the songwriters and librettist Peter Stone. Kean is an underrated musical that’s worth a listen. — Peter Filichia

Kat and the Kings

KatOriginal London Cast, 1998 (First Night/Relativity) 2 Stars (2 / 5) The good thing about this cast album, recorded live at London’s Vaudeville Theatre, is that it allows you to avoid the show’s well-meaning but hackneyed book and focus on the peppy, doo-wop music that gave this Olivier Award-winning musical its spark. The songs, by David Kramer and Taliep Petersen, may be only imitations of the ’50s-’60s classics that inspired them, but they do exhibit pleasant harmonies and toe-tapping beats. And they’re delivered with enthusiasm by the wonderful young cast members in this story of a group of friends in apartheid-era South Africa who aspire to rock stardom but encounter obstacles at every turn. Happily, the CD booklet contains all the lyrics; but even more welcome would have been a synopsis and background on the show, which was apparently a labor of love for its South African company and creators. Their good intentions are not enough to make Kat and the Kings essential for your cast album collection, but it’s an enjoyable listen. — Brooke Pierce

Juno

JunoOriginal Broadway Cast, 1959 (Colurnbia/Fynsworth Alley) 4 Stars (4 / 5) For years, cast album collectors begged Columbia to issue this heartbreaker on CD. Finally, Fynsworth Alley got the rights and released a CD in 2002. In adapting Sean O’Casey’s Dublin tragicomedy Juno and the Paycock to the musical stage, composer-lyricist Marc Blitzstein and librettist Joseph Stein showed considerable theatrical savvy and the utmost integrity. Their thrilling score opens with “We’re Alive,” a jaunty march that ends in tragedy and turns into a dirge. Immediately after it comes “I Wish It So,” one of three arresting ballads assigned to the lucky singer Monte Amundsen in the role of Mary Boyle. Then Shirley Booth acts “Song of the Ma” to the core (its verse is by O’Casey himself), and her approximate note-hitting proves to be just right for this overburdened character. The rest of the cast is also amazing: Melvyn Douglas (like Booth, he has not much of a singing voice but is a wonderful actor), Tommy Rall, Jean Stapleton, Nancy Andrews, Sada Thompson, Jack MacGowran, and Loren Driscoll (who holds one of the longest notes ever attempted at the end of “One Kind Word”). First-class all the way, the album was produced by Goddard Lieberson; the orchestrations are by Robert Russell Bennett, Hershy Kay, and Blitzstein; and the conductor is Robert Emmett Dolan, an underappreciated Broadway composer himself. Blitzstein does overreach toward the end with a pompous “Hymn” and some noisy ballet music (Agnes De Mille choreographed), but even here, one admires his ambition and his refusal to cheapen the material with standard audience-pleasing tactics. — Marc Miller

Jumbo

JumboFilm Soundtrack, 1962 (Columbia/Sony) 3 Stars (3 / 5) In these days of multi-million-dollar Broadway mega-musicals, it’s interesting to note that a 1935 show nearly created a scandal because it was budgeted at $350,000. High-rolling producer Billy Rose was responsible for that near-obscene outlay of cash, which he lavished upon a musical spectacle — literally a circus — called Jumbo. It ran at the mammoth Hippodrome, refitted as a three-ring arena for a production that featured a number of circus acts, a Romeo-and-Juliet-under-the-big-top plot, the antics of Jimmy Durante, and a wonderful score by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart. The show was too expensive to recoup its investment, and it soon passed into legend, but three of its songs — “My Romance,” “The Most Beautiful Girl in the World,” and “Little Girl Blue” — became standards. When Jumbo made it to the screen in 1962 (with Billy Rose’s name included in the title), not even the world’s top box-office draw, Doris Day, could turn the film into a financial success. Nevertheless, the soundtrack recording is bouncy and enjoyable, with Day in strong voice. Durante repeated his stage role, and his reprise of “The Most Beautiful Girl in the World” is captivating. Martha Raye is a delight as his long-suffering fiancée. Most often remembered as a wide-mouthed clown, Raye was an accomplished vocalist; this becomes clear when she duets with Day in “Why Can’t I?”,  one of several R&H interpolations. Leading man Stephen Boyd’s songs were dubbed by the strong-voiced James Joyce (how’s that for an Irish name?), and the score was further padded with Roger Edens’ “Sawdust, Spangles, and Dreams.” Since there is no cast album of the stage production of Jumbo, it’s nice to have selections from the entertaining film soundtrack on disc. — Richard Barrios

