Studio Cast, 2021 (Polydor) O stars, not recommended. What’s there to write about Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cinderella that hasn’t already been written and/or said? Though this “modern twist” on the fairy tale premiered in the West End to a forgivingly warm reception as one of the first shows to open after the lengthy shutdown for the COVID-19 pandemic, the musical has since been plagued by bad press and public ridicule that only intensified when it opened on Broadway under the new title Bad Cinderella, giving critics and the internet plenty of fodder for its critical drubbing. No stage cast recording of the score exists, only this concept album, which was recorded before the show began performances in London. It would be easy to say that the album is a flat-out disaster — and it would probably be more entertaining if it were. To be clear, there is a lot of bad material here; but on the whole, the recording is just dull, with every song sounding like a first draft. A few of the performers who would go on to appear in the West End production are on hand. As Cinderella’s Stepmother, Victoria Hamilton-Barritt goes for glorified camp and does an uncanny Joanna Lumley impression, though with diminishing returns as the album continues. And in the title role, Carrie Hope Fletcher gives as close to a fully formed performance as the material will allow. While Webber is still capable of writing a decent ear worm (“Only You, Lonely You” “I Know I Have a Heart”), every song lasts far too long, until the melodies become white noise. Plus, Webber is back in his ’80s style of musicalizing scenes that don’t need it (“So Long,” “Unfair”). The orchestrations are thin, and the lyrics, by the usually reliable David Zippel, sound like placeholders for something wittier to be written later. In an attempt to give the listener an idea of the musical’s new story line, a fair amount of dialogue is sprinkled throughout the album, but the plot is so confusing and messy that you may feel it’s easier to make sense out of a James Joyce novel. Due to the harshly negative reception of the Broadway production, a new recording of (Bad) Cinderella is unlikely, making this album a must-have for all flop collectors as a token of what will probably come to be known as the biggest failure of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s career. For anyone else, there are far better Cinderellas out there. Best to take one of them for a spin on the dance floor and leave this recording out in the pumpkin patch. — Matt Koplik
Category Archives: Reviews by Show Name
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
Original London Cast, 2013 (Watertower Music) (1 / 5) The first stage iteration of Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman’s musical adaptation of Roald Dahl’s children’s novel preserves only one of Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley’s songs from the film Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory — “Pure Imagination” — but the entire album seems to hold its breath until that track arrives very late in the proceedings. Nothing else in the new score sounds anything like it, and Shaiman and Wittman fail to crack the code on converting the episodic structure of Dahl’s book to musical theater form. Jack Costello’s Charlie is charming in the opening number, “Almost Nearly Perfect,” but the other four kids who win a tour of Willy Wonka’s factory are as madly annoying as they’re meant to be, resulting in a quartet of bad songs introducing each child in the first act and a quartet of worse songs getting rid of each child in the second. Shaiman writes music in different styles for the four families — a polka for the Gloops, an English patter song for the Salts, a poppy rap for the Beauregardes, and electronic cacophony for the Teavees — so the score never gets a chance to advance beyond Russian Roulette-style genre-jumping. Nor does the show comfortably translate Dahl’s self-aware rudeness for a contemporary audience. Augustus Gloop’s fat-shaming yodel is cringe-worthy, but the lyrics for “Vidiots,” the Oompa Loompas’ condemnation of kids who play video games, are the album’s nadir: “Alas, alas, poor Mike Teavee / For OMG, he’s ADD.” (Credit Iris Roberts for making a strong, frantic impression as Mike’s harried mother.) The songs for Wonka (Douglas Hodge) are insubstantial, too, until he finally arrives at “Pure Imagination” and listeners can breathe a sigh of relief. — Dan Rubins
Original Broadway Cast, 2017 (Masterworks) (2 / 5) This Broadway recording is a marked improvement over the London cast album, not least for the reintroduction of most of the songs from the 1971 film Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory: “Candy Man,” “I’ve Got A Golden Ticket,” and “Oompa Loompa” all join “Pure Imagination.” Christian Borle has greater range than Douglas Hodge as Willy Wonka, and his opening rendition of “The Candy Man” sets a clearer tone for the character. The album generously rotates through the three young actors who played Charlie on Broadway, with Jake Ryan Flynn making a particularly terrific impression in a new, joyous waltz, “Willy Wonka! Willy Wonka!” and also in “The View From Here,” a sweet ballad with rousing counterpoint. Most of the other kids’ songs, including the deadly “Vidiots,” remain in some form; but a major casting change, with adults playing all the children except Charlie, makes the show’s added cruelties towards these characters somewhat more tolerable. That said, a notorious scene from this production, in which squirrels tear Veruca Salt (now inexplicably Russian) to pieces, is commemorated on the album in “Veruca’s Nutcracker Sweet,” which contains tasteless couplets such as “Veruca Salt was once en pointe / But watch as we dislocate each joint.” On the plus side, Trista Dollison is especially good in “The Queen of Pop,” Violet’s intro song, which recalls Shaiman and Wittman’s far superior work for Hairspray. The new, discomfiting song “When Willy Meets Oompa” seems to double down on the Oompa Loompa plot line’s colonial undercurrents, but there’s enough inoffensive sweetness elsewhere — courtesy of the three Charlies, John Rubinstein’s Grandpa Joe, and Borle’s ballads — to make this a listenable album. — D.R.
