Category Archives: Q-S

Sweeney Todd

Sweeney-OBCOriginal Broadway Cast, 1978 (RCA, 2CDs) 5 Stars (5 / 5) Every musical theatre fan has a personal favorite Sondheim score, and the man’s oeuvre is so rich and diverse that it’s impossible to argue what is truly his “best” work. But few people if any would dispute that Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street is Sondheim’s grandest, largest-scale achievement. It’s also  perhaps the work he’s most closely associated with, having achieved high-profile status in theaters and opera houses around the world, as well as having served as the basis for a popular film version. Adapted from the play by Christopher Bond, which in turn is a dramatic interpretation of an English urban legend, Sweeney Todd tells of a barber who slits the throats of his customers and consigns their dead bodies to his landlady, Mrs. Lovett, who bakes them into meat pies. The show is billed as “a musical thriller,” but Sondheim and book writer Hugh Wheeler focus on its themes of revenge, corruption, and obsession, adding more complex elements of humanity to the musical horror. That approach clearly worked, as Sweeney Todd is widely acknowledged as a musical theater masterpiece. The original Broadway cast recording remains definitive; it represents nearly the entire score and book of the show, and it’s thrilling from start to finish. As the vengeful barber, Len Cariou is sexy, sympathetic, and terrifying all at once. He’s superbly partnered by Angela Lansbury, providing comedic relief and giving a career defining performance as Mrs. Lovett. The duo’s incredible chemistry comes to a high point with the famous Act 1 finale “A Little Priest,” when Sweeney and Lovett suddenly realize how to discard the remains of his victims as well as provide her with quality meat for her pies; Cariou and Lansbury fiendishly toy with Sondheim’s brilliant lyrics, making the song simultaneously hilarious and disturbing. The two are given excellent support by the rest of the principal company: Merle Louise’s demented Beggar Woman, Ken Jennings’ doe-eyed Tobias, Edmund Lyndeck’s lecherous Judge Turpin, and Sarah Rice and Victor Garber as the innocent lovers Johanna and Anthony are all perfect. Jonathan Tunick’s grandly operatic  orchestrations have never been equaled, and Paul Gemignani conducts with a fearless, steady hand that keeps the entire piece moving seamlessly. There will always be room for differences of opinion as to what score represents the very best of Sondheim, but when it comes to Sweeney Todd, only one recording is truly essential: this one. — Matt Koplik

Sweeney-Todd-NY-PhilNew York Philharmonic Concert Cast, 2000  (N.Y. Philharmonic Special Editions, 2CDs) 3 Stars (3 / 5) Now, assuming that you’ve done your homework, purchased the original cast album of Sweeney Todd, and thoroughly familiarized yourself with it, you can start having fun with other interpretations.  In May of 2000, Lonny Price directed a semi-staged concert version of Sweeney for the New York Philharmonic in honor of Sondheim’s 70th birthday, and a live recording of the event was issued in a special limited edition. With a starry cast, an audibly thrilled audience, and the incomparable Philharmonic playing the score with searing focus, there’s a palpable energy to this performance; the applause that greets stars George Hearn and Patti LuPone upon their entrances and the knowing laughter that punches every line of “A Little Priest” are just a few examples. And yet, the heady, almost giddy atmosphere keeps this recording from ever truly soaring to great heights. While LuPone and Hearn are vocally peerless and blend together sensationally in “My Friends” and “Priest,” they both have a habit of indulging the audience rather than mining their characters for full dramatic potential. (LuPone provided a more well-defined Mrs. Lovett five years later in John Doyle’s stripped down revival; see review below). Neil Patrick Harris is an endearing if somewhat vocally underwhelming Tobias; Heidi Grant Murphy is a lovely Johanna, second only to Sarah Rice; and Audra McDonald is, of course, fantastic as the Beggar Woman. This may not be the most moving or compelling Sweeney Todd you’ll  ever hear, but it’s pretty exciting. — M.K.

