Category Archives: J-K

Kid Victory

Kid VictoryOriginal Off-Broadway Cast, 2017 (Broadway Records) 4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5) Kid Victory premiered at the Signature Theatre in Arlington, VA in 2015, and played a limited run Off Broadway at the Vineyard in 2017.  One would be hard-pressed to find more beautiful, haunting melodies than those created by John Kander for this show, and just as hard pressed to find a darker, more disturbing plot (book and lyrics by Greg Pierce):  Seventeen-year-old Luke (the wonderful Brandon Flynn) has just returned to his family after a year in the captivity of a man who had abducted him. This is a score of stark contrasts, beginning with the “Opening/Lord, Carry Me Home,” in which the prayers sung at the boy’s parents’ church shift into hostile voices in Luke’s imagination. Meanwhile, his mother (Kander veteran Karen Ziemba) burbles how their friends will be ecstatic to see Luke again. The contrasts continue in “The Marble,” as a well-meaning amateur therapist (Ann Arvia) tries to treat Luke but conjures up memories of his kidnapper, Michael (Jeffry Denman). Luke’s existence has been bifurcated into before his ordeal and after, as his mom poignantly notes in “There Was a Boy,” so Kander and Pierce made some bold choices reflecting that. Several songs are punctuated with dialogue, while others are startlingly short. Characters appear for single numbers — among them the sheriff, Luke’s ex-girlfriend, and Andrew, a gay teen whose show biz-styled “What’s the Point?” indicates he’s unlike others in this small town. The quirky shopkeeper Emily (Dee Roscioli) has her own troubled past, yet her “People Like Us” resonates with Luke. Throughout the score, Luke does not sing a note, a device meant to convey his trauma; there is no escape from his memories of Michael, alternately charming and chilling. Denman’s performance is masterful and terrifying, from the way Michael angrily snaps while retelling a Viking saga (“Vinland”) to his insidious plotting in the seemingly innocent “Regatta 500” to the tragic “You, If Anyone” — a heartbreaking melody paired with Michael’s idealistic hopes for Luke’s future, beautiful until one realizes the context. A pat ending would have Luke singing in recovery, but this score is too honest for that. Instead, Luke’s dad (Daniel Jenkins), a character on the periphery until now, reaches out to his son in “Where We Are,” another brief, yet illuminating number. Luke isn’t whole yet, but his Dad is trying to connect with him. And that’s a start. — Laura Frankos

Jersey Boys

Jersey-Boys-editOriginal Broadway Cast, 2005 (Rhino) 3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5) Jersey Boys tells the true story of the rise of the phenomenally successful 1960s pop singing group The Four Seasons — or, at least, true to whoever is in charge of the story at whatever point in the show. Rather than presenting a straightforward narrative, book writers Rick Elice and Marshall Brickman have each member of the group — here played by John Lloyd Young (Frankie Valli), Christian Hoff (Tommy DeVito), Daniel Reichard (Bob Gaudio), and J. Robert Spencer (Nick Massi) — take turns in telling the audience their version of the group’s rise and fall. The idea works because all four men make insightful, humorous, and (due to frequent contradictions with each other) unreliable narrators, giving the show an extra edge. This recording includes much of that well-crafted narration without interrupting the musical flow of the album. All four leading men have an easy charm and a singing style that lends the recording a sense of authenticity — as does the fact that it was produced by the real-life Bob Gaudio. In particular, Young does an excellent job of adapting his voice to resemble Frankie Valli and his famous falsetto without sounding like an imitation. Ron Melrose’s vocal arrangements and Steve Orich’s orchestrations are essentially period-appropriate. Unlike other jukebox musicals, Jersey Boys doesn’t aim to do anything new with the preexisting songs but, instead, offers a fun, fresh representation with smart, dramatically compelling commentary. — Matt Koplik

