Category Archives: J-K

Jesus Christ Superstar

Superstar-OriginalStudio Cast, 1970 (Decca, 2CDs) 4 Stars (4 / 5) This tour-de-force rock opera, by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, presents Jesus Christ as a man at the center of a cult of celebrity while tracking the last week of his life in a respectful fashion. The composer-lyricist team succeeds in bringing the problems of both revered and reviled figures down to earth. Some of the songs examine the relationship of Jesus with his disciples (“Heaven on Their Minds”) and his doubts about doing what’s expected of him (“Gethsemane”), while others delve deeply into the character of the betrayer Judas, viewing his actions and their effects from multiple perspectives. The excellent cast conveys the richness of the story on the original recording , which preceded any of the stage productions.  As Jesus and Judas, respectively, Ian Gillan and Murray Head are perfect for their roles; their rangy, powerful voices are capable of handling the demanding score and complex characterizations. Yvonne Elliman, barely 18 at the time of the recording, is just right as the reformed sinner Mary Magdalene and offers the definitive performance of “I Don’t Know How to Love Him.” Although Barry Dennen is hardly a spectacular singer, he finds plenty of nuances in Pontius Pilate; his repudiation of Jesus in the “Trial Before Pilate” sequence is particularly powerful. Conductor Alan Doggett keeps the orchestra and the singers working at top form from beginning to end. — Matthew Murray

Superstar-BroadwayOriginal Broadway Cast, 1971 (Decca) 3 Stars (3 / 5) Elliman and Dennen, the only two principal performers held over from the original recording, remain ideal on the Broadway cast album; if anything, in fact, they improved on their performances. The other singers are good, though generally lacking the hard-rock voices that make the first recording so exciting. Jeff Fenholt’s Jesus is dramatically astute but underpowered vocally. Ben Vereen is a magnetic Judas, and Bob Bingham’s bass makes his Caiaphas an often terrifying standout. The only major addition to the score is the lovely “Could We Start Again, Please?” for Mary Magdelene and Peter (Michael Jason). Unfortunately, this one-disc recording amounts to little more than a highlights album: Omitted are the overture, “What’s the Buzz/Strange Thing Mystifying,” “The Last Supper,” and about six other songs and sequences. — M.M.

Superstar-MovieFilm Soundtrack, 1973 (Decca, 2CDs) 2 Stars (2 / 5) The film version of Jesus Christ Superstar is musically faithful to the original property, with minor changes (mostly in lyrics) and no major cuts. One song, “Then We Are Decided,” was added for Caiaphas and the priests, to limited effect. Director Norman Jewison plays up the story’s intimacy, but in some sequences, this lessens the dramatic power of the work. The fine cast has Elliman and Dennen back again; they are  joined by Broadway’s Bob Bingham, still imposing as Caiaphas, and Ted Neeley as Jesus (he had understudied the role on Broadway and played it on tour and in Los Angeles). Carl Anderson’s Judas comes across most effectively on this recording, which is conducted by Andre Previn.  — M.M.

Superstar-Nicholas20th Anniversary London Cast, 1992 (RCA, 2CDs) 2 Stars (2 / 5) Paul Nicholas, who played the title role in the first London stage production of Jesus Christ Superstar, should probably have avoided revisiting the part 20 years later. His acting here is fine, but his voice betrays his age, and he doesn’t come across very well opposite the fresher-sounding Keith Burns as Judas and Claire Moore as Mary Magdelene. Gary Martin is an effectively creepy Caiaphas, and Jeff Shankley’s contemplative Pilate is also good. While this cast recording is never outstanding, it’s solid enough until its final track, “Could We Start Again Please?” The song is not presented in its proper slot in the show and is given an awful, Muzak-like rendition, complete with new Tim Rice lyrics that sound like they were written for just another bland pop song. — M.M.

