Studio Recordings, Piano Rolls, Music-Box Discs, 1903-08 (Hungry Tiger Press, 2CDs) (3 / 5) Shortly after L. Frank Baum published The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, a stage musical version became the biggest hit on Broadway. Finally, a century after the show opened, a masterful CD anthology reconstituted it in audio form. Great credit is due to producer David Maxine, for whom this daunting project was obviously a labor of love: There were no cast recordings, the sheet music survived only in fragments, and the show never had a set score. Originally, Baum worked on the book and lyrics, and Paul Tietjens wrote some music for the show, but those rather halting efforts soon gave way to a never-ending batch of interpolated songs. (The name A. Baldwin Sloane, frequently cited as the composer of the show, is nowhere in evidence here.) As Maxine’s detailed notes make clear, The Wizard of Oz was topical and performer-driven, its material dropped in and removed incessantly. Among the more popular numbers were “Sammy,” “Hurrah for Baffin’s Bay,” and the cheerfully sadistic “Football.” If these titles don’t sound like they should be found on the road to Oz, the plot synopsis indicates just how little of the Baum book remained; even the Cowardly Lion was reduced to the status of a bit player. The two CDs of this set are crammed with all manner of curiosities. The bulk of them are acoustical studio recordings of the songs, but a few numbers exist solely as piano rolls or as music-box tunes. Also included are some non-Oz songs recorded by members of the original cast. Obviously, the “score” is a patchwork, and very little of it is better than mediocre, but it’s helpful that the lyrics are printed in the accompanying booklet. — Richard Barrios
Original Broadway Cast, 1975 (Atlantic) (3 / 5) L. Frank Baum hit theatrical pay dirt with The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Two years after the novel’s publication in 1900, Baum and partners launched a musical extravaganza based on the tale; the show was a sensation, racking up hundreds of performances in New York and around the country. After countless other adaptations, including an obscure 1939 film that starred some nobody named Judy Garland, Dorothy and her pals returned to Broadway in The Wiz, an African-American musical version of the story with a brisk book by William F. Brown and fun songs by composer-lyricist Charlie Smalls. Among the very few Broadway tunes to become mainstream hits since the 1960s, this score’s infectious “Ease on Down the Road” got a lot of airplay, and Dorothy’s yearning 11-o’clock number, “Home,” put Stephanie Mills (who played the heroine) on the pop map. The Wiz enjoyed a long run and nabbed a bunch of Tony Awards, including Best Musical. Geoffrey Holder’s clever costumes and inventive direction helped turn the old tale into a fresh hit. Heard on the recording are several stellar turns in character roles: Clarice Taylor’s Addaperle (think Good Witch of the North) is a daffy, knowing delight; Tiger Haynes’s Tin Man is a smooth song-and-dance man; Hinton Battle’s Scarecrow is sweet as pie; and Ted Ross’s Lion is full of bravado. Mabel King sounds like a truly wicked witch, and her gospel-inflected “Don’t Nobody Bring Me No Bad News” proves that, for Evillene, double negatives ain’t the half of it. André De Shields is perhaps a bit too campy as the Wiz, sounding like a real friend of Dorothy. The arrangements are terrific, full of energy and Soul Train-style bounce. — Robert Sandla
Film Soundtrack, 1978 (MCA, 2CDs) (1 / 5) What is it about Hollywood versions of Broadway musicals? Time and again, shows that worked onstage bomb big-time on screen. The Wiz seemed a natural for filming: It was a Tony-winning Broadway success, some of the songs had hit the pop charts, and the central concept of adapting the classic tale of The Wizard of Oz for performance by a black cast was timely and hip. But what had been a brisk stage production was turned into a lumbering film; the soundtrack album is better only in that you don’t have to watch the movie. The gifted Quincy Jones adapted and supervised the music, and he engaged A-list musicians: Toots Thielemans, Grady Tate, and Patti Austin, among others. But almost everything is overblown here, lacking the drive and imagination that mark Jones’s other work. Some negligible new musical material was contributed by Jones, Luther Vandross, and Ashford and Simpson. Diana Ross was too old for the role of Dorothy, and although she sings well enough here, she begins every song as if she’s just been on a week-long crying jag. (Cut from the movie but present on the soundtrack recording is a new ballad for Ross, “Is This What Feeling Gets?”) The 19-year-old Michael Jackson is irresistible as the Scarecrow, and Nipsey Russell has an affable vaudevillian flair as the Tin Man. Ted Ross repeats his Broadway role as the Lion, but his big moments are diminished here. On the other hand, Mabel King reprises her show-stopping stage turn as Evillene to even more hilarious effect; and the glamorous Lena Horne, in the role of Glinda, gives her all to “If You Believe.” Richard Pryor plays the title role, and since he’s not a singer, the propulsive “So You Wanted to Meet the Wizard” is reduced to bits of woeful dialogue. — R.S.