JB-SoundtrackFilm Soundtrack, 2014 (Rhino) No stars, not recommended. In bringing this hit jukebox/bio-musical to the screen, director Clint Eastwood remained mostly faithful to the stage material but chose to capture it through a more somber filter. This might have made for an emotionally compelling film, but in fact, it robs Jersey Boys of most of its charm and energy. The soundtrack album reflects this, despite the efforts of the talented quartet representing the Four Seasons: John Lloyd Young is back as Valli, with Vincent Piazza as Tommy DeVito, Erich Bergen as Bob Gaudio, and Michael Lomenda as Nick Massi. Oddly, the album’s producers opted to insert the real-life Frankie Valli’s renditions of certain songs in various places, giving the listener whiplash as we go from Valli to Young to Valli and back. There are also some excerpts from the Broadway cast album, which makes things even more confusing. Young is still in strong voice, and Bergen, Lomenda, and Piazza do a fine job of filling out the quartet — although, without any of the characters’ dialogue included here, Bergen is the only one of the remaining three to get a chance to shine (in “Cry For Me”). Because of the lack of dialogue and any sense of narrative, this soundtrack pales in comparison to the Broadway cast recording of Jersey Boys or any “Best of The Four Seasons” compilation album. — M.K.

Kinky Boots

Kinky-BootsOriginal Broadway Cast, 2013 (Sony Masterworks Broadway) 3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5) Kinky Boots marked 80’s pop icon Cyndi Lauper’s debut as a Broadway songwriter. Based on the film of the same title, the musical is about the owner of a struggling shoe factory in England who revives his business by teaming with a transvestite and making shoes for men who love to don heels. Though it may sound like indie fare, the show became an instant success, winning the Tony Award for Best Musical and nabbing Lauper a Tony for her work, as well. For a freshman effort, it’s a fun, admirable score, but there is still some room for Lauper to grow as a musical theater writer. Musically, she is very gifted, and her pop sound provides the cast album with many catchy tunes. With the help of crisp arrangements and orchestrations by Stephen Oremus, songs such as “Everybody Say Yeah” and “In This Corner” create a sense of heat and fizz, allowing the cast to let loose and show off their vocal dynamics. As a lyricist, Lauper is at her best when cheeky; songs like “Land of Lola” or “Sex is in the Heel” work because of their sly flirtatiousness (e.g., “We give good epiphany”). However, when Lauper becomes more earnest, as in “Son of a Man” and “Take What You Got,” she has trouble conveying the characters’ thoughts without the lyrics feeling on the nose and sometimes generic. One exception is “Not My Father’s Son,” a moving ballad in which the two main characters, Charlie and Lola, played well by Stark Sands and Billy Porter, realize that they share a common trait in diverting from the paths that their fathers had wanted them to follow. This song exhibits a lyrical and musical restraint that allows the audience to connect with Charlie and Lola on a relatable, human level. Although Kinky Boots shines most brightly when it presents its sassy side, it could have used more songs like that. — Matt Koplik


KwaminaOriginal Broadway Cast, 1961 (Capitol/Angel) 4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5) So, which Broadway composer stretched himself the most in writing a score that no one would have guessed he had in him? Jerry Herman with Dear World? Good answer. Stephen Schwartz with The Baker’s Wife? Better answer. Richard Adler with Kwamina? Best answer! Adler, who had previously co-written two all-American musical comedy hits, The Pajama Game and Damn Yankees, here took on African tribal music and scored astonishingly well. The album starts off arrestingly with “The Cocoa Bean Song,” in which African laborers sing of their relationship to their crop: “One does the drinkin’, the other gets drunk.” “Nothing More to Look Forward To” has a glorious, Bantu-inspired melody, and it’s a shame that the Kingston Trio’s cover version wasn’t included as a bonus track on the CD edition of this recording. Both music and lyrics sparkle in “One Wife,” which gives us the tribe’s atypical views on monogamy, and “Something Big,” the African colony’s cry for independence from England. But — and a big but it is! — much of the show deals with two doctors, Kwamina (Terry Carter), an African educated in England, and Eve (Sally Ann Howes), a British woman. And, alas, most of their songs are routine. — Peter Filichia