Superstar-RoweStudio Cast, 1996 (JAY, 2CDs) 1 Stars (1 / 5) With its legit-sounding chorus and inappropriately leisurely tempos, this is one of the score’s most ineffective presentations. There are a few good things here; the priests, led by Billy Hartman’s Caiaphas, sound truly threatening, and Ethan Freeman’s Pilate is good. But most of the recording comes across as a musical experiment gone terribly awry. Numerous questions arise: Why does Clive Rowe’s Judas lack almost all the role’s familiar pop inflections, however sumptuous his voice, and why is his enunciation of the lyrics nearly unintelligible? Why does Dave Willetts’ Jesus sound 10 times as vicious as any of the people who want him crucified? Why does Issy van Randwyck spoil her otherwise fine Mary Magdelene with laughable embellishments in “I Don’t Know How to Love Him?” Why does the “Crucifixion” sequence feature what sounds like a lounge piano player having an epileptic seizure? And why has “Could We Start Again Please?” again been moved out of the actual song order to the end of the disc? — M.M.

Superstar-AmpilStudio Cast, 1996 (Decca, 2CDs) 3 Stars (3 / 5) Joanna Ampil is one of the weakest Mary Magdelenes on record, and her performance mars this otherwise commendable recording of Jesus Christ Superstar. Never has it been more clear how much the contrast of Mary’s emotions affects the balance of the show;  Ampil has so little bite in her songs that the character essentially becomes insignificant. But there are no flaws in the rest of the casting. Steve Balsamo’s Jesus and Zubin Varia’s Judas are terrific, and David Burt’s Pilate is painted with a variety of vocal and emotional colors. In a surprisingly enjoyable turn, Alice Cooper appears as Herod, lending authority and subtle humor to a role that is often overplayed. The orchestra here sounds a bit thin, but despite that fact, a few lyric changes, and Ampil’s performance, this album is quite good overall. — M.M.

Superstar-PradonVideo Soundtrack, 2000 (Sony) 2 Stars (2 / 5) This recording of highlights from a television production of Jesus Christ Superstar may be lacking in terms of completeness — no “This Jesus Must Die” or “Damned for All Time/Blood Money” — but certainly not in energy. If Jerome Pradon’s Judas isn’t one of the most vocally accomplished on record, it’s a performance of considerable dramatic power. Renee Castle as Mary Magdelene, Tony Vincent as Simon Zealotes, and Frederick B. Owens as Caiaphas perform admirably, but the casting is otherwise less sure. Although Glenn Carter acts well enough in the title role, his singing is weak; he delivers some of his high notes in a falsetto that’s not well supported, and his rendition of “Gethsemane” is rather gutless. Fred Johanson is superb in “Pilate’s Dream” but over-emotes destructively in “Trial Before Pilate.” — M.M.

Jerry’s Girls

Jerry-editOriginal Broadway Cast, 1984 (Polygram/JAY) 3 Stars (3 / 5) When Jerry’s Girls opened on Broadway in 1985, it starred Dorothy Loudon, Chita Rivera, and Leslie Uggams. No Broadway cast album was released. But in 1984, when Uggams, Carol Channing, and Andrea McArdle were on a lengthy pre-Broadway tour with the show, the stars made this recording, originally released as two-LPs and later as a single CD. The album includes eight songs from Mame, six each from Hello, Dolly! and Mack & Mabel, four from La Cage aux Folles, two each from Parade, Dear World, and A Day in Hollywood/A Night in the Ukraine, and one from Milk and Honey. (There’s nothing here from The Grand Tour). The over-familiarity of much of the material and the fact that the orchestra is quite small almost make this recording expendable. Almost — for there is “Take It All Off,” a humorous ditty that Herman wrote specifically for Jerry’s Girls. This is also the only place where you’ll find the parody lyrics written for the commercial “Hello, Deli” and the Democrats’ 1964 campaign song, “Hello Lyndon.” Plus, it’s fun to hear McArdle sing songs other than those from Annie, and she’s marvelous in all of them. So is Uggams, even when she crosses the gender line to sing “I Won’t Send Roses.” As for Channing, this was the first show in which the great lady had noticeably passed her prime. By the time she reaches “The Best of Times Is Now,” her voice is somewhat unpleasant. Clearly, we all lose our charms in the end. — Peter Filichia