Original Off-Broadway Cast, 2005 (JAY) (4 / 5) Based on Sherley Anne Williams’ 1986 novel about the intertwined stories and gradual friendship of a Black woman and a white woman in the Antebellum South, Dessa Rose remains Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty’s most sweeping, ambitious score since Ragtime. It also makes for an epic cast album with a whopping 68 tracks and over two hours of material, including all dialogue (also by Ahrens) and all the necessary sound effects to convey the show’s dramatic events. Since Dessa Rose is heavily narrated by the title character (LaChanze) and Ruth (Rachel York), reminiscing in their old age, it’s easy to follow the plot from the recording once the two women meet and the show shakes loose its early flashback-within-a-flashback knottiness. As Dessa Rose, an enslaved woman willing to do anything to fight for her freedom, LaChanze, an early Ahrens and Flaherty muse (as in Once On This Island, a score that’s occasionally referenced here in some livelier ensemble moments), offers a gripping performance, especially in her Act One solos, “Something Of My Own” and “Twelve Children.” York is a terrific counterbalance as a prim Southern belle who opens her home and her heart to Dessa Rose and her companions fleeing slavery. Norm Lewis also gives a warmly winning performance as Nathan, who falls for Ruth, and Kecia Lewis sings the ballad “White Milk, Red Blood” movingly. Though the first act is rather exposition-heavy, and the longer soliloquies interrupt the album’s often-propulsive momentum, the show takes off in the second act once the two women turn against each other in a fiery pair of numbers, “Better If I Died” and “Just Over the Line.” It’s occasionally obvious that Dessa Rose shares its composer with Ragtime, but Flaherty ultimately carves out a tensely operatic sound for the score that stands alone among his works, powered by banjo-rich orchestrations courtesy of William David Brohn and Christopher Jahnke. (The rousing vocal arrangements are by Flaherty himself.) With its audio play expansiveness, the Dessa Rose cast recording makes for a compelling, powerful listen. — Dan Rubins
The Glorious Ones
Original Off-Broadway Cast, 2008 (JAY) (3 / 5) The commedia dell’arte players who are the characters in Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty’s musical The Glorious Ones declare in the titular opening number that they will perform “with one hand on the crotch and one hand on the heart.” But Ahrens and Flaherty, from Once On This Island to Ragtime to Seussical, have been all blissful heart, and the songs in this score that strive for coarseness (“Making Love,” “Armanda’s Tarantella”) come across as semi-apologetic gropes. Flaherty’s flexible compositional voice usually molds artfully around the setting and style of each show, but The Glorious Ones never quite embraces a Flahertian version of 17th-century Italy. For example, the vaudevillian “Comedy of Love” and “Rise and Fall” sound a lot like Ragtime’s turn-of-the-century showbiz scenes. What is consistent about the score is the use of triple meter; like A Little Night Music, almost every song is in some variation of waltz time, although the lovely ballad “The World She Writes,” a metrical exception featuring the lush-voiced Erin Davie, is the album’s best track. By the time we arrive at the show’s apex, the impresario Flaminio Scala’s post-mortem soliloquy “I Was Here,” that song in three-quarter time rhythmically blends into too much of what’s come before. Still, Flaherty is a masterful melodist, and Ahrens is ever-thoughtful and clear in her lyrics, so the score never grates. As Flaminio and his lover Columbina, Marc Kudisch and Natalie Venetia Belcon get the meatiest music, but Julyana Soelistyo as the dwarf Armanda, leading the potent “Armanda’s Sack,” makes the most lasting impression. Michael Starobin’s orchestrations shimmer characteristically, especially in his gentle brass writing. The album features a few bonus tracks, including a brief orchestral suite. — Dan Rubins
Between the Lines
