Category Archives: A-C

Cats

Cats-LondonOriginal London Cast, 1981 (Geffen) 4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5) Before it became a joke, Cats was a true phenomenon. While Trevor Nunn’s direction placed spectacle above emotion and story, the show has a better score than it’s usually given credit for. T. S. Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats may not have been a natural choice for musicalization; still, Andrew Lloyd Webber found some remarkably creative ways to get Eliot’s feline characters to sing, whether in the style of straight-out pop (“The Rum Tum Tugger”), mock-operetta (“Growltiger’s Last Stand”), or a host of others. The magical (and highly electronic) overture, the rapidly shifting strains of the lengthy first-act Jellicle Ball, and the lush finale “The Ad-Dressing of Cats” all help to make this a musical theater score full of variety and invention. Even the now standard “Memory” works within the weird universe created by the half-posthumous collaboration of Eliot and Lloyd Webber. Here, that song is delivered beautifully by West End diva Elaine Paige as Grizabella, the Glamour Cat — the character who ties together the show’s story about junkyard strays meeting to decide which of them will be reborn into a new, presumably better life. Paul Nicholas’ Rum Tum Tugger, Brian Blessed’s Old Deuteronomy (and Bustopher Jones), and Kenn Wells’ Skimbleshanks also provide lots of fun. This recording of Cats captures the ineffably English tone of the piece, and is a highly entertaining listen. — Matthew Murray

Cats-BroadwayOriginal Broadway Cast, 1983 (Geffen) 4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5) One of the longest-running musicals in Broadway history, Cats is also the most inherently English of all the mega-musicals of its era, and so the unconvincing Brit accents and American vocal mannerisms of the original Broadway company do not lend this recording much authenticity. Still, with a cast this good, it barely matters. Betty Buckley is a worthy successor to Elaine Paige as Grizabella, and her “Memory” is one of the most powerful on record. (Many singers have recorded the song as a stand-alone piece.) Ken Page is particularly charming as Old Deuteronomy; future stars Terrence Mann and Harry Groener do very good work as the Rum Tum Tugger and Munkustrap; and Timothy Scott and Anna McNeely as Mr. Mistoffelees and Jennyanydots are delightful. Of special note is Stephen Hanan, whose hilarious Bustopher Jones, heartbreaking Gus, and dynamic Growltiger make him a standout. As is the case with the London album, this one is missing a certain amount of material, including some dance music and “The Awful Battle of the Pekes and the Pollicles.” But the superb cast and knockout orchestra, under the musical direction of Stanley Lebowsky, make it sound fresher and more vibrant than its predecessor.  — M.M.

Caroline, or Change

CarolineOriginal Broadway Cast, 2004 (Hollywood Records, 2CDs) 3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5) Tony Kushner writing the book and lyrics for a musical full of inanimate objects? If you did not see Caroline, or Change onstage, you may have difficulty getting past the novelty of a singing washing machine, dryer, radio, bus, and moon — but once you do, this show is revealed to be an attractive and often emotionally explosive folk opera. Jeanine Tesori supplies intriguing and highly listenable music, heavily steeped in the styles of the show’s 1963 setting, for this tale about the relationship between a black woman named Caroline Thibodeaux and the southern Jewish family that employs her as a maid. Tonya Pinkins gives an earth-shaking, all-encompassing performance as Caroline, making the emotionally and musically difficult score sound easy, reaching stratospheric heights in her monumental, five-minute-long, 11-o’clock number “Lot’s Wife.” She receives solid support from such Broadway notables as Veanne Cox, Chuck Cooper, and Alice Playten, while Tony Award-winner Anika Noni Rose is impressive as Caroline’s daughter. Although many of the individual songs are striking in their own right — including the youthfully catchy first-act finale “Roosevelt Petrucius Coleslaw” and “The Chanukah Party,” with its already immortal lyric “Chanukah, oh Chanukah / Oh Dreydl and Menorah! / We celebrate it even though / It isn’t in the Torah!” — this recording is best experienced straight through from beginning to end. — Matthew Murray

