Category Archives: L-M

Myths and Hymn (Saturn Returns)

Myths-and-HymnsStudio Cast, 1999 (Nonesuch) 4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5) Composer-lyricist Adam Guettel’s song cycle Saturn Returns had a brief run at The Public Theater but never got an original cast album. Myths and Hymns comes pretty close, as this recording contains most of the show’s songs (which include additional lyrics by Ellen Fitzhugh) and features the original cast joined by three more wonderful performers: Billy Porter, Audra McDonald, and the dulcet-toned composer himself. The album delivers what the title promises, offering Guettel’s unique perspectives on Greek myths, musical settings of obscure hymnal lyrics, and original hymns. Most of the mythic songs are humorous, modern psychological deconstructions of such legends as the one about Icarus, while the hymns capture both the optimism and anguish of spiritual belief; listen to Porter’s fiery “Awaiting You” for the best example of the latter. One of the most striking pieces concerns an abortion. The style of composition varies greatly, from the funky electronics of “Icarus” to the joyful gospel sound of “There’s a Shout,” the angular “Children of the Heavenly King,” and the soaring “Migratory V.” “Hero and Leander” is a ravishing romantic ballad, and even more compelling is “Saturn Returns,” a musical monologue in which the composer laments: “I don’t know what I hunger for, I only know I feel the hunger more and more with every passing day.” — Brooke Pierce

The Mystery of Edwin Drood

DroodOriginal Cast, 1986 (Polydor/Varèse Sarabande/Verve) 3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5) Composer-lyricist-Iibrettist Rupert Holmes folded a tribute to the English music hall into his adaptation of Charles Dickens’ unfinished novel The Mystery of Edwin Drood, and he came up with an intriguing musical whodunit. The original cast, as preserved here, is exemplary; it includes the great George Rose and the one-of-a-kind Cleo Laine, along with heavy-hitting Broadway pros Howard McGillin, Patti Cohenour, Judy Kuhn, Donna Murphy, and belter extraordinaire Betty Buckley in the title role. “The Wages of Sin” is a specialty number delivered stylishly by Laine, and the haunting “Moonfall” is beautifully rendered by Cohenour. Other standouts are the boisterous opening number, “There You Are”; the breathless “Both Sides of the Coin”; the exciting “Don’t Quit While You’re Ahead”; and the finale, “The Writing on the Wall.” This show’s peculiar distinction is that it allowed audiences to vote on three different plot conclusions. The two CD editions of the cast recording offer varying material in regard to those choices, and the Varèse reinstates “Ceylon” and the “Moonfall” quartet, which are not on the Polydor disc. But all of the tracks are available in mp3 format. — Matthew Murray

My One and Only

My-One-and-OnlyOriginal Broadway Cast, 1983 (Atlantic) 3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5) This “new” musical was written around old George and Ira Gershwin songs. During its troubled pre-Broadway tryout, book writer Peter Stone and the uncredited Mike Nichols oversaw an extensive reworking of the show, with star Tommy Tune taking over as director. They surprised everybody by pulling it off; by the time My One and Only reached New York, it was delightful. The cast album is not a fully accurate representation of the production, which was much more fluid than this recording suggests, with witty dance numbers popping up from the ensemble as well as the stars. (This is the show in which Twiggy and Tommy Tune tap-danced in water during “S Wonderful.”) Several songs have been left off the album, including the chorus number “Just Another Rhumba.” A more serious omission is dancer Honi Coles’ big first-act showcase, “High Hat” — a skillful weave of dialogue, singing, and dance that was inexplicably replaced on the recording by a straightforward version of “Sweet and Lowdown.” On the other hand, Twiggy and Tune are heard duetting in “Little Jazz Bird,” even though that number was cut from the show. Throughout, the stars are charming, and the music and lyrics incomparable. A partial list of highlights: “I Can’t Be Bothered Now,” “Boy Wanted,” “Soon,” “He Loves and She Loves,” “How Long Has This Been Going On?” and, of course, the fabulous title song. — David Wolf

