Original Broadway Cast, 2023 (UMe) (3 / 5) This recording differs from the cast albums of many other jukebox musicals, including biomusicals such as Jersey Boys and Beautiful, in that the arrangements and orchestrations here are not close copies of those heard in these songs as originally written and recorded — in this case by Neil Diamond, the subject of this show. A Beautiful Noise exhibits more creativity in that regard, with fresh arrangements (by Sonny Paladino) and orchestrations (by Brian Usifer, Bob Gaudio, and Paladino) that recall the originals just closely enough to keep Diamond fans happy without sounding like carbon copies of the old charts. There’s also a delightful “Opening Montage” featuring snippets of a large handful of Diamond hits in a piquant choral arrangement for the ensemble. Another huge plus for the album is the stellar work of Will Swenson, who somehow manages to very credibly channel Neil Diamond’s husky rock baritone in such hits as “Sweet Caroline,” “Cracklin’ Rosie,” “Love on The Rocks,” etc., etc., even though the natural timbre of Swenson’s singing voice as heard in other shows and on other recordings is much higher. A persuasive argument for experiencing this show through the cast album, rather than actually attending a performance on Broadway, is that the audio-only option means you don’t have to suffer the sometimes ridiculous setups for these pop songs as they have been placed within the book that Anthony McCarten has written around them — none more egregious than the setup for “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers,” here presented as a bittersweet farewell sung by Neil and his second wife, Marcia Murphey (Robyn Hurder), even though the lyrics apparently have nothing to do with the issues that actually broke up their marriage. Recorded with no spoken introduction whatsoever, this song may be thoroughly enjoyed out of context, along with all the rest on the album. — Michael Portantiere
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Original London Cast, 2019 (3 / 5) & Juliet is, yes, another musical twist on Shakespeare, but one that’s worthy of joining the large canon that already includes such shows as Kiss Me, Kate, West Side Story, Your Own Thing, and Two Gentlemen of Verona. The plot revolves around Shakespeare’s wife Anne Hathaway -– an annoyingly affected Cassidy Janson on this recording — trying to convince her begrudging husband, suavely sung by Oliver Tompsett, to change the ending of his new play, Romeo & Juliet, to let the leading lady live and reclaim her power. The story is told in a very modern way by using the music of pop songwriter Max Martin, who has penned hits for Britney Spears, Katy Perry, Taylor Swift, et al. These songs fit very smoothly into the plot but, of course, you won’t get much of a sense of that from the cast album. On that note, any recording of a jukebox musical prompts the same question: Without a script attached, is it worth hearing musical theater artists perform pop songs that we already know and love in their original versions? In one case here, at least, the answer is very much “yes”: From the first time we hear Miriam Teak-Lee as Juliet in the album’s third track, “…Baby One More Time,” to her final, soaring harmonies in “Roar,” it’s clear that she possesses the ability to wrap her voice around the riffs and the admittedly 1D emotions of these songs. Other performers, especially the butter-voiced Jordan Luke Gage as Romeo, do well also, though the comically exaggerated performances of Melanie LaBarrie as the Nurse and David Bedella as Lance De Bois, the strict father of Juliet’s new love interest, seem to have gotten a bit lost in translation to the medium of an audio recording. A bonus cover of “One More Try” by Jessie J accents the disparity between pop and theater voices that only Teak-Lee bridges with complete success. If this cast album can’t offer a good picture of the wit, the positive themes, or the spectacle of & Juliet, what it does offer is a veritable candy box of rich orchestrations and strong singers that may leave listeners saying, to quote a song that’s repeated throughout the show, “I want it that way.” — Charles Kirsch