Sweeney-LuPoneBroadway Cast, 2005 (Nonesuch, 2CDs) 4 Stars (4 / 5) When Sweeney was first revived on Broadway in 1990, at Circle-in-the-Square, that production (which yielded no cast album) was nicknamed “Teeny Todd” for its downsizing from the Grand Guignol style of the original production to a far more intimate affair, disposing of the chorus and large orchestra. Audiences were thrown by seeing and hearing the show performed on such a small scale after a decade of its having played in large theaters and opera houses. But even that staging couldn’t prepare Broadway for British director John Doyle’s re-conceptualized production 15 years later, set in an insane asylum. Doyle used only 10 actors and famously had them double as the orchestra throughout the show. The results are fascinating and, ultimately, rewarding; though the score loses its grandeur, the show becomes chillingly personal. The excellent cast/orchestra, led by Sondheim vets Michael Cerveris and Patti LuPone, glides through the score with assurance, each of them switching back and forth from actor to musician seamlessly. Cerveris makes for a particularly brooding Sweeney, and LuPone — more disciplined and restrained than in her New York Philharmonic performance (see review above) — is a sexy Mrs. Lovett. While everyone gets a chance to shine, the true star here is orchestrator Sarah Travis. Rather than reduce Jonathan Tunick’s original charts, Travis completely restyled Sondheim’s score to match the frightening intimacy of Doyle’s vision. Who knew that “Johanna” could sound so beautiful with only accordion and cello accompaniment? Even though “City on Fire” is sadly not included here, and some listeners may miss the impact of a large chorus, this is an excellent addition to the Sweeney discography and a wonderful opportunity for fans to hear a brilliant score in an entirely different way — M.K.

Sweeney-filmFilm Soundtrack, 2007 (Nonesuch) 2 Stars (2 / 5) Tim Burton’s film adaptation of Sweeney Todd is terrific or terrible, depending on whom you ask. Opting for a basically intimate film, Burton shied away from all things operatic, cutting any material that was sung by the chorus in the original score (“The Ballad of Sweeney Todd” and all of its reprises, for starters) and focusing solely on his principal cast. This makes for an arguably excellent film but a poor representation of the stage show and an uneven listening experience, the approach working better for some sections of the score than others. The singing voices of the movie’s cast, led by Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter, don’t allow them to  revel in the lushness of Sondheim’s music. Without the film’s visuals, some listeners to the soundtrack may wonder why Carter whispers most of “The Worst Pies in London,” or why “Pirelli’s Miracle Elixir” is cut in half. Others may balk at Depp’s crooning, rock-tinged style of singing, less George Hearn and more David Bowie. Still, even without the benefit of seeing the film, this recording offers some perks. Broadway maestro Paul Gemignani leads a huge Hollywood orchestra that tears into the score with incredible intensity. (The orchestrations are Jonathan Tunick’s originals, with some changes of key and other minor alterations.) “Not While I’m Around” is sung beautifully by Ed Sanders, the first child actor to portray Tobias in a major production of Sweeney. The entire supporting cast is strong, with Laura Michelle Kelly making a memorable impression as the Beggar Woman even though Burton eliminated much of her role.  — M.K.

sweeneyLondon Cast,  2012 (First Night)  1 Stars (1 / 5) Premiering at the Chichester Festival Theatre in England, this revival of Sweeney Todd immediately transferred to the West End, where it enjoyed a very successful run and numerous accolades. While many, including Sondheim himself, have sung the production’s praises, and indeed it may have worked in the theater, this recording does very little to argue its artistic merits. It doesn’t help that what we have here is really only a selection of highlights — although that isn’t how the album is labeled. Among the songs and sequences not included are “Poor Thing,” “Pirelli’s Miracle Elixir,” and “Green Finch and Linnet Bird.” These major omissions aside, there are other elements that make this recording nonessential. While the orchestra heard here is smallish, the orchestrations weren’t rewritten accordingly (a la Sarah Travis for the John Doyle production), but instead are just pared-down versions of the Jonathan Tunick originals. As a result, the score sounds tinny. On the plus side, the two critically acclaimed leads, Michael Ball and Imelda Staunton, provide fully realized performances as Sweeney and Mrs. Lovett. Though Ball’s voice is often too young sounding and he therefore lacks a certain gravitas for the role, his “Epiphany” is strong, and Ball takes a note from Cariou in playing Sweeney with a restrained intensity throughout. Staunton is vocally on par with Lansbury, though her Lovett is more fiery and sinister, making her sparring with Ball on “A Little Priest” more frightening. Still, overall, this recording is the least satisfying of the stage cast albums reviewed here. — M.K.