Kuni-LemlOff-Broadway Cast, 1998 (Slider Music) 2 out of 5 stars (2 / 5) Avrom Goldfadn’s Yiddish farce The Two Kuni-Lemls is all but forgotten today. Even so, New York’s Jewish Repertory Theatre (JRT) commissioned a musical version of it in 1984, and the result turned out to be a success. But it wasn’t until the JRT revived Kuni-Leml 14 years later that the musical was recorded. The album reveals this to be a charming show — no more, no less. Raphael Crystal’s music is bouncy and Richard Engquist’s lyrics are solid, but that’s pretty much the best that can be said for the score. The strength of the recording lies in the cast, headed by Danny Gurwin as the title character, a pious student who’s roped into marrying a rich man’s daughter; and Farah Alvin as a matchmaker’s daughter who’s unlucky in love. These two are hilarious in their solos, “What’s My Name?” and “Don’t Worry, Darling,” and delightful in their duet, “Do Horses Talk to Horses?” — so much so that they rise above the middling material. Paul Harman is suitably over-the-top as the boisterous matchmaker. David Wolfson leads a four-piece band through the nicely orchestrated score.  — Seth Christenfeld

Knickerbocker Holiday

KnickerbockerOriginal Broadway Cast, 1938 (Joey/AEI) 3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5) Boiled-down radio broadcasts of Broadway musicals were not unheard of in the 1930s, and the few that have been released commercially in subsequent decades generally provide interesting, if scratchy, listening. This release of a 1938 broadcast of Knickerbocker Holiday with members of the original Broadway cast was especially valuable in its day, since for many years there was no other recording of Kurt Weill and Maxwell Anderson’s political satire; as a bonus, AEI’s CD also incorporates material from a 1945 radio version with a studio cast. The show spins a diverting yarn of old New Amsterdam and its autocratic mayor, Peter Stuyvesant, as filtered through the imagination of narrator Washington Irving, played by a young Ray Middleton. In the process, Anderson has fun with jokes about old New York and scores still-trenchant political points about media censorship and totalitarianism in democracy’s clothing. The best thing about this recording is that it preserves for posterity Walter Huston’s performance in his debut role in musical theater. Huston whispers “September Song” unforgettably, and makes every syllable count. His comic timing is also impeccable, even though he’s playing against the tepid Tina Tienhoven of Jeanne Madden. The bad news, aside from the decidedly dated sound, is the heavy editing of the musical program: Included here are just four complete songs and slivers of others, along with the briefest of overtures. At least the other principal ballad, the tender “It Never Was You,” gets a complete rendering by Madden and Richard Kollrnar. — Marc Miller

KnickerbockerNew York Concert Cast, 2011 (Ghostlight) 4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5) Thanks to the Collegiate Chorale’s 2011 concert presentation with a notable group of celebrity guest artists, recorded live at Alice Tully Hall, we finally get to hear all of Knickerbocker Holiday. And what a strange score it turns out to be. Even as Weill’s trying to sound “Broadway,” his German roots are evident; such ballads as “Will You Remember Me?” and “We Are Cut in Twain” might have snuck in from Mahagonny or Threepenny. It’s a blaringly political piece, very anti-New Deal, and the authority-slapping “How Can You Tell an American?” could be an anthem for the Tea Party. Some of the score — “Our Ancient Liberties,” “Bachelor’s Song” — is actually dull. But Weill’s orchestrations, saxophone-heavy and liltingly conducted by James Bagwell, are characterful and graceful. Victor Garber is Peter Stuyvesant; consummate pro though he is, he isn’t Walter Huston, and his vigorously acted “September Song” lacks the easy charm of the original. Kelli O’Hara trills prettily and is well partnered by Ben Davis. Bryce Pinkham, David Garrison, Christopher Fitzgerald, and Brooks Ashmanskas fill out the cast in lesser roles. The audience sounds like it’s enjoying the show, and, occasional longueurs aside, so will you. — M.M.