Original Broadway Cast, 2022 (Atlantic) (4 / 5) Other than the accents, the biggest difference between the two recordings of & Juliet is the use of interstitial dialogue on the Broadway album – or, more accurately, the Toronto album, as that’s where this one was recorded pre-Broadway. (Katy Geraghty, who left the show before it arrived at the Stephen Sondheim Theatre, is still credited here in the role of Lucy). The improvement is tangible, as the snippets of the book that are included give us the context in which the hit songs are used and also play up one of the elements that makes the show as a whole so enjoyable: its humor. Pop song lyrics tend to be somewhat banal, a fact that’s unfortunately accented here because of the slightly more subdued tone of this album as compared to the London one. This is partially due to the sound mixing, which makes the voices slightly softer; but also because of the cast, which, to paraphrase a different show, has its aces in very different places. While Lorna Courtney as Juliet is very talented and adds her own, individual spark to the songs, she’s not quite the exploding firecracker that Miriam Teak-Lee is. Instead, Betsy Wolfe as Anne Hathaway becomes the focus of this album; not only is she a splendid singer, she adds a taste of her enormous acting talent in several sections of spoken dialogue, enough to elevate the material. More happy news is that Philippe Arroyo and Justin David Sullivan as the show’s (arguably) central couple, Francois and May, shine brighter than their London counterparts. Since Wolfe, Arroyo, and Sullivan get to sing most of the quieter pop songs in the score, those moments become the highlights of this recording. (That fact does highlight a structural problem with the album: you’ll often hear one bombastic number right after another, followed by a section in which all you get is the characters’ musical thoughts on frustrated love or identity, the most glaring example being the sequence of songs that stretches from “Whataya Want from Me” to “That’s the Way It Is.”) Melanie La Barrie, the only holdover from the London cast, fares better here, giving slightly subtler and more charming renditions of “Domino” and “Fuckin’ Perfect.” Ben Jackson Walker as Romeo is somewhat generic if inoffensive, and Paulo Szot’s out-of-place operatic voice makes the comedy of Lance really pop. While Stark Sands as a comically smug Shakespeare riffs a bit shakily at the start, in the end he gives a perfectly sweet performance. Fittingly, there’s a new pop-star cover for this album: “Since U Been Gone” as sung by Kelly Clarkson (joined by Lorna Courtney). As of this writing, & Juliet seems to have become a hit on Broadway. Since it’s likely to earn a place alongside Jersey Boys and Beautiful among the most successful of the “jukebox musicals,” any theater fan should get to know it now — and they’re advised to use this recording to help. — C.K.
A Strange Loop
Original Off-Broadway Cast, 2019 (Yellow Sound) (4 / 5) How to describe A Strange Loop, the Pulitzer-Prize winning musical that gets its title from both a cognitive science term and a Liz Phair song? It’s messy, it’s brilliant, and every theater fan should pay attention to it. Written by Michael R. Jackson, this semi-autobiographical work has no structured plot and is chock-full of content so gleefully explicit, and often discomforting, that it makes shows like Spring Awakening and Book of Mormon look like after-school specials. The show focuses on Usher (Larry Owens), a self-described “fat, black and queer” aspiring musical theater writer who’s working on his newest musical — which also happens to be called “A Strange Loop” and just so happens to be about a fat, black, queer musical theater writer who’s writing a musical about a fat, black, queer musical theater writer. As he struggles with the creative process, Usher wonders if his lack of success as a writer and in acquiring a romantic partner is due to the cruelty and prejudice of the entertainment industry and the world at large, or due to his own trauma and lack of self worth. Jackson uses the musical as a large canvas to explore these and other matters with humor, humanity, and brutal honesty. Songs such as “Exile in Gayville” and “Tyler Perry Writes Real Life” include enough vulgarity and confrontation to put off many listeners, but Jackson’s lyrics are concise, intelligent, and razor-sharp. While his music is not quite so bold, and he sometimes doesn’t end his songs effectively, he has written a melodic, multi-faceted score with tight vocal arrangements (by