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat

Joseph-BondStudio Cast, 1974 (MCA) 3 Stars (3 / 5) In the early years of their partnership, composer Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyricist Tim Rice were inspired by Biblical lore. Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat was first presented as a brief pop cantata (about 15 minutes in length) at  the Colet Court School in London in 1968, and that short piece was recorded in 1969. Following the huge success of the original recording of Lloyd Webber and Rice’s Jesus Christ Superstar,  the earlier work received stage performances beginning in 1970, and was expanded for recordings in 1971 and 1972. Joseph… was produced in London’s West End in 1973, and that production led to this full studio recording.  Whereas Superstar had drawn on the New Testament, Joseph… is a soft-rock musical based on the Old Testament tale of a young man who is betrayed by his brothers before becoming a powerful figure in Egypt. The score is clever, with plenty of variety. Joseph’s brothers get most of the humorous songs: a western tune, “One More Angel in Heaven”; a French-style drinking song, “Those Canaan Days”; and the “Benjamin Calypso.” An Elvis takeoff for the Pharaoh is thrown in for good measure. Peter Reeves is good as the Narrator; he is the only male to sing the role on any of the recordings under review here. Gary Bond is fine as Joseph, and his “Close Every Door” is a highlight of the disc. Although this recording doesn’t represent the score as later expanded, it’s a nice piece of history and a good listen. — Matthew Murray

Joseph-HuttonOriginal Broadway Cast, 1982 (Chrysalis) 4 Stars (4 / 5) For this production, first seen Off-Broadway and then on,  Joseph… had a female Narrator. And what a Narrator she was! Laurie Beechman, with her vivacity and wonderful high belt, sets the standard for this role, which has been played by women in every subsequent major production. Bill Hutton is one of the best Josephs ever recorded; his rich low notes, warm middle register, and strong, secure high notes bring more colors to the character’s music than is often the case. Beechman, Hutton, the brothers, the female ensemble, and the fine orchestra, skillfully led by David Friedman, make this the most dazzling recording of the show, despite a few cuts in the score and a reduced orchestra. Highlights are numerous, including Beechman’s “You Are What You Feel,” Hutton’s “Close Every Door” and “Any Dream Will Do,” and Tom Carder’s rendition of the Pharaoh’s number. — M.M.

Joseph-Jason-DonovanLondon Cast, 1991 (Polydor) 2 Stars (2 / 5) This recording is most notable for its inclusion of the extensive “Joseph Megamix,” a finale reprise of the score’s best numbers. The album represents the show’s final version, but it’s far from definitive. In the title role, Jason Donovan is bland throughout, and Linzi Hateley lacks authority as the Narrator. The supporting players are also lukewarm; even David Easter’s Pharaoh fails to score, because his Elvis impersonation is so overdone. For these reasons, the recording is recommended only to diehard fans of the show. — M.M.

Joseph-Donny-OsmondOriginal Canadian Cast, 1992 (Polydor) 3 Stars (3 / 5) Donny Osmond began his lengthy stint as Joseph in the show’s premiere Canadian production. He’s not the best vocalist to have taken the part, yet he brings to the role a likeability and tremendous sense of fun that keeps audiences invested in the character from start to finish. His “Any Dream Will Do” and “Close Every Door” are among the most moving renditions of those songs. Aside from anchoring the show, Osmond’s s performance reclaims star status for Joseph; as the Narrator, Janet Metz displays vocal finesse but lacks the charisma needed to make the character stand out from the ensemble. Even so, there’s a lot to like here, particularly the men playing Joseph’s brothers. Among them are such future Broadway names as Jeff Blumenkrantz, Timothy J. Alex, Vance Avery, Michael Berresse, and Rufus Bonds, Jr. — M.M.

Joseph-DamianLos Angeles Cast, 1993 (Polydor) 3 Stars (3 / 5) The star of this recording of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, soap-opera heartthrob Michael Damian, compensates for his vocal shortcomings with acting ability and charm. Kelli Rabke’s Narrator exhibits a great deal of vocal strength, but the singers to listen for are Broadway pros Clifford David (as Jacob and Potiphar), Bill Nolte (as the Baker and one of Joseph’s brothers), and Marc Kudisch and Willy Falk (as two other brothers). Robert Torti’s Pharaoh is excellent in his one big number. — M.M.

Joseph-TVVideo Soundtrack, 1999 (Really Useful Records) 3 Stars (3 / 5) Donny Osmond returned to the title role for a video production of Joseph … and gave another joyous performance. Joining him as the Narrator is the eminent West End star Maria Friedman, who sings brilliantly and exudes enough star presence to match Osmond’s. Richard Attenborough and Joan Collins are a hoot as Jacob and Mrs. Potiphar, respectively. The strong ensemble helps make this a fine recording of the expanded score.  — M.M.