Kiss of the Spider Woman

Spider-RiveraOriginal Toronto/London/Broadway Cast, 1992 (First Night) 5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5) Surely one of the most original and haunting musicals of the ’90s, Kiss of the Spider Woman is also one of the strangest and most surreal shows ever to enjoy a long Broadway run. Terrence McNally’s adaptation of Manuel Puig’s novel and film unfolds with the terrible logic of a dream. The action is set in a prison in an unnamed Latin American country: Brent Carver is Molina, a gay window dresser under arrest for having had sex with a minor; his cellmate is Valentin (Anthony Crivello), a fierce, homophobic revolutionary. Their relationship is complex, sexually charged, and fraught with ambiguity. Hovering over them both is Aurora, the film goddess of Molina’s fantasies, who is also the Spider Woman — the spirit of death — played by Chita Rivera. The drama moves in and out of the prison cell into a series of movie narratives, dreams, and memories that enmesh both men in a web of seduction, treachery, and death. The astonishingly rich score, by composer John Kander and lyricist Fred Ebb, captures every shifting mood and level of reality. “Dressing Them Up” and “I Draw the Line” establish the troubled Molina-Valentin relationship clearly. “Dear One” is a gorgeous quartet for the two men plus Molina’s mother (nice work by Merle Louise) and Valentin’s girlfriend. Marta (Kirsti Carnahan). Equally fine is the heartbreaking “You Could Never Shame Me,” also featuring Molina’s mother. There is room for wild movie parodies (“Gimme Love,” “Russian Movie/Good Times”) and such dark, surreal numbers as the “Morphine Tango.” On the minus side, the score is afflicted with an overblown anthem, “The Day After That.” Carver and Crivello are first-rate, but the miracle here is Rivera. She was a stunning presence in the show — alternately campy, sinister, maternal, and mysterious. On the recording, she’s particularly electrifying in “Where You Are,” a creepy yet hilarious portrait of the movies’ power to obliterate reality (brilliantly orchestrated by Michael Gibson). Rivera is also alluring and frightening in “I Do Miracles,” and commanding in the sinister title song. She, and this recording, are simply not to be missed. — David Barbour

Spider-WilliamsBroadway Cast, 1995 (Mercury) 3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5) Few replacement casts get their own cast albums, but Vanessa Williams was a popular recording artist when she went into Kiss of the Spider Woman as Aurora. Hence, this disc. Something is lost and something gained here. Williams’ singing is formidable, but her performance falls short. Aurora isn’t really a character; she’s an idea, a projection of Molina’s fantasies about the movies, his feelings about his mother, his fascination with death. Chita Rivera brought every watt of her star power to bear in the role, with memorable results; Williams simply doesn’t have the same overwhelming personality. On the other hand, Brian Stokes Mitchell is Valentin here, and the power of his voice is, as always, stupendous. He even makes something stirring out of “The Day After That.” As Molina, Howard McGillin is a little too leading mannish — Brent Carver was far closer to the desperately sad character envisioned by Terrence McNally and Manuel Puig — but his singing is beyond reproach. Don’t go out of your to way to find this recording, but if you’re a Williams fan, you’ll certainly enjoy it. — D.B.