Sunset Boulevard

Sunset-LuPoneWorld Premiere Recording, 1993 (Polydor, 2CDs) 3 Stars (3 / 5) Andrew Lloyd Webber heard a semi-operatic, sung-through musical in Billy Wilder’s 1950 melodrama film noir, but he made a mistake in choosing Don Black and Christopher Hampton to write the prosaic lyrics, overrun as they are with tiresome exposition set to the same few melody lines. Whatever may be said about the composer’s cribbing from Puccini and Rachmaninoff, when Lloyd Webber gets to the full-blown arias for Norma Desmond, he supplies steel-trap tunes: “With One Look,” “The Perfect Year,” and “As If We Never Said Goodbye” rank with his best. The world premiere production of Sunset Boulevard in London starred Patti LuPone, whose often-remarked-upon trouble with consonants is no problem here; on the contrary, her enunciation is impeccable, and her characterization fascinates. With her fluid reading of the songs and her delivery of what dialogue there is on the recording, LuPone presents the self-deluded Norma Desmond as someone who’s surrendered spontaneity to a magnificent artificiality. Her Norma is a defeated woman falling from a great height. Kevin Anderson sings and orates forcibly as Joe Gillis, the screenwriter supporting Desmond in her addled belief that she can make a return to film. Daniel Benzali is a sensitive Max, Madame’s butler and former husband; and Meredith Braun is fine as Betty Schaefer, the would-be screenwriter who falls for Joe. The sumptuous orchestrations by David Cullen and Lloyd Webber himself possess 1950s-film-soundtrack fervor. — David Finkle

Sunset-CloseAmerican Premiere Recording, 1994 (Polydor, 2CDs) 2 Stars (2 / 5) Whereas Patti LuPone’s recorded performance as Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard may surpass what she accomplished onstage, Glenn Close, who played the role in Los Angeles and on Broadway, sounds crotchety and almost laughably desperate on this cast album. When speaking, Close comes across as an aging Ophelia. (The effect worked better live.) When singing the hothouse solos “With One Look” and “As If We Never Said Goodbye,” the star sometimes strides confidently into a note and disports herself much more vigorously than one might have expected, yet she does have problems in terms of range and volume . Too often, her shifting from chest voice to head voice and back again is the aural equivalent of watching a hurdler clear obstacles. Also, more than seems appropriate, much of her delivery sounds like whispering. Alan Campbell plays Joe Gillis and is more than adequate in his singing, yet not entirely convincing in the role. Judy Kuhn as Betty is, as always, lovely and real; what a lustrous voice she has. As Max, George Hearn adds another oddball performance to his list of Broadway oddballs. Musical director Paul Bogaev brings out all the overheated drama of Lloyd Webber’s melodies, which include a sweeping opening theme. — D.F.

Sunset-CarrollOriginal Canadian Cast, 1995 (Polydor) 2 Stars (2 / 5) Diahann Carroll fans are the likeliest targets for this recording, which cuts out a good deal of material that may be heard on the two previous Sunset Boulevard albums. But what’s gone isn’t missed, since the show’s heavy-handed satire of Hollywood’s eat-’em-alive attitudes can become tedious. Carroll, an unexpected choice to play silent-screen-vamp Norma Desmond, gives a viable performance. Her Norma is full-bodied and commanding, and she brings interesting nuance to “New Ways to Dream” in particular. Rex Smith has an engaging way about him as Joe Gillis, Walter Charles lends depth to the loyal Max, Anita Louise Combe is a sweet Betty Schaefer, and Jeffrey Huard’s conducting is stately. — D.F.