Bounce

BounceOriginal Cast, 2004 (Nonesuch) 2 out of 5 stars (2 / 5) Stephen Sondheim’s first new musical in nearly a decade, Bounce was highly anticipated when it played Chicago and Washington in 2003. Though this recording benefits from the lack of John Weidman’s book, the score doesn’t sound appreciably better here than it did onstage, despite a good orchestra conducted by David Caddick and a top-notch cast including Howard McGillin, Richard Kind, Michele Pawk, Gavin Creel, Herndon Lackey, and Jane Powell. What’s missing is a sense of vivid inspiration, although there are a few nice selections. The title song, sung by McGillin and Kind, is catchy; McGillin and Pawk have an attractive duet in “The Best Thing That Ever Has Happened”; and “Addison’s City” and “Boca Raton” make up an entertaining musical scene that chronicles the Florida land boom. Otherwise, the music has uncomfortable echoes of Sondheim’s superior work in such shows as Sweeney Todd(a vamp in the title song recalls “By the Sea”) and Merrily we Roll Along (Jonathan Tunick’s orchestrations could have been lifted from that show). There’s much here to appreciate, but little to love; Sondheim’s previous scores set the bar so high that a middling effort like this one just doesn’t seem quite good enough. [Ed. Note: Sondheim and Weidman later rewrote this show and retitled it Road Show; see separate review of the recording of that version.] — Matthew Murray

Cyrano

CyranoOriginal Broadway Cast, 1974 (A&M, 2LPs/Decca) 4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5) This musical, based on Edmond Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac, boasts a wonderful translation and adaptation by Anthony Burgess, whose exquisitely poetic book and lyrics hew closely to his previously existing translation of the classic play. Also outstanding is the music of Michael J. Lewis — melodic, stirring, and well suited to the story, even if the orchestrations by Philip J. Lang fall short. Christopher Plummer gave one of his greatest performances as Cyrano, and though the quality of his singing voice is not great, it’s more than good enough for the type of songs Lewis and Burgess crafted for the character, which are far more dependent on acting ability than sheer vocal prowess.  On the other hand, Leigh Beery as Roxana (as the character’s name is spelled in the musical) is an excellent singer; her performance of “You Have Made Me Love” is, in fact, one of the finest renditions of a musical theater ballad ever recorded. This gorgeous, relatively unknown song is a gem as worthy of fame as “Some Enchanted Evening,” for it’s just as romantic and stirring. The cast recording, mixed like a 1960s pop album, has a tinny sound quality and lacks vibrancy. But it does include much of the show’s dialogue, magnificently acted by Plummer, who justly won a Tony Award for his performance. One can only hope that Cyrano will someday be revived with an actor of Plummer’s caliber in the leading role. — Gerard Alessandrini

Cry for Us All

Cry-for-Us-AllOriginal Broadway Cast, 1970 (Project 3) 4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5) This was composer Mitch Leigh’s follow-up to Man of La Mancha, and it was a long way from Spain to Brooklyn. The show was in trouble out of town — there was a temporary title change to Who to Love? — and it lasted only nine performances on Broadway. However, the score, with lyrics by William Alfred and Phyllis Robinson, often lives up to what this musical was trying to be: a semi-operatic version of Hogan’s Goat, William Alfred’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play about love and betrayal in the world of 1890s Brooklyn politics. Although the source material might have been better served by a completely sung-through approach, many of the songs are effective, and the performers handle them well. Joan Diener does a beautiful job with “Verandah Waltz,” “How Are Ya Since?” and “Who to Love?” There is strong legit singing from Steve Arlen in “The End of My Race” and Robert Weede in “The Mayor’s Chair.” Tommy Rall and Helen Gallagher do their best with some mediocre material, and the three urchins who narrate the story are entertaining in “The Broken Heart or the Wages of Sin” and “The Cruelty Man.” A few important songs are missing from this album, and others are heard in abridged form. The recording is available on CD as a rare, high-priced import.  — Jeffrey Dunn