My Life With Albertine

AlbertineOriginal Off-Broadway Cast, 2003 (PS Classics) 3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5) With a book and lyrics by Richard Nelson, who also directed the show, My Life With Albertine has a powerful and distinctive score; composer Ricky Ian Gordon’s work here, ranging from near-operatic arias to comic songs, bursts with musical invention and is given a wonderful French flavor by Bruce Coughlin’s tasty orchestrations. The top-notch cast is led by Kelli O’Hara and Brent Carver. O’Hara is particularly impressive, displaying great dramatic and musical range — and she gets most of the best material. Carver’s numbers are more varied in quality, but his layered performance makes even his odder songs seem natural for his character. Although Chad Kimball doesn’t quite reach his co-stars’ level of achievement, the overqualified members of the ensemble — including Emily Skinner, Donna Lynne Champlin, and Brooke Sunny Moriber — sound pretty much perfect throughout. — Matthew Murray

My Favorite Year

My-Favorite-YearOriginal Broadway Cast, 1992 (RCA) 3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5) No two Stephen Flaherty-Lynn Ahrens scores sound remotely alike. Here, the flavor is bright, clever, and wonderfully varied. In adapting the popular film My Favorite Year to the musical stage, the team did first-rate work, from the dynamite opening number “Twenty Million People” to the hilarious and touching “Funny” to the warm “Shut Up and Dance.” Michael Starobin’s orchestrations reflect the show’s setting with just the right 1960s New York brassiness, and Ted Sperling conducts with great verve. Would that the cast were so consistently strong. Yes, Andrea Martin lands every joke, and Tim Curry’s self-loathing Alan Swann (read: Errol Flynn) comes through vividly on disc. But Lainie Kazan’s Jewish mama is over the top, Tom Mardirosian’s King Kaiser (read: Sid Caesar) should be side-splitting but is merely unpleasant, and leading man Evan Pappas tries too hard to be liked; his relentless niceness nearly kills the affecting “Larger Than Life.” Still, this recording shows off the work of two supremely gifted songwriters. — Marc Miller

My Fair Lady

MFL-OBCOriginal Broadway Cast, 1956 (Columbia/Sony) 5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5) My Fair Lady is still regarded by many as the supreme achievement of the American musical theater, and the original performances of Rex Harrison as Henry Higgins, Julie Andrews as Eliza Doolittle, Stanley Holloway as Alfred P. Doolittle, and Robert Coote as Colonel Pickering are considered definitive. Overall, lyricist-librettist Alan Jay Lerner and composer Frederick Loewe did such a masterful job in adapting George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion to the musical stage that critics have been happy to forgive the several grammatical errors in Lerner’s lyrics, as well as his use of some words and expressions that are not employed in British English. The show was the biggest hit of its era, and you can hear the excitement of everyone involved on the cast album, recorded in the flush of great success. Harrison has the time of his life as Higgins; his obvious enjoyment of the role makes an overbearing character tremendously entertaining. The young Andrews is a dream Eliza, equally effective as the squawking guttersnipe and the grand lady with pear-shaped tones. Her best moments on the album are “I Could Have Danced All Night” and “Show Me,” but she’s loverly throughout. Holloway, in the role of Eliza’s father, is a charming rogue as he leads the ensemble in “With a Little Bit of Luck” and “Get Me to the Church on Time.” Coote is wonderfully droll as Pickering, and the rich-voiced John Michael King does a fine job with Freddy Eynsford-Hill’s “On the Street Where You Live.” Franz Allers conducts the score with great skill and energy.  (The peerless orchestrations are by Robert Russell Bennett and Philip J. Lang.) As performed and recorded here, “The Rain in Spain” is an electrifying moment of joyful triumph, and if the first few measures of the overture don’t start your pulse racing, you’ve probably already shuffled off this mortal coil. Whatever its minor flaws, this recording is stunningly well done, and should be a cornerstone of every cast album collection. — Michael Portantiere

