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
Category Archives: A-C
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
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.
Premiere Cast Recording, 2012 (Ghostlight) (2 / 5) Based on the supernatural horror novel by Stephen King, which had previously been adapted as a highly successful film in 1976, Carrie is/was one of the most infamous, ignominious flops in musical theater history. After a disastrous tryout run in Stratford-Upon Avon, the show managed only 16 previews and five performances on Broadway in the spring of 1988, yielding no cast album. Many critics and others felt that the work of composer Michael Gore, lyricist Dean Pitchford, and book writer Lawrence D. Cohen was wildly inconsistent in quality, with several riveting moments of confrontation between the bullied, telekinetic teenager Carrie White and her religious zealot mother Margaret playing out powerfully in the midst of risible scenes and songs concerning Carrie’s experiences in high school. Apparently, much of the problem with the production rested in the fact that the American creative team and director Terry Hands of the Royal Shakespeare Company were not on the same page as to what the look, tone, and presentation style of the show should be. But, as noted, there were also huge problems in the writing, leading to major changes for the revisal that was presented Off-Broadway in 2012. The songs “Dream On,” “It Hurts to Be Strong,” “Don’t Waste the Moon,” “Heaven,” “I’m Not Alone,” “Wotta Night,” and the camp classic “Out for Blood” were all dropped, while several new ones were added; two of the best of them are the ballad “Dreamer in Disguise,” sweetly sung by Derek Klena in the role of Tommy Ross, and “Stay Here Instead,” in which Margaret pathetically pleads with her daughter not to go to the prom. (If only she had listened!) But there are still a few mediocre or worse numbers among both the old and new songs, for example, “In” and “A Night We’ll Never Forget.” As was the case with the original version, the score’s musical/dramatic highlights are the unnerving Carrie/Margaret duets “And Eve Was Weak” and “I Remember How Those Boys Could Dance,” and Margaret’s moving solo “When There’s No One.” On the cast album of the 2012 production, these and other songs benefit greatly from the deeply committed performances of Molly Ranson as the tormented Carrie and one of the all-time Broadway greats, Marin Mazzie, as her sadly deranged mother. Rounding out the strong cast are Christy Altomare as Sue, Jeanna de Waal as Chris, Ben Thompson as Billy, Wayne Alan Wilcox as Mr. Stephens, and Carmen Cusack in a wonderfully warm turn as Miss Gardner. — Michael Portantiere
Broadway Bounty Hunter
Original Off-Broadway Cast, 2020 (Ghostlight) (4 / 5) Here’s a highly enjoyable cast album of a fun show with a fanciful, meta-theatrical concept, built around the dynamic singer-actress Annie Golden, who started out as the leader of the punk band The Shirts before going on to play Jeannie in the film version of Hair, then to numerous other film, TV, and stage roles. In Broadway Bounty Hunter, Golden played a highly fictionalized version of herself caught up in a crazy plot involving — well, bounty hunting. The show was (obviously) crafted specifically for her by the super-talented composer-lyricist Joe Iconis, working in collaboration with co-book writers Lance Rubin and Jason Sweettooth Williams. It would have been interesting to see if Broadway Bounty Hunter would have worked with someone else in the title role in subsequent productions, but it was not a box-office success in its limited Off-Broadway run, and there was no transfer to an open-ended engagement on Broadway or anywhere else. So it’s nice to have Iconis’s clever, tuneful, post-modern theatrical rock and pop songs preserved on this well produced cast album. Golden’s strong, exciting voice and her abundance of charisma come through big-time in a clutch of songs, from the roof-raising “Woman of a Certain Age” (wisely used as both the show’s opener and closer) to the soulful “Spin Those Records” and the intense, hard-rocking 11 o’clock number “Veins.” Other major voices and personalities heard on the album include Badia Farha, Alan H. Green, Christina Sajous, Emily Borromeo, and the always welcome Brad Oscar. A kick-ass band is led by conductor/musical director Geoffrey Ko, and Joel Waggoner’s vocal arrangements are excellent. Given the lack of commercial success of both Broadway Bounty Hunter and Iconis’s Be More Chill, at least in their NYC runs, it’s devoutly to be wished that he’ll soon have the major hit he deserves. — Michael Portantiere
Be More Chill
Original Cast, Two River Theater, 2015 (Ghostlight) (4 / 5) Based on a novel by Ned Vizzini, Be More Chill is a cautionary tale about a loner teenager named Jeremy Heere who attempts to become “chill” by ingesting something called a “squip” (super quantum unit Intel processor), which winds up controlling his thoughts and actions. The show premiered at the Two River Theater in Red Bank, New Jersey for a one-month limited run in 2015. That production received mixed reviews, but this cast recording gained huge popularity via internet streaming and downloads, eventually sparking the Off-Broadway production of 2018 and the subsequent Broadway transfer (see below). Even if it’s hard to explain exactly how the score “went viral,” it’s easy to understand why it did: Composer-lyricist Joe Iconis has a firm grounding in the classic musical theater canon, and a great talent for being able to wed traditional song structures