Crazy for You

Crazy-for-YouOriginal Broadway Cast, 1992 (Angel) 2 out of 5 stars (2 / 5) This is a faux revival cloned from the DNA of a vintage musical, with a score drawn from the Gershwin songbook. Ken Ludwig’s book for Crazy for You is sort of based on the 1930 Gershwin hit Girl Crazy, transferring a standard, let’s-put-on-a-show plot to the Wild West. It’s hard to get very excited about the disc, which is really only a collection of Gershwin standards with a few rarities tossed in, but William D. Brohn’s orchestrations have real zing, and the cast is fun. As a New York millionaire who dreams of Broadway stardom and ends up putting on a show in Deadrock, Nevada, Harry Groener is a model of period style, tossing off “I Can’t Be Bothered Now” and “Nice Work If You Can Get It” with delightful ease. Jodi Benson plays his feisty cowgirl love interest with intensity, and her heartfelt vibrato is put to good use in “Someone to Watch Over Me” and “But Not for Me.” There are amusing contributions from Bruce Adler as a Yiddish-accented producer and Michele Pawk as Greener’s overbearing fiancée. The show’s heart is in its production numbers, such as “Slap That Bass” and “I Got Rhythm,” during which Brohn’s vivacious arrangements build to a state of ecstasy. It’s always more fun to hear a new score in a new show but, of its kind, Crazy for You is about as good as it gets. — David Barbour

The Cradle Will Rock

Cradle-OBCOriginal Broadway Cast, 1938 (Musicraft/Pearl) 3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5) The Cradle Will Rock, produced by John Houseman and directed by Orson Welles, was created under the auspices of the WPA’s Federal Theatre Project. What was to have been its opening performance at the Maxine Elliott Theatre was blocked by guards who were ordered to close down the controversial show. The company and audience then marched to the Venice Theatre on 59th Street, where the premiere took place with the actors performing from the house as composer-lyricist-librettist Marc Blitzstein played a lone piano on a bare stage. For two weeks, performances continued without sets and costumes and with solo piano accompaniment. When the show reopened six months later for a Broadway run, it was recorded; this may well be considered the first original Broadway cast album ever. It includes narration and accompaniment by Blitzstein, and the score sounds like no other. Influenced by Brecht-Weill works, Blitzstein turned his classical training toward creating an agitprop piece about the Great Depression. It offers musical theater songs, protest songs, pastiche numbers, recitative — whatever would engender audience response to the unpleasant truths being revealed. The performances on this vivid recording are full of passion. Olive Stanton is vulnerable in the historic “Moll’s Song” and later grabs you with “Nickel Under the Foot.” As Larry Foreman, Howard Da Silva delivers a powerful “Leaflets,” leading into the title song with an effective mixture of humor and outrage. As Ella Hammer, Blanche Collins sings “Joe Worker” with appropriate defeat in her voice. Other highlights are “Honolulu” (a spoof of tropical songs), the satirical “Art for Art’s Sake,” and the sarcastic “The Freedom of the Press.” The recordings, documents of great historic value, are available on CD in the two-disc Pearl set Marc Blitzstein: Musical Theatre Premieres, which includes the 1941 cast album of No for an Answer (featuring a young Carol Channing) and The “Airborne” Symphony, conducted by Leonard Bernstein. — Jeffrey Dunn

Cradle-OrbachOff-Broadway Cast, 1964 (MGM, 2LPs/no CD) 3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5) Two notable aspects of this revival were its superb direction by Howard Da Silva and the contribution of Leonard Bernstein as musical consultant. Gershon Kingsley’s piano playing and musical direction are crisp and driving. Nancy Andrews, who dominates the first half as Mrs. Mister, rips into her material with gusto and great pipes. In the second half, Jerry Orbach as Larry Foreman sings with power and outrage, especially in the title song. Also impressive are Gordon B. Clarke, Joe Bova, and Rita Gardner. — J.D.

Cradle-Acting-CompanyOriginal London Cast, 1985 (Polygram/JAY, 2CDs) 3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5) This production reawakened interest in The Cradle Will Rock when The Acting Company presented it Off-Broadway, again directed by Howard Da Silva, and then took it to London. Each performance began with John Houseman recounting the saga of the show’s cancellation in 1937; that 12-minute prologue is recorded here. At the piano is musical director Michael Barrett, a Bernstein protégé. Randle Mell is a powerful Larry Foreman, and Michele-Denise Woods as Ella Hammer stops the show with “Joe Worker.” Patti LuPone’s rendition of Moll’s “Nickel Under the Foot” is one of her finest recorded performances, searingly honest and faultlessly nuanced. Other standouts are David Schramm, Casey Biggs, and Leslie Geraci. This is an often exciting, concise recording of the piece; the first disc of the set consists entirely of Houseman’s narration. It should be your first stop in getting acquainted with this groundbreaking musical.  — J.D.