Jackson) and flexible orchestrations (by Charlie Rosen). The ensemble is made up of Usher’s six main Thoughts, vocalizing his inner demons as well as all of the people in his life — family, agents, even pillars of Black American history. All of the performers heard here as the Thoughts are exceptional, but it’s Owens who commands the recording. His Usher is a ball of flaming, dramatic chaos, thrilling and terrifying. His expressive voice powers through the score, constantly fighting to stay afloat until it softly lands to safety towards the end in “Memory Song.” Owens also turns “Writing a Gospel Play,” in which Usher barely hides his contempt at concocting a script for Tyler Perry, into a comedic tour-de-force. A Strange Loop is not a show or cast album that can be recommended to everyone; it refuses to pander with vague affirmations or self-empowering anthems, and it’s all the more interesting for that reason. — Matt Koplik
Original Broadway Cast, 2022 (Ghostlight/Yellow Sound) (3 / 5) Despite A Strange Loop having had a sold-out run Off-Broadway, winning the Pulitzer Prize, and sweeping all other eligible awards during its season, a transfer to Broadway was not a foregone conclusion. The musical was always going to be a hard sell to a mainstream audience, and the big question for fans of Jackson’s work was: If there is a transfer, will the creative team make any alterations to render the abrasive material more palatable? The answer, as evidenced by this new cast recording, is mostly “no.” A few of the rougher edges have been smoothed over, as in “Inwood Daddy,” but even a slightly toned-down Loop is more shocking and confrontational than 99% of shows that land on Broadway. Some of Jackson’s rewrites make certain lyrics slightly more clear to the audience, though not necessarily easier to take. Where the Broadway transfer and the resulting album lose a great deal of power are in the sound design and the new central performance; the second recording sounds mushier and more echo-y than the first one, making many of the lyrics difficult to decipher, while some of the voices are imbalanced and poorly blended. And although Jaquel Spivey brings pop panache and vocal ease to the role of Usher, his performance is less expressive and explosive than Owens’. This Usher feels more controlled and tempered, which ultimately dilutes the power of the piece. Still, Spivey is vocally well qualified for the role, and some listeners might prefer him to Owens in that regard. A Strange Loop went on to garner more critical acclaim for its Broadway bow, winning the Tony for Best Musical in 2022, though it has continued to struggle at the box office even after earning that honor. This recording is a strong representation of why the show deserves its accolades, even as it also displays what was lost in the move to Broadway. — M.K.
Original Broadway Cast, 2022 (6 Music Ltd.) (4 / 5) Recorded live on opening night of the Broadway production of SIX, this album captures the show’s fervent energy and the score’s dramatic meat when it’s put in the hands of six smart and talented singing actresses. The crowd’s hyper-energetic response to “Ex-Wives”at the start may be overwhelming or frustrating for some listeners, but given that SIX’s opening was delayed for 18 months due to the COVID-19 pandemic, that response is understandable. Thereafter, the album focuses primarily on the performers, starting with Adrianna Hicks salivating over the Beyonce-inspired “No Way” and moving on non-stop from there. Each singing actress delivers in the pop/R&B style of the score while also infusing these songs with spice and personality. Andrea Masceat fills “Don’t Lose Ur Head” with “Ain’t I a stinker?” attitude, while Abby Mueller communicates pain through each melisma in “Heart of Stone.” Then there’s Brittney Mack delightfully showing off in “Get Down” and Samantha Pauly blending trauma with Ariana Grande-style power belting in “All You Wanna Do,” finally capped by Anna Uzele bringing cool and calm to “I Don’t Need Your Love.” The album includes pieces of dialogue to help string the songs together, and some extra music is included, making this a more complete representation of the score than the studio cast recording. SIX isn’t for everyone, but if you have a friend who’s on the fence about giving Marlow and Moss’ Gen Z song cycle a chance, this is the album to lend them. — M.K.