and other methods of craft with an up-to-the-minute sound and sensibility. Listen to the opener, “More Than Survive,” a spot-on, character-establishing, “I want” song for Jeremy that begins as follows: “C-c-c-come on, c-c-c- come on! Go, go! I’m waiting for my porn to download.” (The album has an “explicit lyrics” label.) Or sample “The Smartphone Hour (Rich Set a Fire),” a super-clever takeoff on “The Telephone Hour” from Bye Bye Birdie. Also quite amusing is Iconis’s depiction of present-day high school theater subculture, as in “I Love Play Rehearsal.” The pretty much ideal cast heard here is led by Will Connolly as a charmingly nerdy Jeremy, with Eric William Morris as The Squip; George Salazar as Jeremy’s staunch friend, Michael; Stephanie Hsu as Christine, the girl with whom Jeremy’s obsessed; and Gerard Canonico in a ball-of-fire performance as Rich, the ill-fated guy who turns Jeremy on to The Squip. Salazar does a tour-de-force job with arguably the best song in the score, the one that became the biggest viral phenomenon of all: “Michael in the Bathroom,” an affecting anthem of teen angst. — Michael Portantiere
Original Broadway Cast, 2019 (Ghostlight, 2CDs) (4 / 5) Buoyed by the extraordinary online popularity of its score, as described above, Be More Chill was presented Off-Broadway at the Irene Diamond Stage at the Pershing Square Signature Center in the summer of 2018, with plans for a move to Broadway already largely in place at that time. This production featured several cast members from the Two River Theater production mentioned above, including Hsu, Salazar, and Canonico reprising the roles they originated. New cast members included Will Roland as Jeremy, Jason Tam as the Squip, Tiffany Mann as Jenna, Britton Smith as Jake, and Jason “Sweettooth” Williams as Mr. Heere, but not all of these changes were improvements; for example, Roland’s performance doesn’t have quite the likeability of Connolly’s. On the plus side, Tam makes the role of The Squip very much his own with his strong, distinctive voice and his very funy Keanu Reeves imitation. As heard here, the score is well performed, with some relatively minor rewrites and additions in material. (This album is longer than the original, 24 tracks as compared to 21.) Both the off-Broadway and Broadway productions of Be More Chill were marred by painfully loud sound amplification, which may have been partly responsible for the brevity of the 2019 Broadway run (only 177 performances) of a show that many had expected to be a big hit, so the fact that listeners to the cast album are in full control of the volume is a huge plus for the experience. Music and lyrics this good don’t need to be blasted at an audience; on the contrary, any score suffers greatly rather than benefits from such treatment, a lesson that Iconis and his colleagues will hopefully learn for future productions of his shows. — M.P.
Anything Can Happen in the Theater: The Musical World of Maury Yeston
Original Off-Broadway Cast, 2019 (PS Classics) (4 / 5) Maury Yeston is one of the finest and most versatile musical theater composer-lyricists of his era, so it’s good to have this cast album of a very enjoyable and well-crafted revue of his work that was presented Off-Broadway by the York Theatre Company in 2019, directed by Gerard Alessandrini of Forbidden Broadway fame. The program includes songs from Yeston’s most famous shows, with one major exception (see below), along with a healthy sampling of less-well-known material. From Nine, we have the bravura number “Guido’s Song” and the lyrical “Only With You,” both rendered with lovely tenor tone by Benjamin Eakeley, as well as the gorgeous “Unusual Way” and the wittily seductive “A Call From the Vatican,” two fine showcases for the talents of Mamie Parris. Also to be found here is “Cinema Italiano,” written by Yeston expressly for the film version of Nine, performed with verve by Parris, Justin Keyes, and Jovan E’Sean. Two selections from Grand Hotel, for which Yeston contributed much but not all of the score (to augment songs previously written by Wright and Forrest for an earlier incarnation of the show), are the passionate “Love Can’t Happen” (Eakeley) and the delightful “I Want to Go to Hollywood” (Parris). Yeston’s Phantom, a lesser-known alternative to Andrew Lloyd Webber’s adaptation of the same source material, is represented by “Home,” sung by the full company. “New Words,” from a Biblical musical titled In the Beginning , is a touching song, movingly performed here by Eakeley, about a parent teaching language to a young child; the writing is marred only by a surprising error in the lyrics. (Mars is a planet, Mr Y., not a star!) This recording also embraces several stand-alone songs, i.e., not from the scores of musicals. Two of the best of these are “Danglin’,” a soulful torcher eased on down by Alex Getlin, and the specially written title tune of the revue, delivered by all as the opening number. An exceptionally noteworthy item is the sexy/funny “Salt n Pepper,” originally written for the unproduced musical The Queen of Basin Street, here given a spicy turn by E’Sean. Not sampled is the score of one of Yeston’s biggest hits, Titanic; although an exquisitely harmonized arrangement of that title song was featured as an encore in the York production, it’s not on the album, for some reason. Conversely, one thing the recording boasts that the show itself did not are Doug Besterman’s excellent orchestrations for eight musicians variously playing a total of about 20 instruments. Greg Jarrett is the top-notch musical director — Michael Portantiere