Cradle-STFilm Soundtrack, 1999 (RCA) 1 out of 5 stars (1 / 5) Tim Robbins’ film Cradle Will Rock (no “The”) tells the story of the original production intermingled with other plots concerning art and censorship. About half of this CD is devoted to songs from the original show; the other half is new music composed for the film by David Robbins. “Moll’s Song” (sung by Emily Watson), “Croon Spoon” (Eddie Vetter and Susan Sarandon), “Honolulu” (Erin Hill, Dan Jenkins, Vicki Clark, Tim Jerome), “Reverend Salvation” (Vicki Clark and Chris McKinney), “The Freedom of the Press” (Henry Stram and Tim Jerome), and “Art for Art’s Sake” are all here in unedited form, plus Audra McDonald’s compelling rendition of “Joe Worker.” (Other songs in the film are not on the CD.) In the notes for the recording, David Robbins writes: “The arrangements you hear are, for the most part, Blitzstein’s original orchestrations.” This may be technically true, but because the orchestra here consists of only 12 instruments with a single violin, the score has more of a Brecht-Weill sound than the operatic heft that Blitzstein intended. The disc begins with an awful rendition of “Nickel Under the Foot,” heard in the film over the end titles, but don’t let this one disgraceful track keep you from exploring the pleasures of the recording.  — J.D.

A Connecticut Yankee

Yankee-OBCBroadway Cast, 1943 (Decca) 4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5) This Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart treasure was belatedly transferred to CD and is now available in beautifully restored, remarkably clear sound. The wonderful 1927 show benefits greatly from the new songs written by the team for this 1943 revival to augment the original score. Included here are some of the last lyrics ever penned by Hart, who died shortly after the revival opened. Among the numbers retained from the original production are the standards “My Heart Stood Still” and “Thou Swell,” charmingly performed by Dick Foran and Julie Warren. It’s fun to hear the actual singing voice of Vera-Ellen, who was always dubbed in Hollywood films; her quirky sound is ideal for this soubrette role. “On a Desert Island With Thee” and “I Feel At Home With You,” her duets with Chester Stratton as the stalwart Sir Galahad, are punchy and humorous. Furthermore, this recording offers Vivienne Segal as Morgan Le Fey, a role that was beefed up for the revival. Her extended version of “To Keep My Love Alive,” one of the new songs, makes it clear why Segal was an acclaimed leading lady of her era. The two other “new for the revival” songs are Segal’s “Can’t You Do a Friend a Favor?” (a duet with Foran) and “You Always Love the Same Girl” (a lusty duet sung by Foran and Robert Chisholm as King Arthur). This CD also includes “It Never Entered My Mind” and three other songs from Rodgers and Hart’s Higher and Higher, performed by Shirley Ross. As if that weren’t enough, The Incomparable Hildegarde’s recordings of four songs from By Jupiter were added, making this revival CD an indispensable Rodgers and Hart compendium. That said, it’s regrettable that Decca chose not to record the one other notable new number written for the 1943 revival of Connecticut Yankee, Segal’s “This Is My Night to Howl.” — Jeffrey Dunn

Yankee-TVTelevision Soundtrack, 1955 (AEI) 1 out of 5 stars (1 / 5) This version of A Connecticut Yankee was one of a series of 1950s television presentations of Broadway musicals. Based on the 1943 Broadway revival, the TV book was adapted by William Friedberg, Neil Simon, Will Glickman, and Al Schwartz. Included are several songs written for the revival, such as the elusive “This Is My Night to Howl” and “Ye Lunchtime Follies.” The sound quality of the recording is rather poor, but leads Eddie Albert and Janet Blair sing well, although “My Heart Stood Still” is painfully slow. The tempo is also off for the comedy song “On a Desert Island With Thee,” which seems to have been mistaken for a ballad. Several choruses of “To Keep My Love Alive” have been cut but are not missed, given Gale Sherwood’s humorless performance. On the other hand, this album provides a rare opportunity to hear Boris Karloff singing (not very well) as he joins Albert in “You Always Love the Same Girl.” There is a bonus track of “My Heart Stood Still” as performed in the British revue One Dam Thing After Another by Jessie Matthews.  — J.D.

