Category Archives: G-I

Grey Gardens

Grey-OBOriginal Off-Broadway Cast, 2006 (PS Classics) 3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5) Based on Albert and David Maysles’ fascinating 1975 documentary film of the same name, the musical Grey Gardens depicts the dysfunctional relationship between Edith Bouvier Beale and her daughter, Edie, and the shocking squalor into which they had descended by the mid-1970s. The aunt and cousin of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis, the eccentric, elderly Edith and 56-year-old Edie were discovered residing in a filthy Long Island mansion overrun with cats and wild raccoons. While the musical’s second act takes place in 1973 and replicates much of the film’s ghastly content, the first act is a fictionalized confluence of three real-life events that likely impelled the socialites’ downfall: Edith’s father rebuking her, Joe Kennedy, Jr. inexplicably breaking off his engagement to Edie, and Edith’s husband secretly running off to Mexico to obtain a divorce. Though Christine Ebersole gives a tour-de-force performance in the leading dual role (playing Edith in the first act, Edie in the second), and Doug Wright’s penetrating book is buttressed by well-crafted songs by Scott Frankel and Michael Korie, the original Off-Broadway cast album of Grey Gardens can make for difficult listening. Aside from “Another Winter in a Summer Town,” a poetic ballad, and “The Revolutionary Costume for Today,” an amusing illustration of Edie’s idiosyncratic sense of fashion, the score’s primary attractions are its pastiche evocations of once-popular song genres, ranging from minstrelsy to marches, jazz, soft-shoe, gospel, and those beloved waltz-songs commonly used in musicals as emblems of nostalgia. However, the album also preserves much of the songs’ internal and contextualizing dialogue, most of which is argumentative or otherwise unpleasant and therefore compromises the aesthetic appeal of the music. While it is a representative souvenir of the stage production, this is the kind of album likely to sit on one’s shelf. — Lisa Jo Sagolla

Grey-BroadwayOriginal Broadway Cast, 2007 (PS Classics) 5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5) Upon the opening of the Broadway production of Grey Gardens (and the release of the Broadway cast recording), the creative team deemed it the definitive version of their show and requested the discontinuation of the cast album of  the original Off-Broadway production, turning that recording into a collector’s item. Considering the musical’s generally grim story about former First Lady Jackie Kennedy’s peculiar aunt and pitiful cousin, Edith and Edie, who wind up living in sickening seediness, the Broadway album is a surprisingly fun listen. In its revamping, the musical lost four of its least inspired songs and gained three shiny new ones. Whereas the Off-Broadway album opens with a scratchy old recording of Edith singing “Toyland” that gets drowned out by the mother and daughter bickering, the Broadway album launches with the newly written “The Girl Who Has Everything,” an optimistic tune set within a conversation of pleasant reminiscing. The new song “Goin’ Places,” sung by Edie and her boyfriend, Joe Kennedy, Jr. (before he jilts her), substitutes a showy jazz number with upbeat lyrics about Joe’s future for Off-Broadway’s “Better Fall Out of Love,” a downer emphasizing why Joe and Edie aren’t right for each other. While the plodding “Tomorrow’s Woman” from Off-Broadway was simply eliminated, the spirited march “Being Bouvier” was re-constituted as “Marry Well,” changing the song from a cold military man’s boasting to warmer-toned advice for young girls from a concerned grandpa. The album also benefits from sparkling new orchestrations by Bruce Coughlin; the only major casting change made for the Broadway transfer, namely the replacement of Sara Gettelfinger by the superior singer Erin Davie as Edie in the first act; and the trimming of the unsettling dialogue that weighed down the Off-Broadway recording, which makes it easier for us to appreciate the humorous aspects of the story of poor, pathetic Edith and Edie. — L.J.S.