Original Off-Broadway Cast, 2022 (Ghostlight) (3 / 5) Are you ever too old to fall in love with a fairytale? Or a fairytale prince? This question is the basis for Between the Lines, a musical by Elyssa Samsel and Kate Anderson that premiered Offf-Broadway in 2022. The show centers on troubled teen Delilah McPhee, who has to navigate life as a target of school bullies and the daughter of a divorced, broke, single mother. In order to survive her situation, Delilah has to find a way out, and she does that by falling in love with the prince from a fairytale book she has recently begun to read, the only copy of which happens to be in her school library. As the location of the show switches back and forth between reality and the fantasy world of the book, it’s easy for the cast album listener to get lost, all the more so because no interstitial dialogue is recorded here. For example, does Will Burton’s charming soft-shoe “Out of Character” come off as well if you don’t realize until the end of the song that he’s playing a dog? Or will you understand that, when Vicki Lewis performs “Can’t Get ‘Em Out,” she is playing the book’s author rather than a therapist or one of the few other characters she portrays in the show? As for the score itself, the main problem it that it suffers from a lack of originality. Since there are comparatively few teenage musicals, it’s impossible not to draw comparisons between this show’s high school outcast anthem “Allie McAndrews” and “I’d Rather Be Me” from Mean Girls, or between “Leaps and Bounds,” the nostalgic ballad heartbreakingly performed here by Julia Murney as Delilah’s mother, and, say, “Stop, Time” from Big. None of this is meant to suggest that Between the Lines is without its merits, the greatest ones being the catchiness of the tunes, whether melancholy or up-tempo, and the charming vocal performance by Jake David Smith as the handsome prince. Arielle Jacobs’ portrayal of Delilah is also compelling, and if some of the challenging score lies a bit outside of her vocal range, she has the acting chops to make up for it. Because of the many nice opportunities this show affords its cast in addition to the relatable story, it almost cries out for regional productions, and one can easily imagine that some of the score’s solo ballads will become audition room standards. So, ultimately, Between the Lines is worth your time, even if it’s a story you may feel you have read before. –– Charles Kirsch
Studio Cast, 2007 (JAY) (1 / 5) Busker Alley never made it to Broadway, but it sure came close, first with a Tommy Tune-led national tour in 1995 (felled by Tune’s broken foot) and then with the York Theatre Company’s 2006 benefit concert starring Jim Dale (intended for a Broadway transfer that never happened). It’s the latter iteration that’s captured on this recording, including the one-night-only luxury casting of Glenn Close as the grown-up version of Libby, a pickpocket-turned-London busker-turned film star who abandons her lover and fellow street performer Charlie Baxter (Dale) in exchange for fame and fortune. Close introduces Charlie’s story in a spoken prologue and then returns at the end to sing, quite beautifully, “He Had A Way,” the gentle highlight of the album. Given the subject matter, many of the songs by the Sherman brothers (Mary Poppins, Over Here, etc.) are cloying street numbers, diegetic to the buskers’ world. The cast approaches these tunes with aggressive Cockney accents married to unnecessarily grating vocals meant to demonstrate, apparently, that these are resilient paupers down on their luck. Dale is fine, if ill-served by thin material, and he’s in his prime when farthest removed from the abiding, overzealous performance style, as in an angry reprise of the ballad “How Long Have I Loved Libby?” and in the short, sweet “Charlie the Busker.” As the younger Libby, Jessica Grové offers an endearing “He Has A Way,” but her Eliza Doolittle drawl is unsubtly distracting. Brevity here is not necessarily the soul of either wit or rich character development, and many of the songs are so brisk that it’s hard to glean much of a dramatic through-line. The street numbers also quickly become indistinguishable from one another (only the lively “Paddle Your Own Canoe” stands out), not helped by the repetitive arrangements for piano and drums. For the completist, it’s nice to have this score recorded, but this album doesn’t make a convincing case that the disappearance of Busker Alley was any great loss. — Dan Rubins