MFL-LondonOriginal London Cast, 1959 (Columbia/Sony) 2 out of 5 stars (2 / 5) The peerless original Broadway cast album of My Fair Lady was recorded just a few months before stereo was established as the industry norm. Since the four leads of the Broadway production repeated their roles in London, the powers that were at Columbia Records decided that a new cast album in true stereo would be highly marketable. Alas, the London recording turned out to be a disappointment. As Higgins, Rex Harrison here indulges in some overacting, almost as if he were bored with the part. Julie Andrews, who was reportedly ill for the recording sessions, sounds rather tired and droopy — although, on the plus side, her delivery of Eliza’s Cockney accent here is more natural than on the prior album, which helps make for a more satisfying performance of “Wouldn’t it Be Loverly?” in particular. This time out, both Andrews and Stanley Holloway do a lot of talk-singing,  giving Harrison a run for his money in that respect. Robert Coote rushes “You Did It,” which is surprising, since conductor Cyril Ornadel’s conducting of this and some of the other songs is very brisk to begin with (and quite sloppy in a few sections). In Freddy’s “On the Street Where You Live,” Leonard Weir sounds a little thin and under-powered in his lower register, even though the key of the song has been raised, but his voice blooms on the high notes,  and his accent is more authentically British than his Broadway predecessor. (The latter can also be said of the members of the singing ensemble, which of course is not surprising under the circumstances.) Ironically, the sound quality of this recording is inferior to that of the original; yes, the London album is stereophonic, but there’s significant distortion in certain tracks, most severely in the overture, and the general timbre of the sound is less warm than the monophonic original. A fascinating anomaly of the album is that it reflects some rewrites done by Lerner because he only belatedly realized (or was informed) that several words, phrases, and expressions he had used in his lyrics are not employed in England. So, for example, in “Get Me to The Church on Time,” the phrase “stamp me and mail me” was changed to “bond me and bail me” (as the Brits say “post” rather than “mail”), and in “Show Me,” Eliza here sings “Please don’t implore, beg or beseech, don’t make a speech” rather than “Don’t talk of June, don’t talk of fall, don’t talk at all” (as the Brits say “autumn,” never “fall.”) Note: The CD/digital issue of this album includes as a bonus track Percy Faith’s recording of the beautiful “Embassy Waltz,” which had not been recorded for either the original Broadway or the London cast album.   — M.P.

MFL-soundtrack-newFilm Soundtrack, 1964 (Columbia/Sony) 3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5) This recording boasts fabulous orchestrations by Alexander Courage, Robert Franklyn, and Al Woodbury, created under the supervision of conductor André Previn. The orchestrations are lush without ever seeming gimmicky or overblown. Rex Harrison’s Henry Higgins actually sounds fresher here than on the London cast recording; it would seem that a break from the role benefited his performance. As for Eliza Doolittle, the initial plan was to try to use Audrey Hepburn’s singing voice as much as possible, so she recorded several of the songs transposed to the keys in which she was most comfortable. But even after it was decided that “Ghostess with the Mostest” Marni Nixon would dub almost all of Hepburn’s singing (except for the first and last sections of “Just You Wait” and two lines at the beginning of “I Could Have Danced All Night”), the Hepburn keys were retained. As a result, Nixon’s performance was compromised, and Eliza’s songs come across only moderately well on this recording. But Stanley Holloway, back again as Alfie Doolittle, is delightful as ever; Wilfrid Hyde-White is an ingratiating Pickering; and vocal ghost Bill Shirley ardently sings “On the Street Where You Live” on behalf of actor Jeremy Brett’s Freddy, even if their voices seem quite a poor match when you hear the switch from dialogue to song while watching the film. The CD is a much-expanded version of the original LP. Extras include a lovely orchestral version of “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly?” for the flower market scene preceding “With a Little Bit of Luck,” the servants’ chorus lead-in to “The Rain in Spain,” the intermission and exit music, and best of all, the gorgeous “Embassy Waltz.” Interestingly, all of the song lyrics as heard in the film are the original versions, complete with the inauthentic American rather than British phrasing noted in the review of the London cast album above. — M.P.

mfl-andreasBroadway Cast, 1976 (Columbia/Masterworks Broadway)4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5) The CD edition of this cast album of the 20th anniversary Broadway revival of My Fair Lady was issued belatedly but was very welcome when it did appear, as the recording is  arguably second only to the original cast album in general excellence. Ian Richardson is a mercurial Higgins, even if perhaps he does a bit too much shouting.  Christine Andreas is a superb, golden-voiced Eliza, singing some of the character’s songs in higher keys than Julie Andrews did for the OBCR, with perfect cockney and then RP accents. George Rose has a marvelous, rousing time as Alfie P. Doolittle; he won a Tony Award for his performance, in the Best Actor rather than Featured Actor category. It’s great to have the wonderfully funny and authentic Robert Coote back as Colonel Pickering. And Jerry Lanning is the most vocally resplendent Freddy on record, so much so that when he sings “On the Street Where You Live,” you expect Eliza to throw herself right into his arms. The sound quality of the recording is somewhat dry, but sharp and clear. And it sure is a lovely bonus that the album cover features a new sketch by the legendary Al Hirschfeld, a treasureable companion piece to his iconic work for the original production. — M.P.