Jerome Robbins’ Broadway

Jerome-RobbinsOriginal Broadway Cast, 1989 (RCA, 2CDs) 3 Stars (3 / 5) Lovers of Broadway dance music should snap up this cast album of the 1989 Tony-winning Best Musical, an assemblage of genius choreographer Jerome Robbins’ greatest hits, in which classic numbers from his shows were lovingly recreated by top-notch performers. At the time of the album’s release as a two-CD set, collectors were especially interested in the material that had not previously been recorded with modern sound technology, or at all. Robbins won a Tony for Best Direction for this show, and the cast swept the awards in the musical performance categories; they are well represented by this album. Jason Alexander (Best Actor) does “Comedy Tonight” and duets with Faith Prince on “I Still Get Jealous.” Charlotte D’Amboise (Best Actress) knocks out “I’m Flying” and “America.” Scott Wise (Best Featured Actor) does “Cool.” A sultry, pre-Gravitte Debbie Shapiro (Best Featured Actress) wails the seldom-heard Irving Berlin gem “Mr. Monotony” and leads the surefire “You Gotta Have a Gimmick.” Also found here are longer pieces such as the “Small House of Uncle Thomas” ballet from The King and I and “On a Sunday by the Sea” from High Button Shoes. It all adds up to more than two hours of some of the brightest moments in musical theater history — and the folks at RCA outdid themselves with a lavish, 64-page booklet including more than 40 color photographs, detailed notes, and mini-essays about each show. — Morgan Sills

Jerome Kern Goes to Hollywood

Jerome-KernOriginal London Cast, 1985 (Safari/First Night) 2 Stars (2 / 5) It’s hard to understand the rationale or need for Jerome Kern Goes to Hollywood, a songwriter revue that was devised by one of its British co-stars, David Kernan. He, Liz Robertson, Elaine Delmar, and musical theater veteran Elisabeth Welch sing 22 Jerome Kern songs that may have appeared in films but weren’t necessarily written directly for that medium — for example, the selections from Show Boat. Virtually all of the numbers heard here are well known: “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes,” “I Won’t Dance,” “The Last Time I Saw Paris,” “Bill,” “I’m Old Fashioned,” and “All the Things You Are.” They are certainly well sung, particularly by Delmar.  Welch is the drawing card for fans of legendary British performers, but although her four solos here are fine, it’s hard to get worked up over them. (Note: A 1986 Broadway production of this revue with the same cast lasted only nine performances.) — David Wolf

Jennie

JennieOriginal Broadway Cast, 1963 (RCA) 3 Stars (3 / 5) A star vehicle for Mary Martin, Jennie is a prime example of how a musical with wonderful ingredients can fail to jell. Arnold Schulman’s book, a fictionalization of the life of Laurette Taylor with the character’s name changed to Jennie Malone, is insufferably dull, but the Arthur Schwartz-Howard Dietz score boasts many captivating numbers. Martin is featured in 10 of the 14 vocal tracks on the recording. She rips into “Waitin’ for the Evening Train,” a catchy vaudeville-style number with George Wallace, and caresses “I Still Look at You That Way.” She is almost as corny as Kansas in August in the exuberant “Born  Again” and in the inspirational “The Night May Be Dark,” the latter sung with Ethel Shutta as her mother. Martin also shines in “Over Here,” a duet with Robin Bailey. Finally, the star’s “Before I Kiss the World Goodbye” is exceptionally well performed and then reprised as her solo finale. Jack DeLon’s ringing tenor is heard in the catchy ensemble number “When You’re Far Away From New York Town,” and Shutta gives her all to the mediocre “For Better or Worse.” Also noteworthy are the sparkling orchestrations of Philip J. Lang and Robert Russell Bennett, and the dance arrangements of Trude Rittman: “Sauce Diable” is one of the most invigorating dance numbers ever captured on a Broadway cast album. — Jeffrey Dunn