Kiss Me, Kate

Kate-OBCOriginal Broadway Cast, 1948 (Columbia/Sony) 5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5) Here is Cole Porter’s greatest score — fresh, groundbreaking, and oh, so naughty. The show’s book, by Bella and Sam Spewack, has a rousing backstage plot matched by a spirited play-within-the-play: Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, which turns up in excerpts here and there, giving the principals dual roles. As Fred/Petruchio and Lilli/Kate, the great stars Alfred Drake and Patricia Morison are at their professional peak on the cast album; they deliver every word distinctly, and caress every note. As Lois/Bianca, Lisa Kirk acts and sings her numbers impeccably; her performance of “Why Can’t You Behave?” is unsurpassed as her sultry voice pours over great lines such as, “There I’ll care for you forever / Well, at least till you dig my grave.” Porter’s raunchy lyrics for “Always True to You in My Fashion” are also meticulously rendered by Kirk. Harold Lang is on hand as Bill/Lucentio to sing the silly but charming “Bianca.” Pembroke Davenport conducts skillfully. Kiss Me, Kate contains several songs that have become famous: “So in Love,” “Wunderbar” “Another Op’nin’, Another Show,” “Too Darn Hot,” and one of the cleverest comedy numbers ever written for the stage, “Brush Up Your Shakespeare.” And let’s not forget the delightfully nasty “I Hate Men,” performed here by Patricia Morison as if she really means it. [Note: Kiss Me, Kate opened on December 30, 1948, but the cast recording was actually made in January 1949.] — Gerard Alessandrini

Kate-SoundtrackFilm Soundtrack, 1953 (MGM/Rhino-Turner) 5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5) MGM gave Kiss Me, Kate the royal treatment. The soundtrack is thrilling, even if this is more a flashy movie musical than a faithful transfer of the stage show. As Fred/Petruchio, Howard Keel sings with bravura. Katherine Grayson as Lilli/Kate is less satisfying; her vocal trills are pretty, but she doesn’t have the acting or belting chops for “I Hate Men.” The cast member who shines the brightest here is Ann Miller as Lois/Bianca. Besides being a great dancer, Miller was also a fine singer, and her brassy renditions of “Always True to You in My Fashion” and “Too Darn Hot” are terrific. Another delight is the musical scoring by Saul Chaplin and André Previn. Although the treatment is as Hollywoodish as can be, Porter’s splendid melodies and urbane lyrics shine through. The stage score was transferred to the screen almost in its entirety; “Another Op’nin’, Another Show” and “Bianca” were dropped (parts of both are still heard as background music), but another great Porter song was added, “From This Moment On.” That track alone is worth the price of the soundtrack recording, but Rhino’s expanded CD includes the entire film score in glorious early stereo. — G.A.

Kate-TVStudio Cast, 1959 (Capitol/Angel) 5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5) In many ways, this recording is nearly identical to the original cast album made 10 years earlier, the only major difference being that this version is in stereo. The stars of Kiss Me, Kate reunited to re-record the score in state-of-the-art, “Full Dimensional Stereo” soon after the airing of a CBS-TV version of the musical that starred Alfred Drake and Patricia Morison. The telecast featured Bill Hayes as Bill! Lucentio and Julie Wilson as Lois/Bianca, but this studio cast recording brought back Lisa Kirk and Harold Lang, along with the Broadway conductor, Pembroke Davenport. All of the performances are as fresh and vibrant as on the original album; except for the improved sound quality, it’s sometimes hard to tell one version from the other. But the orchestra seems augmented a bit here, and original cast member Lorenzo Fuller as Paul the valet gets to lead “Another Op’nin’, Another Show” in addition to “Too Darn Hot.” P.S.: The show’s gangster roles are sung by Aloysius Donovan and Alexis Dubroff, both a.k.a. Alfred Drake! — G.A.

Television Cast, 1968 (Columbia Special Products/Sony) 2 out of 5 stars (2 / 5) As is also true of the television cast recording of Brigadoon starring Robert Goulet, the arrangements, orchestrations, and keys of the songs as presented here make this item sound more like a pop record than a Kiss Me, Kate cast album. That’s most unfortunate in two cuts, “I Hate Men” and “Always True to You In My Fashion,” both given “swinging ’60s” arrangements. But again, the leads — here, Goulet as Fred/Petruchio and his then-wife, Carol Lawrence, as Lili/Kate — were Broadway musical theater stars of their day. It’s nice to hear their voices in these roles, but would have been even nicer if Cole Porter’s great score had been given a more traditional reading. Also on hand is Michael Callan, who played Riff in the OBC of West Side Story, as Bill/Lucentio; the one stinker song in the score, “Bianca,” is nowhere to be heard here, but Callan has been compensated with “Too Darn Hot,” not originally Bill’s number. Jessica Walter does a fine job with Lois/Bianca’s musical moments (even “Always True to You in My Fashion,” despite that tacky rearrangement), and Jules Munshin and Marty Ingels are amusing as the gangsters in “Brush Up Your Shakespeare.” Sharp-eared listeners will note that a few of Porter’s lyrics for some of these songs were rewritten for this TV adaptation, for whatever reason. {Note: Sony’s CD edition of the recording is packaged on a single disc with the 1966 Brigadoon TV cast album referenced above.] — Michael Portantiere