Company

Company-OBCOriginal Broadway Cast, 1970 (Columbia/Sony) 5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5) A shocking musical when it first opened, and still an insightful if somewhat dyspeptic view of modern romantic relationships, Company explores the games, angst, loneliness, and badinage of love and marriage in an alternately brittle and heartfelt manner. In a sense, it’s a revuesical — a string of nonlinear scenes built around a single theme. When it first burst onto Broadway, the show was revolutionary: no chorus, no legs (save Donna McKechnie’s in the dance number “Tick Tock”), no salve for the tired businessman. Instead, it boasted one of Stephen Sondheim’s most brilliant scores, Jonathan Tunick’s ingeniously metallic orchestrations, Boris Aronson’s architectural sets, George Furth’s sharp book, and Hal Prince’s sparse, savvy staging. The original cast album, produced by Thomas Z. Shepard, is a marvel of clean, no-nonsense theatricality, an exemplary souvenir of a momentous turn in the history of musical theater. (Company unfortunately led to numerous second-rate imitations by Sondheim wannabes.) The highlight of the recording is “The Ladies Who Lunch,” exclaimed by Elaine Stritch in career-capping fashion. Other standouts in the cast are Pamela Myers, Beth Howland, and Teri Ralston. The album preserves the performances of central character Bobby’s songs by Dean Jones, who left the cast shortly after the show’s opening. Larry Kert took over for Jones, and his wonderful renditions can be heard on the “Original London Cast” recording of Company. Since that cast was pretty much identical to the Broadway cast, sans Jones, all the label did was take out his vocals and slap in Kert’s. If you can find the album, listen closely and you’ll hear ghosts of Jones’ voice in the background. Spooky!  — Ken Bloom

Company-RoundaboutBroadway Cast, 1995 (Angel) 2 out of 5 stars (2 / 5) The cast members here are not up to their counterparts in the company of the original production. Somehow, the performances aren’t as cynical or pointed, and that definitely includes Boyd Gaines as Bobby. Debra Monk is an exception: She isn’t quite as hard-bitten a Joanne as Elaine Stritch, but she comes close. Others in the cast who were notable names at the time and/or became so in future include Danny Burstein, Kate Burton, Diana Canova, Veanne Cox, Charlotte d’Amboise, John Hillner, Jane Krakowski, and LaChanze. Company is a hard show to revive because it was so much of its time, and we’re still close enough to that era to know when a production doesn’t capture the right flavor. That’s the major flaw of this recording. — K.B.

Company-LondonLondon Cast, 1996 (RCA) 2 out of 5 stars (2 / 5) Face it: Americans don’t do Shakespeare all that well, and the English can’t get American musical theater quite right. They’re fine with falling chandeliers and helicopters, but less well versed in U.S. attitudes, accents, and performance style. This Company is rather subdued, and none of the cast members sound really comfortable in their roles; they all seem too concerned with impersonating Americans rather than inhabiting their characters. Although Bobby is the focal point of the show, he is not the most interesting character — but at the end, he’s got the bang-up number “Being Alive,” in which he has to be really honest with himself and the audience. Adrian Lester just doesn’t make it; he’s more of a cipher who substitutes technique for honest emotion at his big moment.  — K.B.