Jelly’s Last Jam

JellyOriginal Broadway Cast, 1992 (Mercury) 4 Stars (4 / 5) With a score inventively cobbled together from Jelly Roll Morton’s musical catalogue, Jelly’s Last Jam tells the composer’s life story in a show that is as moving as it is entertaining. Luther Henderson (musical adaptation), Susan Birkenhead (new lyrics), and George C. Wolfe (director) used songs not originally written for the theater to propel the plot forward, and this recording proves the excellence of their efforts. The show benefited enormously from ideal casting. Gregory Hines received a well-deserved Tony Award for his star turn as Morton. His smooth vocals and crisp tapping quicken the pulse and gladden the soul in one highlight after another: “Doctor Jazz,” “That’s How You Jazz,” the hauntingly sung and acted “Creole Boy,” and others. Another Tony winner for this show, Tonya Pinkins as Anita, sings “Play the Music for Me” and “Last Chance Blues,” a tough duet with Hines. There’s also notable ensemble work by “The Hunnies”: Mamie Duncan-Gibbs, Stephanie Pope, and Allison Williams. The booklet accompanying the CD edition of the recording  includes a concise synopsis and all the lyrics. — Morgan Sills

Jekyll & Hyde

Jekyll-Hyde-Wilkinson2Studio Cast, 1990 (RCA) 2 Stars (2 / 5) As a musical theater composer, Frank Wildhorn writes great pop songs. That’s amply demonstrated by this “concept” recording of Jekyll & Hyde, which lacks any theatrical context. Some of the songs, with lyrics by Leslie Bricusse, evoke moents from Les Misérables and The Phantom of the Opera but are less interesting musically and dramatically. Colm Wilkinson and Linda Eder co-star in this two-person recording; in grand pop-opera style, they let few vowels go unmodified, and never exercise emotional shading where over-emoting will do. Eder seems clueless as to character nuance; still, her robust voice can overcome the sentiments of Bricusse’s lyrics, sell a soft ballad such as “Once Upon a Dream,” and strongly deliver the power ballads “Someone Like You” and “A New Life.” Jekyll & Hyde was always less about Jekyll or Hyde than about showcasing Eder’s voice. Although Wilkinson sinks his teeth into his songs, particularly “This Is the Moment,” his performance is so far over the top that all we can do is grin and bear it until it’s Eder’s turn to sing again. We never have to wait very long. — Matthew Murray

Jekyll-WarlowStudio Cast, 1994 (Atlantic) 3 Stars (3 / 5) Linda Eder returned for the second Jekyll & Hyde recording, but here she sings only the songs of the prostitute Lucy; Carolee Carmello was brought in as Jekyll’s fiancee, Lisa. The title roles are superbly filled by Australian actor-singer Anthony Warlow. From an acting standpoint, it might be said that both Warlow and Carmello are too good for the material; trying to make these pop tunes theatrical is a lost cause. The recording boasts a huge orchestra and tons of songs (the complete score up to that point), so if you simply must own one Jekyll & Hyde, this should probably be it. The plot is difficult to follow, but certain tracks are fun, including Eder’s saucy “Bring on the Men” and her powerful “Someone Like You,” Warlow’s dynamic “This Is the Moment,” and the Eder/Carmello duet “In His Eyes.” Many other numbers are silly, “Façade” and “Murder, Murder!” in particular. But, overall, Jekyll & Hyde has never sounded better than it does here. — M.M.

Jekyll-BroadwayOriginal Broadway Cast, 1997 (Atlantic) 1 Stars (1 / 5) By the time Jekyll & Hyde got to Broadway, it was more a parody of itself than a serious show. Linda Eder is still Lucy, and her pop affectations are out of place amid the theatrical acting/singing style of the Broadway cast members. Robert Cuccioli’s performance of Jekyll’s “This Is the Moment” joins the already hefty catalog of self-indulgent renderings, but he does a better job as Hyde. Of the leads, only Christiane Noll as Emma (the renamed Lisa) makes her character believable; she performs with sweetness, sensitivity, and a legitimately beautiful voice. Unfortunately, her songs are among the show’s dullest. “Murder, Murder” and the endlessly reprised “Façade” remain unintended comic highlights, and some newer numbers — “Pursue the Truth,” “Emma’s Reasons,” “I Must Go On,” and “Letting Go” — aren’t much better. The score reaches a new nadir with “Good ‘n’ Evil,” featuring such lyrics as “The key thing about good ‘n’ evil / Each man has to choose! / Heaven ‘n’ Hell / Is a helluva gamble to lose!” — M.M.