Kate-HampsonStudio Cast, 1990 (Angel) 3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5) Conductor John McGlinn spearheaded this recording of Kiss Me, Kate, starring Josephine Barstow and Thomas Hampson in an edition that’s less effective than other recorded performances of this great show. Still, it was an important aural document when it appeared in 1990, because of its completeness. In addition to the original overture, the album offers every verse of every song and fully orchestrated versions of songs dropped from the show before it opened, plus an excellent booklet filled with background information. Hampson and Barstow are magnificent opera singers, but a Cole Porter score needs performers with a more theatrical edge. Kim Criswell is also a wonderful talent, but is miscast as Lois/Bianca. George Dvorsky, David Garrison, and Davis Gaines are effective in their roles. On the whole, this recording sounds somewhat cold, and it ultimately short changes the jazzier, wittier aspects of the score. — G.A.

Kate-Allen2Studio Cast, 1996 (JAY, 2CDs) 4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5) Here’s another complete recording of the score. Thomas Allen and Diana Montague are well cast as Fred/Petruchio and Lilli/Kate, with beautiful voices that never overpower the songs and acting that suits the material nicely. Diane Langton as Lois/Bianca is somewhat less effective vocally and comically, but Graham Bickley as Bill!Lucentio is quite appealing. The score is excitingly conducted by john Owen Edwards; his tempi are bright and bouncy, and the orchestra sounds full and lush. The complete, original Robert Russell Bennett orchestrations are heard in all of the jazzy dance numbers, the overture, and the entr’acte, plus the scene-change music and underscoring. This two-disc set also contains bonus tracks of the overtures to Porter’s Can-Can, Jubilee, and Out of This World. — G.A.

Kate-Mitchell-MazzieBroadway Cast, 2000 (DRG) 4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5) The stellar performances of Brian Stokes Mitchell and Marin Mazzie help to make this a delightful cast album. Although the score was re-orchestrated for a smaller number of instruments, Cole Porter’s music still sounds great, and this Broadway revival proved that the story and songs hadn’t aged a bit. Mazzie’s rendition of Lilli’s “So in Love” is a particular standout as she captures all of the angst and passion inherent in one of Porter’s greatest love songs. Mitchell does an especially fine job with Fred’s/Petruchio’s numbers; his rendition of “Were Thine That Special Face” is at once poignant and thrilling. On the comedy side, Mazzie takes the honors with a wonderfully overwrought version of Kate’s “I Hate Men.” Amy Spanger and Michael Berresse are somewhat less effective as Lois/Bianca and Bill/Lucentio on this recording than they were onstage, but the entire cast, including Michael Mulheren and Lee Wilkof as the gangsters, performs with great vigor. If you’re looking for an excellent contemporary interpretation of this timeless show, look no further. — G.A.