Original Broadway Cast, 1952 (RCA) (3 / 5) Eddie Fisher’s mega-hit recording of the title tune helped turn this Catskills summer romance, based on Arthur Kober’s play Having Wonderful Time, from an almost certain flop into the biggest success of a slow season. But there’s much more to Harold Rome’s score for his first book show to reach Broadway than that repetitive rumba. The other ballads are uncommonly fine, from the intense “They Won’t Know Me” to the elegant melodic line of “Where Did the Night Go?” All of the above are lucky to be sung by Jack Cassidy; with his thrilling tenor and ardent delivery, he’s the best thing on the album. His leading lady, Patricia Marand, is technically proficient but a little stolid, and soubrette Sheila Bond hits some harsh, nasal notes, but Paul Valentine sings “Summer Afternoon” attractively. As befits a snappy musical of its period, Wish You Were Here has a steady stream of tangy comedy songs and a brassy set of Don Walker orchestrations, nicely matched by some excellent, uncredited vocal arrangements. Larry Blyden, Phyllis Newman, Florence Henderson, and Reid Shelton are in the chorus, though you probably won’t be able to pick out their voices. — Marc Miller
Original London Cast, 1953 (Philips/Sepia) (4 / 5) London cast recordings of Broadway hits are often inferior to the originals, but this one bests its American cousin on several counts. The technical quality is superb, once you get past an echo-y overture that seems like it was lifted directly from the Broadway album. Cyril Ornadel’s musical direction is livelier than Jay Blackton’s. The musical program is almost the same, although “Goodbye, Love” is replaced by “Nothing Nicer Than People” to make the heroine more sympathetic. It’s fun to note the slight lyrical revisions that were made to suit West End audiences, such as changing “the BMT” to “the workmen’s train.” All of the Brit principals affect New York accents quite nicely, with Christopher Hewett outstanding as the unlikeliest wolf in the history of the Catskills. The rest of the London cast is inversely talented as compared to the New York company: Where Jack Cassidy was the vocal muscle of the original, his London counterpart, Bruce Trent, is uninteresting (and requires a downward modulation in “They Won’t Know Me”); but Shani Wallis is pert and more vocally secure than Sheila Bond as Fay, and Elizabeth Larner’s Teddy has the edge on Patricia Marand’s. They all sound like they’re having a whale of a summer. — M.M.