Prince of Egypt
Film Soundtrack, 1998 (Dreamworks) (3 / 5) Like several other animated musical classics of the screen, from Snow White to the clutch of far more recent Disney films (The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast, Frozen, Coco, et al.), Prince of Egypt contains considerably fewer songs than would be included in a stage musical. But the songs with music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz that are heard here, beautifully augmented by Hans Zimmer’s lush orchestral score, make for a thoroughly enjoyable listening experience. Highlights of what is basically an animated musical remake of The Ten Commandments (!!!!) include the powerful opening chorus of the Hebrew Slaves, “Deliver Us”; Moses’ plaintive song, “All I Ever Wanted,” sung by Amick Byram, with the “Queen’s reprise” delivered equally persuasively by Linda Dee Shayne; a weird, comic-villain number, “Playing with the Big Boys Now,” performed by Steve Martin and Martin Short as two of the Pharoah’s henchmen; the inspirational ballad “Through Heaven’s Eyes,” which allows us to revel in the wonderful Broadway baritone of Brian Stokes Mitchell; and the lovely duet “When You Believe,” prettily sung in pseudo pop-style by Michelle Pfeiffer and Sally Dworsky, with the bonus of a full-on pop version by Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston. — Michael Portantiere
Original London Cast, 2020 (Ghostlight) (3 / 5) Unsurprisingly, no music by Hans Zimmer is to be heard in this stage adaptation of Prince of Egypt, but Stephen Schwartz augmented the film’s song stack to create a full-fledged stage musical that made its debut at TheatreWorks Silicon Valley at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts in 2017, then had its international premiere in a Danish production at the Fredericia Teater in April 2018, followed by a summer run at the Royal Danish Theatre in Copenhagen and a presentation at the Tuacahn Amphitheatre in Ivins, Utah. A revised version opened at the Dominion Theatre in London’s West End on February 2020 and, after closing in March of that year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, reopened on July 1, 2021. “Playing With the Big Boys Now” was eliminated from the show score early on (probably for the best), but as noted, many new songs were added, resulting in a cast album that’s full to bursting with 23 tracks (including three reprises). “Deliver Us” makes for a thrilling opening sequence, and the other items retained from the film (“All I Ever Wanted,” “Through Heaven’s Eyes,” “When You Believe”) work equally well as stage musical numbers. Among the major new additions are songs titled “Faster,” “One Weak Link,” “Footprints on the Sand,” “Make it Right,” “Never in a Million Years,” “Always on Your Side,” and “For The Rest of My Life.” If none of these represent Schwartz’s top-shelf work, they are all worthy efforts by one of the musical theater’s greatest composer/lyricists, performed by a strong cast headed by Luke Brady (Moses), Liam Tamne (Ramses), Christine Allado (Tzipporah), Alexia Khadime (Miriam), Joe Dixon (Seti), Debbie Kurup (Queen Tuya), Gary Wilmot (Jethro), Mercedesz Csampai (Yocheved), Adam Pearce (Hotep), Tanisha Spring (Nefertari), and Silas Wyatt-Barke (Aaron). — M.P.
Anyone Can Whistle
Original Broadway Cast, 1964 (Columbia/Sony) (5 / 5) The show was a flop, but virtually every number is a winner, and so is this recording. Broadway audiences were bored by Arthur Laurents’ bizarre, satirical fable in which corrupt, small-town politicians fake a miracle by pumping water out of a rock, thus creating a new Lourdes with its attendant tourist trade. But what a cast! Angela Lansbury launched her musical theater career as Cora Hoover Hooper, the scheming mayor. Her co-stars were Lee Remick as Fay Apple, head nurse in the local nuthouse (named The Cookie Jar!), and Harry Guardino as J. Bowden Hapgood, a phony psychiatrist who stirs up trouble. And what a score! Stephen Sondheim’s wildly inventive songs include a lengthy musical-dramatic sequence, “Simple,” and a campy ballet, “The Cookie Chase.” Lansbury’s opener, “Me and My Town,” is a riotous spoof of nightclub-diva dramatics. Remick gets the achingly beautiful title tune, and Guardino delivers the biting, driving “Everybody Says Don’t.” The final duet for Hapgood and Fay, “With So Little to Be Sure Of,” is one of Sondheim’s finest, most adult love songs. Don Walker’s orchestrations are brassy and delightful. Recorded the day after the show closed, the album has a raw quality — Lansbury, for one, evidences some vocal strain — that, paradoxically, makes it seem fresher than many recordings that are more polished. One of Remick’s numbers, “There Won’t Be Trumpets,” was cut before the show opened and left off the LP, but has been restored for the CD. This kind of “failure” is far more interesting than lots of long-running hits. Note: Look for the version of the cast album marked “Deluxe Expanded Edition.” It includes bonus tracks of Sondheim singing demo versions of, among other things, the cut number “The Lame, the Halt, and the Blind” and an alternate version of “With So Little to Be Sure Of.” — David Barbour
Carnegie Hall Concert Cast, 1995 (Columbia/Sony) (1 / 5) This live recording of a starry concert version of Anyone Can Whistle, produced as a benefit for Gay Men’s Health Crisis, preserves more of the score than is heard on the original cast album. It includes “There Won’t Be Trumpets” as well as “There’s Always a Woman,” an unpleasant bitch-fest between Cora and Fay that was also cut from the score before the show opened on Broadway. But, 30 years on, nobody can muster much conviction for Laurents’ talky satire. As Cora, Fay, and Hapgood, Madeline Kahn, Bernadette Peters, and Scott Bakula respectively offer tentative, vocally wobbly performances, while Angela Lansbury narrates. Peters manages a lovely version of the title tune but lacks Remick’s vulnerability, and she’s really at a loss in the scenes where Fay impersonates a sexy French temptress. Kahn is the biggest disappointment here, giving a performance that lacks bite or energy. And Bakula doesn’t possess Guardino’s rough authority. What’s especially missed is the urgency of the original album. As sometimes happens in live recordings, the balance between singers and the orchestra is not ideal. Even Don Walker’s orchestrations, supervised by Jonathan Tunick, lose some edge. — D.B.