MFL-IronsStudio Cast, 1987 (London) 3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5) As Eliza Doolittle, the Maori operatic soprano Kiri Te Kanawa affects a convincing Cockney accent, and her voice blooms in the higher reaches of the score. Still, there’s a studied quality to her performance, and she sounds a bit too mature for the role, more grande dame than young girl. Jeremy Irons does quite a fine job as Higgins, although he perhaps overdoes the petulance and anger of the character. Sir John Gielgud sounds ancient as Pickering, talking rather than singing his way through “You Did It,” but opera tenor Jerry Hadley has just about the perfect voice for “On the Street Where You Live,” while Warren Mitchell is a colorful Alfie Doolittle. The Brit dialect accents called for by the various choral numbers, whether RP in “The Ascot Gavotte” or Cockney in “With a Little Bit of Luck” and “Get Me to the Church on Time,” are accurately rendered by The London Voices. The London Symphony Orchestra is ably led by John Mauceri, and more of the brilliant My Fair Lady score is included here than in any previous recording. — M.P.

MFL-JAYStudio Cast, 1993-94 (JAY, 2CDs) 3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5) This note-complete aural document of the score is essential if only for archival purposes. In the case of My Fair Lady, completeness is particularly important for the dance music, largely omitted on other recordings of the score but included here. Other pluses: Alec McCowan is a delightful Higgins, and Tinuke Olafimihan is an excellent Eliza, fully credible in the Cockney numbers and singing “I Could Have Danced All Night” gloriously. As Freddy, Henry Wickham performs “On the Street Where You Live” with sincerity, although his voice is rather shaky. Michael Denison is serviceable as Pickering, even if he makes little attempt to match pitches in “You Did It.” But Bob Hoskins, a fine actor, simply doesn’t have enough voice for Alfred P. Doolittle’s songs; he sounds very raspy throughout, and his lower register is basically non-existent. The National Symphony Orchestra, recorded in state-of-the-art sound, plays beautifully in some sections but sloppily in others under John Owens Edwards; for example, there’s a flubbed entrance at the top of the overture that really should have prompted a retake. — M.P.

MFL-MackintoshLondon Cast, 2001 (First Night) No stars; not recommended. As soon as you hear this cast album begin without the pulse-quickening music that began every previous production and recording of My Fair Lady, you’ll sense that you’re in for a deeply disappointing experience. Aside from fussy rearrangements/re-orchestrations by the normally reliable William David Brohn, the performance suffers from some very weak casting. As Eliza, Martine McCutcheon displays an exceedingly thin voice, and Mark Umbers’ rendition of Freddy’s “On the Street Where You Live” is full of superficial, heavy-handed effects but lacks real emotion. On the credit side, Jonathan Pryce offers an intelligent characterization of Henry Higgins, deftly walking the line between singing and speaking, and his imitation of Zoltan Karpathy’s Hungarian accent in “You Did It” is genuinely funny. As Pickering, Nicholas Le Prevost is also fine, and his byplay with Pryce is delightful. But it’s difficult to enjoy these worthy performances, given the setting. This recording is sadly indicative of the destructive influence that producer Cameron Mackintosh has had on musical theater, both in terms of his productions of poorly written new shows and his ill-conceived revivals of classics. — M.P.

MFLBroadway Cast, 2018 (Broadway Records) 4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5) Here’s the most satisfying — or, to put it another way, the least problematic — cast recording of My Fair Lady in many years. Lauren Ambrose made a largely well-received musical theater debut as Eliza in this Lincoln Center Theater production, her performance marred only by some odd physical mannerisms when singing and a tendency to lag behind the beat throughout her songs, presumably due to a lack of experience. That first issue obviously doesn’t mar the cast album, and the second one seems to have been addressed during the recording sessions, so Ambrose’s performance here is quite enjoyable overall. Harry Hadden-Paton brings a refreshingly youthful energy to the role of Higgins; he sings the notes written in the score, rather than declaiming the lyrics, far more often than any recorded Higgins before him, with the possible exception of Alec McCowan. This is not necessarily the wisest decision, because some of the actual melody lines for Higgins’ songs are rather uninteresting, but it does help Hadden-Paton to make his performance his own. Norbert Leo Butz has a fine time with Alfie Doolittle’s numbers, Jordan Donica as Freddy Eynsford-Hill sings “On the Street Where You Live” beautifully, and Allan Corduner as Pickering is charming in what little he has to do on the recording. A 29-piece orchestra plays sumptuously under Ted Sperling, and happily, there has been no pointless futzing around with the brilliant, original overture, as Sperling had previously done with the overture of The King and I for the LCT production and recording of that classic. — M.P.

