Original Broadway Cast, 1984 (Polygram/JAY) (4 / 5) For Broadway diva lovers, it’s the Fight of the Century. In this corner: Chita Rivera as Anna, a feisty, middle-aged widow who’s about to walk out on the decrepit seaside roller rink she inherited from her husband, Dino. In the opposite corner: Liza Minnelli as Angel, her estranged, ex-hippie daughter, who’s racked up plenty of mileage on the road and in the bedroom. The stage is set for wisecracks, arguments, tears, and many flashbacks as Anna and Angel relive their tormented past, battle over the rink, and finally come to terms. Critics complained that Terrence McNally’s book, with its profane leading ladies and its preponderance of ugly incidents including fraud, rape, and domestic abuse, was unpleasant and manipulative. It is a shock to hear Liza sing to Chita, “Your ass is in a sling!” Still, the show is a true original. The only possible complaint about the score by composer John Kander and lyricist Fred Ebb is that their songs are too knowingly tailored to the stars’ talents. But anyone who loves Rivera and Minnelli will find this cast album irresistible. Rivera has never been better, sardonically recalling her homemaking career in “Chief Cook and Bottle Washer” and belting her heart out in “We Can Make It.” Minnelli, cast as a wilted flower child, movingly reflects on her aimless life in “Colored Lights” and wackily imagines the rink as “Angel’s Rink and Social Center.” The stars pair up beautifully, trading barbs in “Don’t Ah Ma Me,” ogling men through a pot-induced haze in “The Apple Doesn’t Fall,” and kicking up their heels in “Wallflower.” The exclusively male supporting players, representing the wreckers who have come to tear down the rink, portray everyone in Anna and Angel’s pasts. (Included among these performers are future director Scott Ellis and future Broadway and TV star Jason Alexander.) The score reaches its peak in “Mrs. A,” featuring Anna, Angel, Lenny, and a clutch of leering neighborhood suitors; the number has the complexity of a one-act opera as it explores Anna’s loneliness and frustration, her anger at God, and Angel’s troubled awareness of her mother’s sex life. The show climaxes on a sour note with “All the Children in a Row,” a eulogy for the 1960s that sounds phony coming from Minnelli. Still, there are plenty of glitzy pleasures to be found here. — David Barbour
Original London Cast, 1988 (JAY) (2 / 5) As Anna and Angel, Josephine Blake and Diane Langton are surprisingly good and, at times, they sound like their Broadway predecessors. Still, this is a star vehicle without stars, and the performances of the London leading ladies don’t display Chita and Liza’s tough, malicious wit and all-enveloping warmth. Blake and Langton don’t get many laughs out of “The Apple Doesn’t Fall,” but on the plus side, Langton doesn’t sound as silly as Minnelli when delivering “All the Children in a Row.” As is the case in many London cast recordings of Broadway musicals, the entire performance is a bit too slow and lacks a certain edge — a real debit in a show that’s nothing if not edgy. — D.B.