The Life

The-LifeOriginal Broadway Cast, 1997 (Sony) 4 Stars (4 / 5) The Life opened just as Times Square was being cleaned up and turned into a tourist-friendly theme park. It captured the Best Musical prize from the Drama Desk, Drama League, and the Outer Critics Circle, and ran for 465 performances. This tasty cast album preserves the two best elements of the show: its largely terrific, tuneful score by composer Cy Coleman and lyricist Ira Gasman, and vivacious, charismatic performances that practically leap from the recording. The score’s pulsating, rhythmic, lowdown groove is very different from other shows of the period, as one peak follows another. Sam Harris and company hit a home run early on with “Use What You Got.” Pamela Isaacs, the hooker with a head voice, gives out with the funky “A Lovely Day to Be Out of Jail” and the gorgeous ballad “He’s No Good.” The show-stopping, comedic “The Oldest Profession” is sung for all its worth by Lillias White. Chuck Cooper won a Tony for his performance as a “cold-blooded, sweet talkin’, jive ass, motherfuckin’ son of a bitch” pimp called Memphis; his “My Way or the Highway” and “Don’t Take Much” are here to be savored. Other delights include the show’s ensemble numbers, especially the toe-tapping “Hooker’s Ball,” led by Vernel Bagneris, and the ladies’ rocking, high-belt anthem “My Body.” The album concludes beautifully with Isaacs and White performing the touching duet “My Friend.” A few passages of recitative may strike some listeners as an uneasy fit with the overall style of the piece, but, all things considered, The Life is a welcome breath of grimy New York City air in an era when Times Square has been sanitized. — Morgan Sills