Studio Cast, 1997/2020 (JAY, 2CDs) (2 / 5) Elephants, who take 23 months to gestate, have nothing on this two-disc set, which incubated for 23 years. Recording began, and the bulk of it was completed, in 1997 — several presidential administrations ago. This is one of those JAY efforts billed as complete recordings, including playoffs and curtain call and exit music. Chat room savants insist that certain numbers have been cut slightly, and “There’s Always a Woman” is M.I.A. Nevertheless, this is the fullest recorded edition of Anyone Can Whistle that we are likely to get. Happily preserved are “The Cookie Chase” (in a lengthier version than that contained on the OBCR) and the ballet attached to “Everybody Says Don’t,” one of the jazzier passages in any Sondheim-composed musical. But the overly reverent approach to this score, treating a scrappy, satirical musical like a tony Gesamtkunstwerk, is counterproductive. Of the three stars, Julia McKenzie comes off best, punching her way through “Me and My Town” and “A Parade in Town” with gusto, but, unlike Lansbury, she doesn’t seem to be having fun with Cora’s cartoon-villain qualities. John Barrowman is a disconcertingly boyish Hapgood, which may be why he oversells “Everybody Says Don’t,” shouting every fifth or sixth word of the lyrics to signal his passion. Also problematic is Maria Friedman as Fay — a joyless Joan of Arc, lacking in warmth and applying an unpleasant vibrato to several numbers. Everyone’s line readings are pretty dire; this is a real issue in “Simple,” which weaves together music and dialogue. Conductor John Owen Edwards gets an expansive sound out of the National Symphony Orchestra, not always an asset in a show designed to be a sprightly spoof. It’s a pity that nobody recorded the 2010 New York City Center Encores! production of Anyone Can Whistle, which boasted the nearly ideal cast of Raúl Esparza, Sutton Foster, and Donna Murphy. But if you’re a superfan of the show, you’ll want to hear this recording if only because it does have material not available anywhere else — with Arthur Laurents, sounding like he needs a nap, providing occasional narration — D.B.
Premiere Cast Recording, 2012 (Ghostlight) (2 / 5) Based on the supernatural horror novel by Stephen King, which had previously been adapted as a highly successful film in 1976, Carrie is/was one of the most infamous, ignominious flops in musical theater history. After a disastrous tryout run in Stratford-Upon Avon, the show managed only 16 previews and five performances on Broadway in the spring of 1988, yielding no cast album. Many critics and others felt that the work of composer Michael Gore, lyricist Dean Pitchford, and book writer Lawrence D. Cohen was wildly inconsistent in quality, with several riveting moments of confrontation between the bullied, telekinetic teenager Carrie White and her religious zealot mother Margaret playing out powerfully in the midst of risible scenes and songs concerning Carrie’s experiences in high school. Apparently, much of the problem with the production rested in the fact that the American creative team and director Terry Hands of the Royal Shakespeare Company were not on the same page as to what the look, tone, and presentation style of the show should be. But, as noted, there were also huge problems in the writing, leading to major changes for the revisal that was presented Off-Broadway in 2012. The songs “Dream On,” “It Hurts to Be Strong,” “Don’t Waste the Moon,” “Heaven,” “I’m Not Alone,” “Wotta Night,” and the camp classic “Out for Blood” were all dropped, while several new ones were added; two of the best of them are the ballad “Dreamer in Disguise,” sweetly sung by Derek Klena in the role of Tommy Ross, and “Stay Here Instead,” in which Margaret pathetically pleads with her daughter not to go to the prom. (If only she had listened!) But there are still a few mediocre or worse numbers among both the old and new songs, for example, “In” and “A Night We’ll Never Forget.” As was the case with the original version, the score’s musical/dramatic highlights are the unnerving Carrie/Margaret duets “And Eve Was Weak” and “I Remember How Those Boys Could Dance,” and Margaret’s moving solo “When There’s No One.” On the cast album of the 2012 production, these and other songs benefit greatly from the deeply committed performances of Molly Ranson as the tormented Carrie and one of the all-time Broadway greats, Marin Mazzie, as her sadly deranged mother. Rounding out the strong cast are Christy Altomare as Sue, Jeanna de Waal as Chris, Ben Thompson as Billy, Wayne Alan Wilcox as Mr. Stephens, and Carmen Cusack in a wonderfully warm turn as Miss Gardner. — Michael Portantiere