The Music Man

Music-Man-OBCOriginal Broadway Cast, 1957 (Capitol) 5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5) This is one of the greatest of all cast albums. Meredith Willson, in his first Broadway effort, wrote the colorful, varied music and lyrics. The score of The Music Man is full of innovation, beginning with the unconventional opening “Rock Island,” in which a group of traveling salesmen rhythmically discuss how Harold Hill is ruining their business — instant exposition in a musical number with no actual singing! There follows an excellent chorale that introduces the “Iowa Stubborn” townspeople. After having been turned down by song-and-dance men Danny Kaye and Gene Kelly, the role of “Professor” Hill went to Robert Preston, an established stage/screen actor who had no prior musical credits. And what a blessing that turned out to be. Preston is mesmerizing in the half-spoken, half-sung “Trouble” and he sings “Seventy-Six Trombones” with enormous skill and gusto. His rendition of “The Sadder-but-Wiser Girl” reveals a vaudevillian’s pizzazz, yet he also sounds fully at home in the soft-shoe-tempo love song “Marian the Librarian” and holds his own in the ballad “Till There Was You.” Most of that ballad is sung by Barbara Cook, arguably the greatest soprano leading lady/ingenue in Broadway history. After a delightful “Piano Lesson” (Marian telling her mom, played by Pert Kelton, about Harold Hill having followed her home), Cook takes the beautiful “Goodnight My Someone” and makes it shimmer. When she sings about the man of her dreams in “My White Knight,” it’s a perfect expression of romantic yearning. And when Marian’s emotions explode in the discovery of “Till There Was You,” it’s one of those rare moments when a cast album gives you the thrill of a live performance. The Buffalo Bills do excellent barbershop-quartet singing. Eddie Hodges, as little brother Winthrop, lisps charmingly through “Gary, Indiana” and adds to the excitement of “The Wells Fargo Wagon.” And Iggie Wolfington, as Marcellus, has great fun with “Shipoopi.” The one thing missing is the complete original overture. While it may be hard to comprehend how The Music Man won the Tony Award for Best Musical over West Side Story, this album does make it clear why the show was such a hit. — Jeffrey Dunn

Music-Man-JohnsonOriginal London Cast, 1961 (HMV/Sepia) 2 out of 5 stars (2 / 5) In the London production of The Music Man, Van Johnson played Harold Hill. The film star was a selling point at the box office, and he also brought a real American presence to the British cast. This recording is a fun listen, if not distinctive. Johnson’s performance is more than pleasant, and Patricia Lambert sings beautifully as Marian. A particular standout is the Winthrop, Denis Waterman. A regrettably abridged version of this album was released on a budget-priced CD by Laserlight in 1995; missing from it were “Iowa Stubborn,” “Piano Lesson,” “Sincere,” “The Sadder-but-Wiser Girl,” “My White Knight,” and “Shipoopi.” Go with the more recent Sepia CD edition, which presents the complete recording. — J.D.

Music-Man-filmFilm Soundtrack, 1962 (Warner Bros.) 4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5) Your feelings about this recording will depend on several things: Do you prefer Hollywood’s Shirley Jones to Broadway’s Barbara Cook? Do you favor the souped-up movie arrangements/orchestrations, or the stage originals? Do you think the conventional ballad “Being in Love” is an improvement over the more complex “My White Knight?” Would you rather hear Robert Preston’s Harold Hill as he sounded when the show first opened, or after he had been playing the role for a few years? Since responses to all of those questions are highly subjective, I won’t try to convince you one way or the other. Anyway, of primary importance is Preston — and on this disc, his Harold Hill is as spontaneous and irreplaceable as ever. Buddy Hackett is an engaging Marcellus, Hermione Gingold makes a major impact in her few vocal moments, and Ronnie Howard is delightful as Winthrop. Pert Kelton wonderfully reprises her Broadway role as Mrs. Paroo, and The Buffalo Bills are also on hand again. — J.D.