Sunset-BuckleyBetty Buckley: New Ways to Dream: Songs from Sunset Boulevard, 1995 (Polygram) 3 Stars (3 / 5) When Betty Buckley replaced Glenn Close in the Broadway production of Sunset Boulevard, the show finally acquired its ideal Norma Desmond. From the first words that Buckley spoke — “You there! Why are you so late?” — the iron-butterfly quality of Desmond was suddenly, blazingly present in this dark musical’s speeches and songs. That opening comment is the only bit of dialogue Buckley speaks on this recording, which includes four of the character’s arias: “Surrender,” “With One Look,” “New Ways to Dream,” and “As If We Never Said Goodbye.” Still, they’re enough to confirm Buckley’s mastery of the role. Alan Campbell makes a guest appearance as Joe Gillis, Paul Bogaev conducts, and their contributions here are superior to their previous recordings of this score. Buckley, it would seem, inspired them to rise to her vaunted level. — D.F.

Sunset

SunsetOriginal Off-Broadway Cast, 1990 (TER-JAY) No stars; not recommended. In 1978, a musical titled Platinum had an extremely brief run on Broadway. It starred the stylish Alexis Smith in the role of an aging movie star involved with a young rock singer. In 1983, a cut-down version of the show with four performers turned up Off-Broadway, retitled Sunset, and closed on opening night after 13 preview performances. This is the cast album of that version. With a libretto and lyrics by Will Holt and music by Gary William Friedman, Sunset concerns a straight male rock star named Danger Dan who wants to wear an old movie star’s red-beaded evening gown on his upcoming TV special. The saddest part of the whole enterprise is the waste of a talented cast: Ronnie Blakely, Kim Milford, Walt Hunter, and most significantly, Tammy Grimes in the central role. — David Wolf

Sugar Babies

Sugar-BabiesOriginal Broadway Cast, 1983 (B’way Entertainment/Varèse Sarabande) 2 Stars (2 / 5) Lavishly produced, beautifully designed, lovingly directed, Sugar Babies was a burlesque show featuring very funny old sketches performed by the unleashed Mickey Rooney, with Ann Miller as his partner and Jack Fletcher as his straight man. The production had a dog act, a candy butcher, a fan dancer — and you never knew what was going to come at you next. Unfortunately, this recording preserves very little of the show’s strongest suit: those hilarious low-comedy sketches, resurrected and dusted off by Ralph G. Allen. Instead, the album highlights the songs, and they’re a mostly lackluster bunch, even though nearly all of the music is by the great Jimmy McHugh. Some of the numbers have new lyrics by comedy writer Arthur Malvin; some are standards that McHugh wrote with Dorothy Fields, Ted Koehler, Harold Adamson, and others. They are well performed and orchestrated, but songs are not what we remember most about this show. — David Wolf

Sugar

SugarOriginal Broadway Cast, 1972 (United Artists/MGM) 2 Stars (2 / 5) Sugar was a shocker, the first indication that the great David Merrick production machine of the 1950s-’60s was breaking down. Gower Champion, one of the most dazzling director-choreographers of the period, reconstructed the show on the road pre-Broadway, replacing Johnny Desmond in the role of a singing gangster with hoofer Steve Condos, who was much more menacing because he said nothing but threateningly tap-danced everything. Merrick threw out the entire set and paid for a new one, but still the show wasn’t made into a hit. Even the great, prolific composer Jule Styne was helpless when given lyrics as disgraceful as those provided him by Bob Merrill. Perhaps the musical’s source material, the classic film comedy Some Like It Hot, simply resisted adaptation. Elaine Joyce had the impossible task of following Marilyn Monroe in what was easily her most appealing performance; even so, Joyce comes across as cold and hard on the recording, though she wasn’t given any musical material that might have helped. Cyril Ritchard does nicely with his two numbers, which are among the better items in the score, but Tony Roberts (in the Tony Curtis part) has the dullest of the songs. This show was in Robert Morse’s pocket: As Daphne (the Jack Lemmon role), he kept Sugar running for over a year, giving an old-fashioned clown performance and making the most of every opportunity he was handed. Elliott Lawrence’s musical direction and Philip J. Lang’s orchestrations are so strong and confident that, as you listen, you may think the score is better than it is. {Ed. Note: This album was reissued in a latter-day, remastered CD version by Kritzerland, but it was a limited edition item and is no longer available.]– David Wolf