Original Cast Members, 1995 (RCA) (3 / 5) Composer Jeffrey Lunden and lyricist-librettist Arthur Perlman deserve credit for tackling such difficult source material: Arthur Kopit’s acclaimed play Wings, about a former aviatrix and stunt pilot who’s recovering from a stroke. Their score for the musical is complex and multi-layered; if it doesn’t quite reach the skies, it doesn’t crash, either. Much of the music is exquisite, but the style of the score is more like a chamber opera. There’s very little in the way of “numbers,” some of the vocal lines are curious, and the lyrics often eschew rhyme. However, there is one song that’s likely to please those looking for an old-fashioned melody: “A Recipe for Cheesecake,” here sung by Russ Thacker, the only performer on the album who wasn’t in the stage production. It’s as close to a “show tune” as Wings gets. The strange noises you’ll hear at several points during the recording are part of a complex melding of sound design (Richard Woodbury) and orchestration (Lunden), designed to simulate the scary world inside the head of the central character, played by Linda Stephens. Recorded several years after Wings premiered at Chicago’s Goodman Theatre and then moved to New York’s Public Theater, this one-disc album contains nearly the entire show, dialogue and all. It was superbly produced by Thomas Z. Shepard; listen through headphones for the full effect. — Seth Christenfeld
Original London Cast, 1982 (EMI/Ange1) (3 / 5) Much of Tony Macaulay’s music is too pop-rocky for an adaptation of the classic 1920s Ben Hecht-Charles MacArthur comedy The Front Page, but Macaulay and the gifted lyricist Dick Vosburgh created many songs for Windy City that are terrific in their own right, so the show scores on this recording in a way that it never did onstage. The story of ace newspaper reporter Hildy Johnson (played by Dennis Waterman) wanting to abandon his boss Walter Burns (played by Anton Rodgers) for marriage and a different career is outfitted by Macaulay and Vosburgh with several intoxicating numbers (“Hey, Hallelujah,” “I Can Just Imagine It,” and the title song), some lovely ballads (“Wait Till I Get You on Your Own,” “Long Night Again Tonight”), and only a couple of clunkers (“Waltz for Mollie,” “Bensinger’s Poem”). When the chorines sing “Saturday,” which does sound like a 1920s tune, it reminds us how out-of-period the other songs are. Still, “Water Under the Bridge” is a terrific 11-o’clock number and would be a great audition song for strong leading men. — Peter Filichia
Original Broadway Cast, 1991 (Sony) (3 / 5) Chameleonic composer Cy Coleman and stalwart Broadway lyricists Betty Comden and Adolph Green wrote the songs for The Will Rogers Follies, a fanciful musical biography of the populist humorist as might have been concocted by Florenz Ziegfeld, in whose revues Rogers made numerous appearances. Coleman combines country twang and Broadway know-how in his music (evocatively orchestrated by Bill Byers), and the Camden-Green lyrics are bright and clever. If the score isn’t of first-tier quality, it’s better than just utilitarian; but it’s hard to tell that from the cast recording, a rather lackluster audio presentation of a show that burst with life under Tommy Tune’s direction. The cast certainly isn’t to blame: Keith Carradine is ingratiating as Rogers, Dee Hoty’s velvet voice brings Will’s wife Berry to warm-hearted life, and future Tony Awards winners Dick Latessa and Cady Huffman find great charm and humor in their supporting roles. But the score, separated from the energy of Tune’s direction/choreography and Peter Stone’s book, is less than wholly effective on its own. The dynamic production numbers “Will-a-Mania” and “Our Favorite Son” suffer the most, but even the major solo turns — Carradine’s “I Never Met a Man I Didn’t Like” and Hoty’s show-stopping “No Man Left for Me” — are somewhat disappointing here. Still, the music’s attractiveness and the performers’ abundant talents save the day, making a weak representation of the show still well worth a listen or three. — Matthew Murray
Original Off-Broadway Cast, 2000 (RCA) (4 / 5) This was the first of the entries in the 2000 competition between two stage musical adaptations of Joseph Moncure March’s epic poem. Although Andrew Lippa is a talented musical dramatist, his lyrics aren’t always perfect here (he employs a lot of metaphors that don’t make any sense), and the pop-rock influence in his music is rarely accurate to the period. Still, the overall effect of the Manhattan Theatre Club production was dazzling. Unfortunately, the cast album doesn’t fully indicate how brilliant the piece was onstage. For one thing, the nearly through-sung score was chopped down to 73 minutes of “highlights,” leaving out a great deal of interesting material. Also, the album was made shortly after the show closed, when its astounding leading lady, the previously unknown Julia Murney, wasn’t in her best voice. Murney still belts the score to high heaven, but not quite as high as she did in the theater. The other excellent leads are Brian d’Arcy James, Idina Menzel, and Taye Diggs, and there are terrific supporting performances by Alix Korey (who delivers the hilarious “Old-Fashioned Love Story”), Raymond Jaramillo McLeod, and Jennifer Cody. Even with the above caveats, this recording is still a fantastic listen; among the highlights are “Raise the Roof,” “A Wild, Wild Party,” “Queenie Was a Blonde,” “Poor Child,” and “Make Me Happy.” — Seth Christenfeld