Flying Over Sunset
Original Broadway Cast, 2022 (Masterworks Broadway) (2 / 5) One thing that can be said for Flying Over Sunset is that it’s certainly ambitious. Conceived and directed by James Lapine, the musical tells of a fictional meeting between movie star Cary Grant (Tony Yazbeck), novelist/philosopher Aldous Huxley (Henry Hadden-Paton), and playwright/politician Clare Boothe Luce (Carmen Cusack), during which the three experiment with the psychological benefits and detriments of LSD — something all three did in real life, but separately. In an effort to theatricalize the effects of the drug and its ability to remove its revelers from reality, all of the songs in this show occur during the characters’ hallucinations. While this allows composer Tom Kitt to create lush compositions, elegantly orchestrated by Michael Starobin, the score only succeeds intermittently. As was the case with her turn in Bright Star, Cusack is once again here given the best material, and she elevates it with her vocal luster and nuanced acting. The ultimate highlight of the recording is the title number, sung during Luce’s first LSD trip as she hallucinates and harmonizes with her deceased mother and daughter. Other elements of the score, however, are just odd. Songs like “Rocket Ship” and “Three Englishmen,” though well performed by Yazbeck, Hadden-Paton, and Robert Sella (as the group’s LSD guru), may prompt one to question whether some of the content of this show is intended to be camp. Listening to Flying Over Sunset, musical theater fans will learn, along with the show’s trio, that for every beautiful high there’s usually a disorienting low. — Matt Koplik
All in Love
Original Off-Broadway Cast, 1961 (Mercury; no CD) (2 / 5) With its lithe but insubstantial score, preserved nearly complete on the cast album, All In Love turned Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s classic farce The Rivals into a jaunty musical comedy. Featuring music by Jacques Urbont and lyrics by Bruce Geller, the show ran Off-Broadway briefly in 1961, though the album cover misleadingly declares that it was a “Broadway Hit Show.” The plot: Wealthy Captain Jack Absolute (David Atkinson) must pursue Lydia Languish (Gaylea Byrne) in disguise because she desperately wants to marry a poor man. (“He can’t be all bad if he’s good and poor,” she sings in the opening number.) Urbont’s melodies are solidly good-natured but unmemorable throughout; the best of them include Atkinson’s ballad “I Love A Fool” (in which Jack praises Lydia’s “refined imbecility”) and the chipper “I Found Him,” sung by Christina Gillespie as the enamored servant Lucy. The composer ventures towards harmonic ambition only in “Why Wives?,” a vocally intricate but thematically dubious ensemble piece in which the men air their frustrations with monogamy. Geller’s lyrics could be wittier, but his love songs aren’t bad. For example, at one point Lucy exclaims: “I want everyone to know/That, just a miracle ago, I found him.” Lee Cass stands out among the singers, showing off his exquisite bass timbre in “The Lady Was Made To Be Loved.” The Rivals is now probably best known for introducing the character Mrs. Malaprop, Lydia’s twisty-tongued aunt; Mimi Randolph in that role delivers an appropriately silly number, “A More Than Ordinary Glorious Vocabulary,” in which she drops such jumbled wisdom as “Men are never contraceptive to a well-turned phrase.” All in Love is notable for the involvement of actor Dom DeLuise, who appeared in this show three years before his film debut, and orchestrator Jonathan Tunick. DeLuise’s only major moment on the album comes when he leads “Odds,” a goofy, disposable novelty number about cursing. But Tunick’s work glows throughout, emulating the best of his Golden Age forebears in using a large orchestral palette while en route to his game-changing collaborations with Burt Bacharach and Stephen Sondheim — Dan Rubins
A Beautiful Noise
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
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.