Johnny Johnson

JohnnyJohnson-1956Studio Cast, 1955 (MGM-Heliodor/Polygram) 5 Stars (5 / 5) Kurt Weill’s first American musical, with lyrics by Paul Green, gets a thrillingly theatrical workout in this recording. Musical director Samuel Matlowsky is in firm control of a remarkable cast that includes Burgess Meredith, Thomas Stewart, Evelyn Lear, Hiram Sherman, Jane Connell, Scott Merrill, and Lotte Lenya. Weill’s score features tangos, cowboy songs, Victorian-era love songs, group numbers, marches, torch songs, French cabaret numbers, German lullabies, and an abundance of orchestral and dance music. The score is much more sophisticated than Green’s book, which is a victim of bad timing and overwriting about the wartime plight of innocent soldiers. Anti-war pieces were a staple of the post-World War I years, but by 1936, when Johnny Johnson opened on Broadway, the theme wasn’t as valid; Johnny’s sweet, anti-war gropings paled when compared with the genuine evils of Hitler. Still, this is a score filled with imaginative moments. Because attempts at revival have failed, this exciting album may remain the best way to fully appreciate Weill’s considerable achievement. — David Wolf

Johnny-1997Studio Cast, 1997 (Erato) 3 Stars (3 / 5) This recording of Johnny Johnson is in stereo, versus the earlier version in monaural, and it has more music than its predecessor. But my vote still goes to the first recording, which has an extraordinary cast of singing actors, a more theatrical feel, and sharper musical direction. Here, Joel Cohen’s musical direction is soft, and though all of the performers sing well, they are noticeably uncomfortable when they have to speak dialogue. — D.W.

John & Jen

John-JenOriginal Off-Broadway Cast, 1996 (Varèse Sarabande/Fynsworth Alley) 2 Stars (2 / 5) Talk about intimate: John & Jen is a three-character musical for two actors. Unfortunately, in its relentless focus on a single dramatic situation, the piece is perhaps too small. Carolee Carmello is Jen, who grows up protecting her younger brother, John, from their abusive father. Jen goes off to college, becomes a hippie, and falls in love with a draft-dodger. To please his father, John enlists in the Army and is killed in Vietnam. In Act II, Jen is now a single mother with a son named — you guessed it. Jen smothers the young John with unwanted attention, driving their relationship to the breaking point. Rated “S” for Sensitivity, John & Jen is a tearjerker that nevertheless leaves listeners surprisingly dry-eyed. The songs by Andrew Lippa (music) and Tom Greenwald (lyrics) are workmanlike, and the book (by both) is too schematic, so the characters and their airless existence soon become tiresome. Still, the final three numbers — “The Road Ends Here,” “That Was My Way,” and “Every Goodbye Is Hello” — do approach the emotional payoff that the authors aimed for. Carmello, one of our best singing actresses, works wonders with the material, and James Ludwig is also fine as the two Johns. In fact, these performers make the score sound better than it actually is. Still, it’s an interesting calling card for two young writing talents and for orchestrator Jason Robert Brown, who at this time had not yet established himself as a musical theater composer/lyricist. — David Barbour

Jimmy

JimmyOriginal Broadway Cast, 1969 (RCA/no CD) 1 Stars (1 / 5)This misbegotten musical biography of New York Mayor Jimmy Walker has three unsympathetic protagonists, a leading man who can barely hold a note, and a score that aspires to Jerry Herman-like friendliness but can’t come up with a single memorable melody or impressive lyric. Producer Jack Warner probably selected Frank Gorshin to star because his compact Irishness reminded him of Jimmy Cagney. Unfortunately, Gorshin exhibits a wavery, raspy voice, and he has no sense of how to shape a song. This isn’t to say that the songs, by Bill Jacob and Patti Jacob, are in any shape for shaping; the best they can do is wallow in New York platitudes, as in “Riverside Drive,” or try to overlay some trendy, soft-rock sounds onto the Prohibition milieu, as in “What’s Out There for Me?” Anita Gillette is hard-edged as Jimmy’s mistress, and as his neglected wife, Julie Wilson hard-sells the torcher “I Only Wanna Laugh.” They’re pros, but they’re wasting their time. The relentlessly bright sound of the RCA recording makes the whole thing seem even worse than it is. — Marc Miller