Subways Are for Sleeping

SubwaysOriginal Broadway Cast, 1961 (Columbia/Fynsworth Alley) 4 Stars (4 / 5) A legendary title, if for no other reason than David Merrick’s scandalous marketing of the show: He looked in the phone book, found seven people with the same names as the major New York theater critics, and coaxed “rave reviews” from them, which he then had printed in a newspaper ad. This Jule Styne-Betty Comden-Adolph Green show was short-lived onstage, but it made for a cheerful, lively cast album that opens with a spectacular Styne overture, complete with subway effects and big, sassy orchestrations by Phil Lang. From there, it’s one urban delight after another. The score is heavy on comedy songs written with inimitable Comden-Green élan: Featured performer Phyllis Newman won a Tony Award largely on the basis of her hilarious “I Was a Shoo-ln.” Her vis-a-vis, Orson Bean, was nominated largely for his delivery of “I Just Can’t Wait (Till I See You With Clothes On).” You have to endure leading man Sydney Chaplin’s braying in “I’m Just Taking My Time,” but Chaplin nearly redeems himself in “Swing Your Projects,” a commentary on over-leveraged Gotham real estate that’s still topical. As Chaplin’s love interest, Carol Lawrence makes pretty noises in “Girls Like Me” and “I Said It and I’m Glad,” the latter a song with an arresting melody that was dropped during the run. Another appealing number is “Comes Once in a Lifetime.” The original LP album of Subways Are for Sleeping was packaged in a gatefold jacket, but reissues squeezed the notes onto one page. The CD edition offers intriguing bonuses: Comden and Green do a couple of cut songs; demo-album regulars Rose Marie Jun and Jack Haskell are heard from; and Comden’s pensive rendition of “Life’s Not That Simple,” a soulful casualty from Do Re Mi, is a joy. — Marc Miller

The Student Prince

Student-Prince-MelchiorStudio Cast, 1950 (Decca) 3 Stars (3 / 5) Operetta albums from decades ago often sound even more dated than the material itself, with white-bread orchestrations and stilted singing. You’d expect the 1924 warhorse The Student Prince, with music by Sigmund Romberg and lyrics by Dorothy Donnelly, to come across badly in this recording; standards like “Serenade,” “Deep in My Heart, Dear,” and the “Drinking Song” can sound like parodies if mistreated. But the performance is quite good, thanks to Victor Young’s conducting and Lauritz Melchior’s singing. Although the heldentenor was thrice the age of an ideal Karl Franz at the time of the recording, he sounds like he could step right into a pair of lederhosen and play the hell out of the role. His top notes are thrilling, his enthusiasm infectious, and his thick accent great fun. (“The sweet May moon” comes out as “this wheat May moon”; “perfumed of roses and dew” sounds like “parv-youmed of roses and you.”) Jane Wilson’s American Kathie seems a little incongruous, but she’s warm and bright, despite some shrill trills. The original orchestrations are mostly intact, and Lee Sweetland and Gloria Lane offer able support. (Ed. Note: The CD edition of this recording also includes songs from The Merry Widow sung by Kitty Carlisle, Felix Knight, and Wilbur Evans. ) — Marc Miller

Student-Prince-Rounseville-original-coverStudio Cast, 1952 (Columbia/DRG) 3 Stars (3 / 5) Lehman Engel crams everything important from Sigmund Romberg’s landmark operetta into 52 minutes — quite a lengthy album for the time. The performance has a theatrical flair to it, right from the character-actor footmen in the opening number singing “By our bearing so sedate / We uphold the royal state.” The recording is well cast, with Robert Rounseville an enthusiastic Karl Franz (if a bit desperate on the top notes of “Serenade”)and Dorothy Kirsten a spirited Kathie. The choral singing is mushy at times, and some of the lyrics are unintelligible. An unbilled George Gaynes is easily recognizable in a prominent supporting role. — M.M.