Original Broadway Cast, 2000 (Decca) (5 / 5) Composer-lyricist Michael John LaChiusa was not unknown when The Wild Party, his adaptation of Joseph Moncure March’s 1928 poem of the same title, hit Broadway in 2000; but he truly laid his claim as a major force in the musical theater with this work, among the most dazzling of the “postmodern” school. The cast album is dynamic, a thrilling document of one of the most stirring theater scores of the late 20th century. LaChiusa’s songs are heavily steeped in period jazz and vaudeville styles (aided by Todd Ellison’s flawless musical direction and Bruce Coughlin’s searing orchestrations) while still sounding thoroughly modern and fresh. Beginning with a startlingly dissonant horn blast, the delights of the recording don’t stop. Consider the raunchy “Queenie Was a Blonde,” the rip-roaring “Uptown Downtown,” the torchy “Lowdown-Down,” the bathtub-gin-infused “Wild,” the bluesy “Black Is a Moocher,” the lost-in-life lovers’ duet “People Like Us,” and the 11-o’clock showstopper “When It Ends.” That last number is delivered titanically by the legendary Eartha Kitt, but the whole cast is excellent. Leading the way are Toni Collette, sounding like a veteran in her Broadway debut as the bleached-blonde chorine Queenie, and Mandy Patinkin as her manic and violent lover, Burrs. They receive top-notch support from Marc Kudisch, Tonya Pinkins, Norm Lewis, Brooke Sunny Moriber, Yancey Arias, and other distinctive performers. Although this is not a complete document of the score, there’s a lot packed into the recording’s 78 minutes. — Matthew Murray
Original Broadway Cast, 1961 (RCA) (2 / 5) Why did the star of Wildcat choose to make her Broadway debut in a show with requirements so far afield from her abilities? Lucille Ball had looks and charisma and great comic timing, but this was a musical, and its leading lady couldn’t sing; all those I Love Lucy jokes about her tin-eared vocalizing were not exaggerations. The show itself is all right, sort of a female Music Man of the oil fields with a synthetic book by N. Richard Nash and a bouncy score by composer Cy Coleman and lyricist Carolyn Leigh. “Hey, Look Me Over” was the hit of the score, but “What Takes My Fancy” and some of the other tunes are also nice. The whole company sounds energetic on the disc, and the male lead, Keith Andes, handles his music very well. Although the recording can’t convey the inventiveness of Michael Kidd’s choreography, it does hint at the gusto with which Ball threw herself into her song-and-dance numbers. Wildcat would have run longer on Ball’s name alone had she not become exhausted with the grind of eight performances a week, but the show is not compelling enough to have ever entered the arena of perennial showcase musicals. — Richard Barrios
Original Broadway Cast, 2003 (Decca) (4 / 5) Don’t go to this recording for a perfectly accurate representation of what’s heard in the theater; the songs were somewhat edited for the cast album to remove any hint of the twisty plot of Wicked, a musical based on Gregory Maguire’s novel, which purports to tell the true story of the “good” and “bad” witches immortalized in L. Frank Baum’s The Wizard of Oz. Still, this is one of Stephen Schwartz’s best scores — an unpopular opinion, admittedly! — and the excellent album boasts more than an hour of knockout songs, terrific high belting courtesy of stars Idina Menzel (Elphaba) and Kristin Chenoweth (Galinda/Glinda), and a fantastic-sounding orchestra conducted by Stephen Oremus. Listen particularly to Menzel’s astounding performances of “The Wizard and I,” “I’m Not That Girl,” “No Good Deed,” “Defying Gravity,” and her two gorgeous duets, “As Long as You’re Mine” (with Norbert Leo Butz as Fiyero) and “For Good” (with Chenoweth). Also pay special attention to William David Brohn’s great orchestrations in a pop-rock idiom that’s unusual for him. Unfortunately, very little of Winnie Holtzman’s adept libretto is included on the disc; the absence of dialogue leaves the estimable supporting performers Carole Shelley, Joel Grey, Christopher Fitzgerald, and Michelle Federer in the lurch. — Seth Christenfeld