Kismet-OBCOriginal Broadway Cast, 1953 (Columbia/Sony) 5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5) Based on music by the Russian composer Alexander Borodin, this is the classic Arabian Nights musical. Starring the magnificent Alfred Drake as Hajj the poet, Kismet is one of the greatest cast albums ever recorded — unsurpassed and indispensable. The show is a poetic fantasy about fate, an almost operatic treatment of the belief that a man can control his own destiny through industry and wit. Drake is at the height of his powers here, his every moment of brio, wisdom, and romantic musicality bursting from this excellent-sounding monophonic recording. Seldom has a score been as well conducted as this one is by Louis Adrian. Drake’s exceptional performance is ably supported by Richard Kiley as the Caliph, with his rich, sexy baritone voice. Soprano Doretta Morrow is lovely in “Baubles, Bangles, and Beads,” “And This Is My Beloved,” and Marsinah’s other musical moments. The amazing Joan Diener is on hand to hit Lalume’s numbers out of the park; her vocal gymnastics in “Not Since Nineveh” still can make jaws drop. And Henry Calvin is powerful in “Was I Wazir.” Through the genius of Robert Wright and George Forrest, Borodin’s melodies have been transformed into great musical theater songs. The team’s lyrics still crackle with the intelligence, wit, and craft of a Cole Porter or Stephen Sondheim. The few melodies that Wright and Forrest created from scratch, such as “Rahadlakum” and the bridge to “Stranger in Paradise,” are so excellent and so authentic-sounding that they combine seamlessly with the Borodin music. — Gerard Alessandrini

Kismet-SoundtrackFilm Soundtrack, 1955 (MGM/Rhino-Turner) 4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5) When the movie version of Kismet hit the Cinemascope screen, the results were pallid compared with the spectacular stage production, but the film soundtrack is a triumph. The music is conducted by the young André Previn, who during his singular career was noted as a symphony orchestra conductor, composer, pianist, etc. Having already musically supervised several MGM films, Previn knew how to enhance the glitzy elements of the Kismet score. Rhino’s expanded soundtrack CD is a fabulous treat. It even includes “Rhymes Have I,” recorded by Howard Keel and Ann Blyth but deleted from the film, along with the reprise of “Fate” and the “Dance of the Three Princess of Ababu.” Keel and Blyth are nearly as good as Alfred Drake and Doretta Morrow on the Broadway cast album, while Dolores Gray surpasses all other Lalumes; she brings tremendous color and vivacity to “Not Since Nineveh,” and her delivery of the song “Bored” (which was not in the Broadway show) is smooth and sensual. Gray’s chemistry with Keel is titillating, and their “Rahadlakum” duet is wonderfully erotic. The only disappointing selection on this recording is the score’s most famous song, “Stranger in Paradise.” It’s conducted at a very slow tempo, and Vic Damone as the Caliph croons and slides through this operatic ballad as though he’s singing in a wee-hours piano bar. Furthermore, when Blyth joins Damone for the second chorus, she sounds precious and stilted. Even the arrangement of the number is lethargic. But, other than this one misguided performance, the soundtrack is highly recommended as a companion to the original Broadway recording. — G.A.

Kismet-MerrillStudio Cast, 1963 (London) 4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5) The popular conductor Mantovani received top billing when this album was released, but he isn’t the only star here. Opera great Robert Merrill sings Hajj to great effect, and diva Regina Resnik is Lalume. This Kismet has a very “classical” sound, yet the nuances of musical comedy are intact, as the performance captures both the lyrical and showbiz glitz elements of the show. Merrill handles the big baritone passages and witty patter songs of his role equally well; next to Alfred Drake, he’s the best Hajj on records. Resnik’s “Not Since Nineveh” may be a bit high-toned, but she is nonetheless sexy and fun. Adele Leigh and Kenneth McKellar show off their lovely, operetta-style voices in “Stranger in Paradise” and “This Is My Beloved.” This was the first stereo recording of Kismet to be commercially released, and it definitely measures up to more recent digital recordings of the score. — G.A.