The Great Waltz

Great-Waltz-TozziOriginal West Coast Cast, 1965 (Capitol/no CD) 4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5) Edwin Lester of the Civic Light Opera Company of Los Angeles and San Francisco was known for bringing Broadway’s first national tours to the West Coast, and for mounting revivals with as many original Broadway cast members as possible. He was also famous for creating and producing such successful “modern” operettas as Song of Norway and Kismet. This show began in Vienna in 1930 as an operetta (Walzer aus Wien) based on the lives and music of Johann Strauss Sr. and Jr.  As The Great Waltz, it traveled abroad successfully, then opened on Broadway in a new version in 1934. The credits on this recording reveal the complicated history of the show: music by the two Strausses; musical adaptation by Erich Wolfgang Korngold, Robert Wright, and George Forrest; lyrics by Wright and Forrest; additional lyrics by Forman Brown; book by Jerome Chodorov, based on versions by Moss Hart (1934) and Milton Lazarus (1949). The book of the Lester version involves the father/son conflict that actually existed between Strausses père and fils. The melodies are, of course, ravishing, and the adaptations are scintillatingly orchestrated. Metropolitan Opera stars Giorgio Tozzi (as the elder Strauss) and Jean Fenn (as an opera singer who had a serious flirtation with Strauss in his youth) are wonderful in their respective introductory solos, “I’m in Love With Vienna” and “Philosophy of Life.” And when they raise their voices together in their duets “Of Men and Violins” and “The Enchanted Wood,” they are simply grand. The role of Strauss, Jr. is sung with ringing tenor tone by Frank Porretta; the character has no solos in The Great Waltz, but his duets with Fenn and with Anita Gillette in the ingénue role of Resi are thrilling. Gillette delightfully joins with Wilbur Evans (as Herr Dommayer) in the infectious “A Waltz With Wings.” There is also a fine quartet of conflict for the four principals, “No Two Ways”; a trio titled “Music,” performed with verve by Evans, Leo Fuchs, and Eric Brotherson; and the effective “Blue Danube” finale. — Jeffrey Dunn

Great-Waltz-newLondon Cast, 1970 (Columbia/no CD) 2 out of 5 stars (2 / 5) Edwin Lester’s Waltz was the impetus for this production at London’s famous Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. With a few textual changes (Julius Bittner is added to the songwriting credits), it ran for 706 performances. The cast album features an overture that’s not included on the earlier recording, and there are other differences in the song stack. Sari Barabas, a genuine European operetta star, exudes Continental flair in a gorgeously sung, heavily accented “I’m in Love With Vienna,” and she could not possibly be more playful or charming in “Teeter-Totter Me” with the sturdy-voiced David Watson as Strauss, Jr.  Watson also works well with the Resi of Diane Todd, whose soprano is fluttery yet attractive. As the elder Strauss, Walter Casell displays a huge, mature baritone of great authority. The quartet for the principals gets a little wild, but the finale has Todd and Barabas doing some lovely trilling of the famous “Blue Danube.” — J.D.

Great-Waltz-filmFilm Soundtrack, 1972 (MGM/no CD) 4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5) Recorded in 1972, this is the soundtrack for a movie that was clearly out of step with the era in which it was created. Still,  the film is a very pleasant and artful musical version of the life of Johann Strauss II. As in the other incarnations of The Great Waltz, it uses the melodies of Strauss but adds new lyrics by  Wright and Forrest of Kismet and Song Of Norway fame. The big change here is that the lyrics are completely different from those created for the 1937 MGM movie and the 1965 Los Angeles Light Opera production. Many of the songs in the ’72 film were designed to actually narrate a biopic directed by the famously realistic Andrew Stone; others were created to utilize and exploit the singing talents of the beautiful opera star Mary Costa, best known as the voice of Sleeping Beauty in Disney’s animated film. In this way, the film manages to have a sturdy dramatic arc while adding great music and fantastic ballroom sequences choreographed by Onna White. The handsome German actor Horst Bucholz is well cast in the non-singing role of Strauss. The narrative songs here are effectively sung by tenor Kenneth McKellar, and all of the others are realistically presented as on-site performances. Wright & Forrest’s new songs have a greater maturity and sophistication than those heard in previous versions of The Great Waltz; operetta fans may well be enthralled by Costa’s renditions of “Who Are You?” and “Love Is Music.” There is also a small gem called “Say Oui, Say Ya, Say Yes” (performed by Joan Baxter), as lovely and seductive as any operetta number ever written. Sadly, this movie was made about 20 years too late, but today, it can be enjoyed for what it is: a golden example of operetta on film, and a thrilling Strauss cornucopia. The soundtrack album is a must for any operetta fan’s collection — if you can find it. The recording is now quite rare, as it was one of the last issued on the MGM records label as a vinyl LP and has never been released on CD or in any other digital format. — Gerard Alessandrini