Music From Baz Luhrmann’s Film, 2001 (Interscope) (1 / 5) Here is the soundtrack recording (partly; see below) of what might be described as a movie musical that’s perfect for the ADD generation in terms of its plot (based on well-worn tropes from several famous works, most notably the operas La Bohème and La Traviata and their literary source material) as well as its “jukebox” score (an overstuffed basket of pop hits from the last half of the 20th century). Also geared toward those who suffer from attention deficit disorder is the ridiculously frenetic editing of the film as directed by Baz Luhrmann. Presumably, at least some people who enjoyed the musical performances in Moulin Rouge! might wish to own the soundtrack album if only to experience the songs without having to endure the over-editing of the film itself. But caveat emptor, as the album titled Moulin Rouge! Music from Baz Luhrmann’s Film does not, for the most part, feature performances from the movie, instead offering covers of those covers. To cite only one major example, this collection starts with “Nature Boy” sung not by John Leguizamo (who plays Toulouse-Lautrec in the film and sings the song to open it) but instead by David Bowie. A highlight of the album is a performance that is, indeed, heard in the movie: Ewan McGregor’s lovely, romantic rendition of Elton John and Bernie Taupin’s beautiful “Your Song.” But fans of the film who want audio-only versions of the performances in it will need to additionally seek out the album Moulin Rouge! 2, which includes such items as Nicole Kidman’s “Sparkling Diamonds” (a silly mash-up of “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend” and “Material Girl”); Jim Broadbent, Richard Roxburgh, et al. having their way with “Like a Virgin” (yes, another Madonna song); and the Can-Can pastiche “The Pitch (Spectacular Spectacular).” There are also excerpts from the film’s background score by Craig Armstrong, for anyone who might care a whit about that. – Michael Portantiere
Original Broadway Cast, 2019 (RCA) (1 / 5) People who loved Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge! on the screen won’t necessarily have similar affection for the Broadway musical based on the movie. There are many differences, including much of the score (songs first made famous by Lady Gaga, Britney Spears, the Eurtyhmics, etc. are now included as others have been jettisoned) and some of the story elements and dialogue. Those who enjoyed the seemingly fueled-by-crack editing of the movie will, of course, miss that element in the stage adaptation, while others who abhorred and deplored all that relentless, insanely quick cutting will appreciate being able to make their own decisions about what to focus on when seeing the show, and for how long. As for the cast recording, at least you’ll know exactly what to expect when/if you get your hands on it: a truckload of pop hits, or fragments of same, performed by Karen Olivo as Satine, Aaron Tveit as Christian, Danny Burstein as Harold Zidler, Robyn Hurder as Nini, Tam Mutu as The Duke of Monroth, Sahr Ngaujah as Toulouse-Lautrec, and the other original cast members who sang them on stage at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre before and, in some cases, after the show was forced to suspend performances due to the COVID-19 crisis of 2020. (Cast album listeners have the additional assurance that they will, indeed, hear Satine’s songs delivered by Olivo, who was frequently absent during the eight months or so that Moulin Rouge! ran prior to its closure at the onset of the pandemic.) Although Tveit tends to come across as bland on stage, his strong, clear, unaffected tenor voice is a pleasure to hear on this album, and Burstein is always a vivid presence. The musical supervisor here is Justin Levine, with Cian McCarthy as conductor and Matt Stine as Music Producer — that last credit an unusual one for a Broadway show, or at least it used to be. – M.P.