Music-Man-TelarcStudio Cast, 1991 (Telarc) 1 out of 5 stars (1 / 5)This recording features Erich Kunzel conducting the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra; it uses a mixture of the Broadway and film orchestrations of the score. Included are “My White Knight,” “Being in Love,” and Harold Hill’s version of “Gary, Indiana.” The orchestrations are credited to Don Walker (Broadway), Ray Heindorf (film), and four other gentlemen — so if the album doesn’t sound consistently theatrical, small wonder. The movie’s overture is also here, along with dance music that seems an amalgam of the stage and film versions, none of it played with much excitement. There is a huge chorus: the Indiana University Singing Hoosiers. Timothy Noble plays the title role; the notes refer to him as a leading operatic baritone, but his portrayal of Harold Hill is way off the mark. Marian is played by Kathleen Brett, a Canadian soprano who has a pure, pretty voice but does not ignite any sparks. Doc Severinsen plays Marcellus and leads “Shipoopi” with some energy, but the rest of the supporting cast is uninteresting. So, why does this recording deserve even one star? The “It’s You” ballet, previously unrecorded, is included here. Also of interest is a counterpoint version of “My White Knight” and “The Sadder-but-Wiser Girl.” — J.D.

Music-Man-BierkoBroadway Cast, 2000 (Q Records) 1 out of 5 stars (1 / 5) Onstage, Craig Bierko sounded so astonishingly like Robert Preston in the title role of The Music Man that the actor’s own personality never emerged. On this cast album, the similarity is great enough to be spooky; you may wonder, “Which recording did I put on?” Since any successful production or recording of this show must have a dynamic Harold Hill, Bierko is a major handicap. On the plus side, Rebecca Luker’s performances of “Goodnight, My Someone” and “My White Knight” are beautifully sung. The barbershop quartet is also fine, but adding the voices of Harold and Mrs. Paroo (Katherine McGrath) to “Gary, Indiana” barely allows Michael Phelan to register as Winthrop. Finally, while the album contains almost every bit of music that was heard in this revival, along with dialogue to add dramatic punch, the new orchestrations (by Doug Besterman) and dance arrangements (by David Crane) aren’t improvements on the originals. In fact, adding accompaniment to “Rock Island” is harmful, as the lyrics don’t fall as pungently on the ear. — J.D.

Music-Man-BroderickTelevision Film Soundtrack, 2003 (Disney) 1 out of 5 stars (1 / 5) The casting of Matthew Broderick as Harold Hill was controversial, to say the least. Some viewers of this TV film may have gradually fallen under Broderick’s spell and, by the final scenes, may have bought into his subtle characterization. On the soundtrack recording, however, his performances of “Trouble” and “Seventy-Six Trombones” are simply too low-key. Broderick does a little better with “The Sadder-but-Wiser Girl” and “Marian the Librarian,” but Hill’s first two songs must establish the character strongly for the show to work. On the plus side, Kristin Chenoweth’s Marian is enchanting. The supporting players are all good actors who sing well, but their vocals don’t have much éclat and often seem muted. Some of the musical changes that were made for the big-screen version of The Music Man are included here, but how nice that Chenoweth sings “My White Knight” instead of the inferior “Being in Love.” — J.D.

Broadway Cast, 2022 (Accidental Jacket Entertainment) 1 out of 5 stars (1 / 5) After the COVID-19 pandemic had shut down theatre for nearly two years, Broadway needed a hit to entice audiences back to NYC and live performances. Enter Hugh Jackman and Sutton Foster, headlining an expensive, old-fashioned staging of The Music Man. The show proved to be a major success in terms of ticket sales, but artistically, its merits are arguable, as evidenced by the cast recording. On the plus side, we have a full, rich-sounding orchestra and a large, robust ensemble performing Meredith Willson’s score for maximum impact. Jonathan Tunick’s orchestrations are mostly lush and appropriate, following the mold of Don Walker’s originals (except for added percussion in “Rock Island”). This is also perhaps the most complete of any Music Man recording to date, including every bar of incidental music as well as large excerpts of dialogue. However, there are major setbacks. First, there’s a “Shipoopi” with rewritten lyrics (by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman) that are meant to address recent complaints about the original version’s gender politics. Sung by Shuler Hensley, whose gruff baritone is a mismatch for the role of the impish Marcellus, this new version of the song is far less fun than the original. But most detrimental to the recording are the performances of Jackman and Foster. Though Jackman gives his all to Harold Hill’s songs, he sounds tired and strained, and over-singing causes many of his musical moments to come across as effortful rather than effortless. Foster, meanwhile, is vocally wrong for Marian Paroo, each of her songs having been reconfigured to accommodate her brassy belt rather than challenge her to engage her soprano register. As a result, none of these songs soar as they did when sung by Barbara Cook or Rebecca Luker for previous recordings. One of the most disappointing tracks here is “My White Knight,” presented in an earlier version by Willson that features a lengthy patter section at the beginning. With the definitive original cast recording, the fantastic movie soundtrack, and the 2000 revival cast album available, this Music Man feels more incidental than essential. — Matt Koplik