Student-Prince-Lanza-monoStudio Cast, 1952 (RCA) 2 Stars (2 / 5) Oddly, when MGM made its 1954 film version of The Student Prince with Edmund Purdom lip-synching Mario Lanza’s vocals as he romanced Ann Blyth, no actual soundtrack album was released; instead, RCA offered this recording, which paired Lanza with Elizabeth Doubleday. The album includes three new songs by Nicholas Brodsky and Paul Francis Webster that were written for the movie. Lanza is in excellent voice here, but the sound quality of the mono recording is quite poor. This CD compilation also features Lanza et al. in excerpts from The Desert Song. — M.M.

Student-Prince-Lanza-stereoStudio Cast, 1960 (RCA/Sepia) 3 Stars (3 / 5) A sort of stereo remake of the recording reviewed immediately above, this one has Mario Lanza joined by the coquettish Norma Giusti. The uncredited orchestrations are lush, and Paul Baron conducts with spirit. Lanza easily hits Karl Franz’s high notes, even with the keys pushed way up to show off his tenor. His singing is nicely understated in the Brodsky-Webster “Summertime in Heidelberg” and fervent in ”I’ll Walk With God.” Most of the original score’s songs are here, too, though wildly out of order and exclusively the property of Lanza and Giusti. Considering the absence of a supporting cast, this barely qualifies as a cast album, but the stereo sound quality is far superior to that of Lanza’s previous recording. — M.M.

Student-Prince-MacraeStudio Cast, 1962, Music of Sigmund Romberg (Capitol/Angel) 2 Stars (2 / 5) Gordon MacRae’s unforced high baritone is always impressive, but he sounds bored and not very princely here. This recording also suffers from impersonal arrangements and bloodless conducting by Van Alexander. Dorothy Kirsten returns as Kathie, sounding much as she did 10 years earlier. Fully cast with no-name supporting players and capably backed by the Roger Wagner Chorale, the album zips through the score in 35 minutes but omits nothing major, reminding us how well Romberg spun standard-size scores into full-length operettas. With its safe tempi and American accents, this is sort of a summer-tent-theater rendering with a larger orchestra — agreeable enough, but more Harrisburg than Heidelberg.  On Angel’s CD compilation, titled Music of Sigumund Romberg, the Student Prince tracks are accompanied by excerpts from The Desert Song and The New Moon. — M.M.

Student-Prince-PeerceStudio Cast, 1962 (Columbia/no CD) 1 Stars (1 / 5) Roberta Peters was a great lady of opera whose warmth and lack of pretension should have made her an ideal performer of operettas and musicals. Her entrance here, trilling in the “Drinking Song,” is lovely, and her voice is in wonderful shape; but afterward, there’s an excess of coyness that’s accentuated by the snatches of dialogue included on the recording. Jan Peerce as Karl Franz is a mature prince, but he has conviction, and Giorgi Tozzi is excellent as Dr. Engel. There’s just enough linking dialogue to propel the simple story. With a new set of orchestrations by the great Hershy Kay and musical direction by Franz Allers, this recording certainly seemed to have the potential to revitalize operetta, but Allers’ conducting is a trifle stiff, and Kay’s string-heavy charts don’t entirely escape that Muzak-operetta sound of the ’60s. — M.M.