Original Off-Broadway Cast, 2017 (DRG) (5 / 5) Of course, you knew Gerard Alessandrini wasn’t going to leave Hamilton alone, but who would have predicted this? It’s a whole evening of Revolutionary spoofery, punctuated by multiple Forbidden Broadway-like riffs on other shows and stars of the day. And it works spectacularly well. Alessandrini’s engaging liner notes reveal his insecurity about learning to write rap and hip-hop, yet he appears to have mastered those forms thoroughly, betraying a show-tune sensibility only through his preciser-than-Lin-Manuel rhyming: “I’m getting nervouser, Sir/ Be terser in your verse, Sir/ You’re no Johnny Mercer.” After the briefest of full-orchestra intros, the music’s in the hands of Forbidden Broadway vet Fred Barton at the piano, and he supports one of the best casts Alessandrini was ever blessed with. How they manage to clearly utter every rapidly passing syllable, and land every joke, is a miracle. As Hamilton, Dan Rosales is Lin-Manuel Miranda with more voice. Chris Anthony Giles and Nicholas Edwards serve up wicked parodies of Leslie Odom, Jr. and Daveed Diggs. Glenn Bassett is King George in “Straight is Back,” Juwan Crawley plays all of the other guys, and in the women’s roles, Nora Schell is simply amazing; she transitions expertly and rapidly between Renée Elise Goldsberry and Philippa Soo with laser accuracy, also serving up delicious Bernadette and Audra cameos. (Her Barbra isn’t quite there yet.) Even Christine Pedi’s beloved Liza turns up for a funny “Down With Rap” turn. With virtually the entire Hamilton score lampooned, plus side trips into astute 2017 Broadway commentary and some outrageous musical-hybrid moments (An American Psycho in Paris, The Lion King and I), this album’s a nonstop party. — Marc Miller
Original Broadway Cast, 2015 (Broadway Records) (4 / 5) The Visit is an extraordinary late-career work by composer John Kander and lyricist Fred Ebb, who enriched the American musical theater with multiple scores of excellent quality over a 40-year period. In partnership with book writer Terrence McNally, their previous collaborator for The Rink and Kiss of the Spider Woman, Kander & Ebb crafted a flawed but compelling adaptation of Friedrich Dürrenmatt’s play about Claire Zachanassian, a fabulously wealthy old woman who returns to the town where she grew up and offers to save it from financial ruin if the citizens will be the agents of her ultimate revenge against Anton Schill, her former lover, who wronged her terribly when they were both in their youth. Shocking, moving, and bitterly funny by turns, this story has been musicalized skillfully, for the most part, in songs that run the gamut from the darkly comic “I Walk Away” to the gorgeous love ballad “You, You, You” to the creepy “I Will Never Leave You” to the hauntingly wistful “Love and Love Alone.” One of the most astonishing facets of the show is the production number “Yellow Shoes,” in which the townspeople rejoice over material goods purchased with credit they have been granted in anticipation of the windfall they expect in return for murdering Schill. Following runs in Chicago and at the Signature Theatre in the Washington, D.C. metro area, a shortened version of The Visit was presented as part of the Williamstown Theater Festival in 2014 and then came to New York the following year in a production poorly directed by John Doyle. The Broadway run amounted to only 61 performances, but that tally should not dissuade one from experiencing the cast album, which showcases the stellar performance of beloved Broadway veteran Chita Rivera as Claire. Captivating as always, Rivera is partnered by the Anton of Roger Rees, who recorded this album while suffering from the brain cancer that forced him to bow out of The Visit during its short Broadway run. (In retrospect, his passing in July 2015, as well as the deaths of Fred Ebb in 2004 and Terrence McNally in 2020, amplify and deepen the elegiac feel of the recording.) Among the other standouts in the cast are Jason Danieley as the schoolmaster who represents the conscience of the town in “The Only One”; Tom Nelis, Matthew Deming, and Chris Newcomer as Claire’s “entourage,” two of them eunuchs who sing in falsetto; and, in the role of Young Anton, John Riddle, whose beautiful tenor is a pleasure to hear in “You, You, You.” With a score that also contains a few songs less effective than those mentioned above, The Visit is not so finely honed a musical as the very best of the best, such as Kander & Ebb’s Cabaret and Chicago, but it’s a worthy addition to the canon. — Michael Portantiere