Music in the Air

Music-in-the-AirRadio Broadcast, 1952 (AEI) 1 out of 5 stars (1 / 5) If Music in the Air sounds like the title of a hokey operetta, that’s intentional; the 1932 show, with music by Jerome Kern, book and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein, took an amused look at that genre and the egos toiling in it. The plot concerns two small-town lovers who journey to Munich with the score of her father’s show and promptly tangle with an egotistical composer-star and his muse, an over-the-top diva. The couples trade partners, but when the village girl fails to make the grade as an operetta star, the natural order of things is restored. Meanwhile, the audience is treated to such gems as “The Song Is You” and “I’ve Told Ev’ry Little Star.” This CD is drawn from the transcript of a cut-down radio version of the show, complete with a narrator and overwrought actors who speak the lines while other performers take care of the songs. Musically, it’s not a bad performance; there’s decent singing by people you’ve never heard of, plus an adequate orchestra and chorus, all in listenable sound. But the dialogue and plot have been mangled beyond recognition, and there’s no option for skipping over the “drama” tracks to hear just the songs. It’s fortunate that this document of the show exists, but Music in the Air deserves better. — Richard Barrios

The Musical of Musicals: The Musical!

Musical-of-MusicalsOriginal Off-Broadway Cast, 2004 (JAY) 1 out of 5 stars (1 / 5) This is Eric Rockwell and Joanne Bogart’s attempt to parody hit musicals by taking one melodramatic story (a landlord trying to secure rent money from his tenant) and presenting it in the “styles” of famous composers and lyricists. What might have been fun in the right hands proves to be pretty much a catastrophe, for these send-ups of Rodgers and Hammerstein, Stephen Sondheim, Jerry Herman, Andrew Lloyd Webber, and Kander and Ebb lack real wit. A few decent laughs are derived from the similarities between Webber tunes and Puccini melodies, but that’s about it; the bulk of the score is dreary, taking shots so obvious as to defy humor. For example, the R&H spoof — titled “Corn!” — includes songs titled “I Couldn’t Keer Less About You,” “Sowillyquey,” and “Clam Dip.” Other segments capitalize on tired stereotypes, with very little creative ribbing achieved. All of the performers — Rockwell, Bogart, Craig Fols, and Lovette George — are fine, but they can only do so much with the material. This recording receives one star because it’s superior to the show that spawned it; the faster pace is a plus, and the narration is less distracting than it was in the theater.  — Matthew Murray

Musical Chairs

Musical-ChairsOriginal Broadway Cast, 1980 (Original Cast Records/no CD) No stars; not recommended. After only 14 performances, Musical Chairs vanished from sight, but the show yielded a cast album. The episodic “plot” concerns the folks in the audience on opening night of a play. Everyone, it seems, gets a song: the playwright (Tom Urich); two bitter playgoers (Brandon Maggart and Joy Franz) who have been dragged to the show by their spouses; another playgoer (Scott Ellis!) whose date (Susan Stroman!) shows up very late; some amateur divas; and a trio of tap-dancing critics. There’s even a song about hitting the ladies’ room — which, naturally, closes the first act. Composer-lyricist Tom Savage, who’s also one of the three bookwriters credited, provided a few better-than-mediocre pop-ballad melodies, but the up-tempo numbers are silly, and most of the lyrics are pretty terrible. (Example: “Give me some time for analysis / I’ll find their strengths and their fallacies.”) Unless you’re a Brandon Maggart completist, this recording isn’t worth your time. — Seth Christenfeld