Student-Prince-JAYStudio Cast, 1990 (JAY, 2CDs) 4 Stars (4 / 5) Emil Gerstenberger was one of the outstanding Broadway orchestrators of the 1920s, equally adept at Romberg operetta and the jazzy musical comedies of the day. In the Romberg repertoire, his charts are lush and without that filmy coat of Muzak heard in many latter-day operetta recordings. For this first-ever complete recording of The Student Prince, the Philharmonia Orchestra and conductor John Owen Edwards recreated Gerstenberger’s work as closely as they could — and the result is a revelation. From the seven-minute overture to the bittersweet finale, the strings are full but not oppressive, the harp prominent but not obnoxious, and the brass thrillingly alive. It’s also a treat to hear a lot of incidental music not available elsewhere: an attractive waltz intermezzo, a couple of choral numbers, and some near-recitative linking passages. Edwards might have brought a little more urgency to the tempi, especially in the ballads, but his musical direction is otherwise expressive. As for the lead singers, Marilyn Hill Smith and Norman Bailey: If her Kathie seems to have arrived in Old Heidelberg by way of Mayfair, and if there’s a bit too much Dudley Do-Right in his attack, none of this compromises the material. David Rendall and Rosemary Ashe offer expert support, and a young Maria Friedman turns up as a “serving wench.” A single-disc highlights version is also available, but the double-CD set offers an authentic, 100-minute operetta experience. — M.M.

Strike Up the Band

Strike-Up-the-BandStudio Cast, 1991 (Elektra, 2CDs) 5 Stars (5 / 5) The “Roxbury Recordings” series of restored Gershwin scores was a mixed bag, but this double CD of Strike Up the Band, recorded here in its unsuccessful 1927 version, is a joy. This was George and Ira Gershwin’s first attempt to actually say something in a musical. They created a plot-heavy but delightful score in perfect synch with the cynical book by George S. Kaufman and Morrie Ryskind. This painstaking reconstruction, with John Mauceri conducting orchestrations by eight different people (!), conveys the excitement of using musical comedy to score political points — a novelty in 1927. The recording is beautifully cast, with Brent Barrett and Rebecca Luker simultaneously sardonic and sincere in “The Man I love” and “Hoping That Someday You’d Care.” Jason Graae and Juliet Lambert are youthful ardor personified in “17 and 21″ and “Military Dancing Drill,” while Beth Fowler is delicious in a Margaret Dumont-like role. Don Chastain plays a warmongering industrialist. There are two special bonuses here: a great, rediscovered Gershwin number, “Homeward Bound,” and Burton Lane’s gorgeous music for the verse for “Meadow Serenade” (the Gershwin melody couldn’t be tracked down). An appendix to the album adds six numbers from the rewritten (by Ryskind alone) 1930 version of the show, including the Gershwin perennials “Soon” and “I’ve Got a Crush on You.” The 1927 version may have shuttered in Philadelphia, but it’s a fascinating, acid satire on phony patriotism, unnecessary wars, and the corrupt military-industrial complex. Thank heaven we’ve outgrown such things! — Marc Miller

The Streets of New York

StreetsOriginal Off-Broadway Cast, 1964 (AEI) 5 Stars (5 / 5) For a long time, this was an extremely rare recording, so AEI’s CD release was especially welcome. With music by Richard Chodosh and lyrics by Barry Alan Grael, The Streets of New York is based on the famous old play of the same title by Dion Boucicault. Its melodramatic story should keep us at arm’s length from the characters, yet the songs are so compelling that the listener even comes to care about the so-called villains of the piece. The show begins with a through-sung prologue and then moves forward 20 years to 1890; each act concludes with an extended musical sequence utilizing reprises, leitmotifs, and some new melodies. The other 11 numbers represent some of the best musical theater writing of its day. Barbara Williams is deliciously evil if a tad shrill as Alida Bloodgood, giving outstanding performances of “He’ll Come to Me Crawling” and “Laugh After Laugh.” Hero and heroine David Cryer and Gail Johnston sing very well throughout, and particularly in the duet “Love Wins Again.” Ralston Hill is almost Shakespearean as principal villain Gideon Bloodgood, while co-author Grael is funny as the undependable yet finally heroic Badger, leading three Mexicans in the comedic “California.” A wonderful “Tourist Madrigal” reminds us that, in some respects, New York has changed very little over more than a century. Another highlight is the inventive “Where Can the Rich and Poor Be Friends?” It’s all quite delectable. — Jeffrey Dunn