Jane Eyre

Jane-EyreOriginal Broadway Cast, 2000 (Sony) 4 Stars (4 / 5) Based on Charlotte Brontë’s classic novel of sturm und drang on the English moors, the musical Jane Eyre represented the last gasp of the pop-opera cycle on Broadway. It managed to hang on for 209 performances, but tastes had shifted toward more lighthearted entertainments. The presence of director-librettist-co-lyricist John Caird (of Les Misérables fame) emphasized further how times had changed. Oddly, perhaps because of its intimate, introspective nature, a show that seemed stiff and uninvolving onstage fairly overflows with feeling as heard on this superbly well produced recording. Composer-lyricist Paul Gordon has a knack for melodic lines that are romantic and neurotic at the same time, and the lyrics are exceptionally literate. As Jane and Rochester, Marla Schaffel and James Barbour are the whole show, delivering abundant vocal thrills in such arias as “Sweet Liberty” and “The Pledge.” The song “As Good As You,” in which Rochester ruefully recalls his rakish past, is a gem of character revelation; so is the slashing, tormented “Painting Her Portrait,” in which Jane struggles to accept living life as a spinster. Throughout, Larry Hochman’s orchestrations have a plangent emotional transparency. This is a fine record of a show that may well be heard from again. — David Barbour

Jamaica

JamaicaOriginal Broadway Cast, 1957 (RCA) 2 Stars (2 / 5) Some Broadway musicals are timeless, while others spoke only to their era and audience and then were never heard from again. Jamaica is decidedly in the latter category. It was a hit for Lena Horne and the matchless team of Harold Arlen and E.Y “Yip” Harburg. Then, after a year-plus run, it vanished without a trace (other than this recording). Calypso was a ’50s phenomenon, and this score is full of it; in fact, Jamaica was originally written to star America’s calypso singer of choice, Harry Belafonte. When he proved unavailable, a rewrite gave movie star Horne a big-time Broadway debut. Her co-stars were notable as well: Interesting color-blind casting put Ricardo Montalban, a Mexican playing a West Indian, opposite Horne. Support was provided by Josephine Premice (husky-voiced and very entertaining), the personable Ossie Davis, and the veteran Adelaide Hall. The cast album is full of spirit and style, although the Jamaican patois sounds heavy-handed and phony coming out of Horne’s mouth. Arlen’s music is attractive but forgettable. Harburg failed to come up with a strong book (co-written with Fred Saidy and an uncredited Joseph Stein) and, in his lyrics, he mostly settles for a mix of faux-Caribbean attitude and obvious satire of Yankee consumerism and customs; not even the sultry “Coconut Sweet” is a truly worthy entry in the Arlen-Harburg canon of standards. While this recording cannot reproduce the show’s opulent designs and spicy Jack Cole choreography, it does give us a good idea of how Jamaica functioned: showcasing the dynamic Horne, moving swiftly, and providing very little of lasting value. — Richard Barrios

Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris

Jacques-BrelOriginal Off-Broadway Cast, 1968 (Columbia) 3 Stars (3 / 5) This is the show to blame! The success of Jacques Brei Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris began the songwriter-revue revolution, but it would be a full decade before another good example of the genre showed up. (That show was Ain’t Misbehavin’ and it propelled a spate of glorified cabaret acts masquerading as musicals.) The Brel songs are performed with brio by a marvelous cast: Mort Shuman, who also adapted the French lyrics into English, co-stars with Shawn Elliot, Elly Stone, and Alice Whitfield. Jacques Brei introduced American audiences to a sophisticated romanticism blended with more than a soupçon of Gallic cynicism. After the initial run, a few regional productions, and a film version that featured Brel himself, this revue slid into semi-obscurity, although a reconstituted version of it was presented Off-Broadway in 2006. At any rate, Columbia thought enough of the original production to issue the cast album as a very fancy, boxed, two-record set. — Ken Bloom