CompanyBroadway Cast, 2006 (Nonesuch) 4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5) The inclusion of so much spoken dialogue on this recording allows the listener to appreciate a brilliant acting choice made by Raúl Esparza in the role of Robert. When speaking, he affects the studied cool of a stereotypical, rather jaded New Yorker, but when he sings, Esparza brings forth all of the emotions lying beneath the surface, culminating in a searingly intense, cathartic performance of “Being Alive.” Standouts among the rest of the cast are Elizabeth Stanley’s April as heard in “Barcelona” and Heather Laws’ Amy as heard in “Getting Married Today,” while Barbara Walsh gives a smart account of “The Ladies Who Lunch,” a song that will always be irrevocably associated with Elaine Stritch. Beyond that, enjoyment of this recording will depend largely on one’s feelings about Mary-Mitchell Campbell’s new orchestrations — played by the actors themselves in this sleek, minimalist production directed by John Doyle, who had previously set forth the same actors-doubling-as-musicians concept in the 2005 Broadway revival of Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd. To this listener’s ears, Campbell’s work here is stellar, and indeed, she won a Drama Desk award for her efforts. [Note: This Company opened on Broadway on November 29, 2006, but the recording was released in 2007.] — Michael Portantiere

London Cast, 2019 (Arts Music) 2 out of 5 stars (2 / 5) One’s reaction to this recording will depend largely on how one feels about the concept of the production it represents, a radical revisal of the musical that originally opened on Broadway in 1970.  Whereas Company as written was set at the time of the show’s premiere and told the story of a 35-year-old, single male New Yorker and his relationships with his married friends (five couples) and three of his girlfriends, here the time period has been shifted to the present (i.e., circa 2019), and the central character is now a woman. The genders of the girlfriends have also been switched, so they are now boyfriends, and the couple that endures all that pre-wedding drama in “Getting Married Today” is now a gay male couple.  Though this version of Company was a hit in London and received many favorable notices, some critics (and audiences) felt that the retrofitting of the show did not work at all, either in terms of the sex changes or the updating of the action. Some of Stephen Sondheim’s reworking of lyrics he wrote 50 years ago may displease fans of the originals; many of the changes were made to accommodate the gender switches, some for other reasons. The re-conception of “You Could Drive a Person Crazy” is a total misfire, and there are several egregious rewrites of various lyrics in other songs. (“Poor Baby” includes one of the worst examples: “Robert ought to have a woman” is now “Bobbie ought to have a fella.”)  In the midst of all this, Rosalie Craig brings a lovely voice and charming presence to the role of “Bobbie.” American musical theater superstar Patti LuPone reprises the gender-maintained role of Joanne, miscast as she was when she first essayed the part in the New York Philharmonic’s 2011 staged concert performances of Company. The rest of the cast varies in terms of singing ability and their facility at American accents. (If there weren’t some references to the fact, you probably wouldn’t guess that the show is supposed to be set in New York City.)  The orchestrations are not as full as the originals, but quite alright in themselves. — M.P.

Coco

CocoOriginal Broadway Cast, 1969 (ABC-Paramount/MCA) 1 out of 5 stars (1 / 5) It’s terrible, fascinating, and possibly the most unreviewable of all cast recordings. Alan Jay Lerner cooked up this musical bio of Coco Chanel and somehow got Katharine Hepburn to star. The result is a camp hoot as viewed from many different angles. Hepburn’s singing makes Lauren Bacall sound like Joan Sutherland; she ends up in a statistical dead heat with Bette Davis for the title of least vocally qualified star in Broadway musical history. Just listen to her gamely navigate Lerner’s tongue-twisting lyrics (“Should I drive myself to drink / For some ruffians who think / That chic is someone riding on a camel?”) while a drumbeat struggles to keep her in some kind of rhythm. Furthermore, the show is a museum of dated social attitudes: Lerner constantly raps Chanel on the knuckles for putting a career before love, and much of the action focuses on Coco’s pathetic attraction to a young model, Noelle, whom she views as a surrogate daughter. (As Noelle’s boyfriend points out, “To me this emporium / Is sex in memoriam / Where feelings are frozen / And face lotion flows in your veins.”) Furthermore, Chanel’s nemesis is Sebastian (René Auberjonois), a screaming queen of a dress designer described in the original liner notes as “almost male, almost female, almost human.” His number “Fiasco,” in which he hyperventilates in triumph over Coco’s flop showing, is best described as grisly. And yet — André Previn’s music is jazzy, impudent, and often gorgeously romantic in the style of his years at MGM; Lerner’s lyrics have much of his old urbanity; and Hepburn’s star power burns through everything. You’ve got to hear this album once, even if you never want to hear it again.  — David Barbour