Street Scene

Street-Scene-OBCOriginal Broadway Cast, 1947 (Columbia/Sony) 4 Stars (4 / 5) Composer Kurt Weill and lyricist Langston Hughes set Elmer Rice’s 1929 Pulitzer Prize-winning play Street Scene to music as an opera, although there’s plenty of dialogue in it. The music underscores the talk very much as if Weill had scored a film instead of a play. A paean to the aspirations and frustrations of the common man, the piece is set mostly on the sidewalk and street in front of a row of squalid tenements. For a work about the American melting pot, into which Weill himself had melted, he wrote great songs that sound unlike anything he’d written before. Hughes’ lyrics are a complementary aspect of the drama. The central figures are Anna Maurrant; her jealous husband, Frank; their daughter, Rose; and Rose’s ardent suitor, Sam Kaplan. The action takes place on a day when Frank’s volatile behavior dims the future of the other three. This recording is well worth repeated listening; it was produced by Goddard Lieberson, who perfected the concept of the original cast album. But note that Anne Jeffreys as Rose, Brian Sullivan as Sam, and Polyna Stoska as Anna are only heard in excerpts from the score, with some sections edited and others eliminated entirely from the recording. Jeffreys’ “What Good Would the Moon Be?” is vocally stunning, although her acting is routine. Sullivan sounds too mature for the young man he plays, but his “Lonely House” is lovely. Stoska’s strong voice impresses, and the children in the second-act opener “One, Two, Three, Four, Superman” are terrific. — David Finkle

Street-Scene-ENOOriginal London Cast, 1989 (JAY, 2CDs) 4 Stars (4 / 5) It took more than 40 years for Street Scene to be introduced to British audiences, courtesy of the English National Opera. Conductor Carl Davis put together a cast that’s stronger on singing than emoting, as most opera-house casts are. It doesn’t help that this show calls for all sorts of accents from the characters, because it’s set in a New York City tenement that houses people of various ethnicities. But if some of the singers in supporting roles struggle with Langston Hughes’ lyrics, the leads are intelligible and sing like angels. Kurt Weill worked in a number of musical modes when composing this score; for example, “Moon-faced, Starry-Eyed” is his quite good notion of a jitterbug, performed here by Philip Day and Catherine Zeta-Jones. The other principals include Kristine Ciesinski, Janis Kelly, Bonaventura Bottone, and Richard van Allen as the four characters caught up in the plot’s climactic turn of events. They variously get to sing some truly exquisite arias, such as the poignant “Lonely House” and the equally stunning “What Good Would the Moon Be?” Because sections of Street Scene are melodramatic and/or sentimental, the piece as a whole may now seem dated — but the music isn’t. And when two nursemaids sing a lullaby to their charges about the horrible newspaper headlines, we hear Weill and Hughes at their most scathing. — D.F.

Street-Scene-StudioStudio Cast, 1990 (London) 4 Stars (4 / 5) Street Scene is a nearly through-sung piece, and conductor John Mauceri’s tangy, respectful treatment is its first complete recording. The score is sung beautifully and with appropriate passion by a cast led by Josephine Barstow, Samuel Ramey, Angelina Reaux, and Jerry Hadley. But the acting, which includes a turn by maestro Mauceri as a police officer, isn’t quite so beautiful or passionate. Ramey does some particularly leaden emoting as the bullying husband in a melodrama that telescopes birth, death, and thwarted romance into a couple of hot June days. Perhaps because Mauceri is such a purist, he takes no liberties with tempi or meter; as a result, the awkward manner in which some of the words are set to the melodies is more noticeable here, and this must have presented a challenge for the singers. On the other hand, in declaiming their lines with such fervor, these performers see to it that the authors’ political and social criticism comes across loud and clear, helped by the fact that the recording is very well engineered. — D.F.