Kismet-Lincoln-CenterMusic Theater of Lincoln Center Cast, 1965 (RCA) 4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5) Recorded in beautiful stereo, this Kismet boasts the show’s original star, Alfred Drake. It’s a joy to hear him recreate his most colorful role, and the elapsed years only add further expertise to his performance. One difference between this recording and the 1953 Broadway album is that the thrilling overture has been replaced by a watered-down section of Borodin’s “Polovtsian Dances.” Still, Franz Allers’ conducting certainly has musical expertise. Most of the supporting cast is excellent, particularly Lee Venora as Marsinah. Anne Jeffreys, a major musical theater talent who rarely had the good fortune to be recorded, is Lalume; although not as witty as Joan Diener in the role, she has a versatile voice, and she gets to sing the sensual “Bored.” As for the Caliph, Richard Banke displays a wonderful tenor in his renditions of “Stranger in Paradise” and “Night of My Nights.” On the whole, this is a more intimate statement of the score than the original cast album and is fine as a second choice for your collection. — G.A.

Kismet-JAYStudio Cast, 1989 (JAY, 2CDs) 2 out of 5 stars (2 / 5) This is a nearly-complete British studio recording of Kismet. Although parts of the score may benefit from a semi-operatic interpretation of the Borodin melodies, the performance is stodgy and lacks presence. The brassy Broadway elements of the score are sabotaged and, as a result, those sections simply seem old-fashioned. The usually wonderful Judy Kaye displays a certain amount of showbiz flamboyance as Lalume, but even she sounds too cautious. Donald Maxwell, Valerie Masterson, and especially David Rendall are first-rate singers, yet they all sound too stuffy for the score’s witty numbers and sensually romantic ballads. The fabulously talented Rosemary Ashe is fine in the small role of Ayah, momentarily bringing the proceedings to life. John Owen Edwards’ conducting is rather sloppy and never bouncy. The only real recommendation of this recording is the inclusion of five Wright-Forrest songs from Timbuktu, a 1979 rewrite of Kismet. Also included is “Bored” from the film version, here sung by Judy Kaye. — G.A.

Kismet-RameyStudio Cast, 1991 (Sony) 3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5) The colorful, vocally demanding role of Hajj the poet is taken here by opera star Samuel Ramey. His expansive bass sounds thrilling in “Fate,” “The Olive Tree,” and the rest of Kismet‘s more legit-type numbers, but his stalwart style leaves something to be desired in such lighter songs as “Rhymes Have I” and “Gesticulate.” On the other hand, Julia Migenes is equally at home in opera and musical theater; her performance as Lalume is vocally spectacular and loaded with sex appeal. Jerry Hadley, as the Caliph, has a magnificent voice, but his interpretations of “Stranger in Paradise” and “Night of My Nights” are more stilted than romantic. Ruth Ann Swenson is far more successful as Marsinah; her gorgeous rendition of “Baubles, Bangles, and Beads” is a highlight of the disc. Dom DeLuise is an amusing Wazir, and Mandy Patinkin does a weird cameo as the “Marriage Arranger,” singing his number in falsetto. Broadway veteran Paul Gemignani conducts expertly. — G.A.

King of Hearts

king-of-heartsOriginal Broadway Cast, 1978 (Original Cast Records) 1 out of 5 stars (1 / 5) When the charming film King of Hearts, a cult hit of the 1970s, was adapted as a big Broadway musical, it curled up and died. Don Scardino starred as Johnny, a young American soldier in World War I. Sent to a French village in search of a time bomb, Johnny doesn’t know that all the townspeople have evacuated and the folks he encounters are actually the escaped
inmates of the local lunatic asylum. The story is afflicted with the ridiculous notion that crazy people are beautiful visionaries, while the score lacks dramatic punch and variety. For the recording, composer Peter Link replaced the original Broadway orchestrations with more intimate arrangements that make the whole thing sound like a collection of cutouts from French cabaret albums. Jacob Brackman’s lyrics are okay, but the score is too weak to make any of the songs special, although Scardino’s sweet rendition of “Close Upon This Hour” does have a nice folk-pop quality. Also on hand are Millicent Martin as one of those soulful European madams, Pamela Blair as a virginal prostitute, and Bob Gunton as a circus master. It all begins pleasantly enough, but everything sounds alike, and the recording sounds like a demo. — David Barbour