Film Soundtrack, 1992 (Walt Disney Records) (3 / 5) Following the immense success of The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast, Disney Animation firmly solidified what is now known as “The Disney Renaissance” with the critical and financial success of Aladdin in 1992. The film features a score with music by Alan Menken and lyrics by Howard Ashman, previously best known for their work on Little Shop of Horrors. Aladdin was a passion project for Ashman, who envisioned the story of a teenage hoodlum who happens upon a magic lamp and genie as a madcap romp set in the Middle East. However, Ashman succumbed to complications from AIDS before he could finish work on the project, and some of the songs he co-wrote were ultimately not used. In fact, only three songs with lyrics by Ashman remain in the film — “Arabian Nights,” “Friend Like Me,” and “Prince Ali” — with Tim Rice providing lyrics for two additions , “One Jump Ahead” and “A Whole New World.” If Rice’s lyrics don’t have the same level of wit and character as Ashman’s, they’re still fun and don’t feel like a jarring departure. This is a fun recording, and it boasts what remains the best vocal leads of any Aladdin recording. Brad Kane is a charismatic Aladdin, blending well with Lea Salonga’s Princess Jasmine on the Oscar-winning “A Whole New World,” and Robin Williams is definitive as the genie of the lamp. Note: The deluxe edition of this soundtrack album includes bonus tracks of Howard Ashman singing demos for two songs cut from the film, the moving “Proud of Your Boy” and the fun “High Adventure.” — Matt Koplik
Original Broadway Cast, 2014 (Walt Disney Records) (3 / 5) The success of Aladdin as an animated film led to a stage adaptation two decades later. The good news is that the results here are far more successful than many other Disney transfers, though with some caveats. Choosing to underline Ashman’s original concept of presenting the story as a zany romp, the Broadway Aladdin is shinier, zippier, and sillier than the film. But while the show benefits from the inclusion of three songs with lyrics by Ashman that did not make it into the movie (“Proud of Your Boy,” “High Adventure,” and “Babkak, Omar, Aladdin, Hassim”), Chad Beguelin’s libretto isn’t quite clever enough to hold it all together. Although this is less of a problem on the cast recording than it was on a stage, enough of Beguelin’s meta-commentary jokes are peppered throughout (“Everyone here has a minor in dance!”) to make you roll your eyes. On the bright side, the score is given loving treatment in Danny Troob’s vibrant orchestrations and Michael Kosarin’s tight vocal arrangements. The one major misstep is turning the Genie’s “Friend Like Me” into a nearly 10-minute-long production number. While it’s performed energetically by James Monroe Iglehart, the song now feels overstuffed and tiresome. Iglehart is given a much better opportunity with “Prince Ali,” which has also been expanded from the film version, but to more satisfying effect. New additions to the score, such as “These Palace Walls” and “A Million Miles Away,” are pleasant enough, with Menken once again proving his gift for ear worms, but Beguelin’s lyrics are not on the same level as his predecessors’. Adam Jacobs gives an earnest performance as Aladdin, which works in ballads like “Proud of Your Boy” and “A Whole New World” but less well in peppier songs like “One Jump Ahead.” Courtney Reed’s Jasmine is mostly serviceable, though her voice is not as comfortable a fit for “A Whole New World” as Lea Salonga’s. And in a fun bit of déjà vu, Jonathan Freeman vamps it up as the evil villain Jafar, the part he voiced in the 1992 film. If this recording doesn’t have the overall charm of the original soundtrack, it’s still enjoyable, and it introduces audiences to some wonderful Ashman/Menken songs that had previously gone unheard. — M.K.
Film Soundtrack, 2019 (Walt Disney Records) (1 / 5) This is the soundtrack recording of Disney’s recent live action remake of Aladdin, a trend the company has continued ever since the massive financial success it had with its remake of Beauty and the Beast. The Aladdin soundtrack is not nearly the disaster that Beast was: the arrangements are mostly the same as the originals (though some pop and hip hop influenced percussion has been added), and the cast is of a higher vocal caliber (if still auto-tuned). Yet, the recording is mostly free of personality. Everything is clear and pleasant enough, but it’s missing energy and character. Nowhere is this more evident than in Will Smith’s performance as the Genie. Whereas both Robin Williams and James Monroe Iglehart gave everything they had to their performances in the role, Smith goes for a more laid back, casual approach to the magical sidekick. This is a mistake, and though he doesn’t completely bungle his two big songs “Friend Like Me” and “Prince Ali,” they barely register. Mena Massoud and Naomi Scott are both fine as, respectively, Aladdin and Princess Jasmine, but they certainly don’t wipe away memories of the originals. Scott has been given a new number written by Menken with lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, “Speechless,” but the lyrics are so nondescript and the melody so jarringly different from the rest of the score that it doesn’t do anything to distinguish Scott’s Jasmine from Salonga’s or Reed’s. So, while this isn’t the worst soundtrack of a Disney remake, it’s the blandest of all three Aladdin recordings and is really more for completists than for anyone who want to be exposed to the score for the first time. — M.K.