Heathers

HeathersWorld Premiere Cast, 2014 (Yellow Sound Label) 2 out of 5 stars (2 / 5) Based on the ’80s cult film of the same title, Heathers is a musical that’s sometimes fun and frothy, though not particularly strong. Writers Laurence O’Keefe (Bat Boy, Legally Blonde) and Kevin Murphy (Reefer Madness) chose a broader, more cartoonish approach to the story than Kevin Waters’ acerbic, razor-sharp screenplay about two teenagers who go to drastic lengths to take down their high school’s hierarchy. While this treatment provides catchy music and a platform for the young, talented cast to display their vocal skills, it removes the bite that made the black-comedy movie so special. The light tone of songs such as “Candy Store” and “Big Fun” demonstrates that the show doesn’t intend to dig deep very often, and though some of the lyrics attempt to go for the film’s humorous shock value, they don’t ring as true as the screenplay’s now-classic dialogue. Only in the quieter moments, the ballads “Seventeen” and “Life Boat,” does the musical truly connect to the movie’s dark heart. As Veronica, originally played by Winona Ryder in the film, Barrett Wilbert Weed provides the most fully formed performance on the album; her dry line delivery and rock-tinged vocals are smart, specific, and thrilling. The orchestrations, by Ben Green and O’Keefe, capture the essence of the ’80s, even if the score mostly doesn’t. Those unfamiliar with the film will likely find this recording fun and entertaining, but hardcore Heathers fans may be disappointed that the chewing tobacco has been replaced by bubble gum. — Matt Koplik

Hamilton

HamiltonOriginal Broadway Cast, 2015 (Atlantic, 2CDs) 5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5) From start to finish, this recording marvelously captures the vibrancy of composer-lyricist-star Lin-Manuel Miranda’s groundbreaking and record-smashing musical about Alexander Hamilton, one of our country’s previously unsung (pun fully intended) Founding Fathers. Recorded almost in its entirety for this two-disc set, Hamilton charts the title character’s biography from childhood to the duel with Aaron Burr that ultimately cost him his life. Along the way, Hamilton’s successes during the American Revolution and his  pivotal role in the formation of America’s new government are expertly handled, as are personal tragedies including the death of his son. The musical vernacular of the score ranges from hip-hop to jazz to R&B to contemporary musical theater. In addition to Miranda’s energetic vocals as the title character, fine performances abound — particularly from Leslie Odom, Jr., who offers a haunted and haunting portrayal of Burr, and Renée Elise Goldsberry, whose voice sparkles as she plays Angelica Schuyler, Hamilton’s sister-in-law and the woman who was perhaps his true soul-mate. Equally terrific are Phillipa Soo as Hamilton’s wife, Eliza (Angelica’s sister); Daveed Diggs in a dual role as the Marquis de Lafayette/Thomas Jefferson; Christopher Jackson as George Washington; and Jonathan Groff, who wrings every bit of comedy from the cameo appearances of George III, drolly delivering Miranda’s faux-1960s British mod tunes that echo both The Beatles and Herman’s Hermits. What ultimately makes this cast album so appealing is that it gives the listener the ability to savor the intricacies of the show’s construction. With each successive play, one hears new nuances in Miranda’s linguistic genius and the far-flung antecedents that are part of the score, which references everything from Shakespeare to musicals such as South Pacific and Camelot to the work of rapper The Notorious B.I.G.  — Andy Propst

It’s a Bird…It’s a Plane…It’s Superman

SupermanOriginal Broadway Cast, 1966 (Columbia/Sony) 3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5) This show seemed to have so much going for it, with a central character beloved by millions through the comic books and a popular television series. Composer Charles Strouse and lyricist Lee Adams asked David Newman and Robert Benton to write a book for a proposed musical with Superman as its central character; Harold Prince agreed to produce and direct the show. It’s a Bird . .. It’s a Plane . .. It’s Superman opened to four good reviews, including a rave from New York Times critic Stanley Kauffman. But, for some reason, audiences did not flock to the show, and it ran only 129 performances. That was surely not the fault of the songs; this is a good-natured, humorous score, as colorful as the comic book characters it portrays. Reporter Jimmy Olsen is missing from the action, and Perry White is a small, non-singing role, but many new characters were created for the musical. Gossip columnist Max Mencken was played by Jack Cassidy to a fare-thee-well, and the role of his secretary marked a major career step for Linda Lavin. These two get the best of the songs: Cassidy’s suave, amusing seduction of Lois Lane, “The Woman for the Man,” is a showstopper, as is Lavin’s counter-attempt to seduce Clark Kent with “You’ve Got Possibilities.” This number and her “love song” to Max, “Ooh, Do You Love You,” allow Lavin to unleash her powerful belt voice, heard infrequently on Broadway. Cassidy has two other terrific numbers, “So Long, Big Guy” and his vaudeville-style duet with the villainous Dr. Sedgwick (Michael O’Sullivan), “You’ve Got What I Need.” The songs for Superman/Clark Kent are mostly tongue-in-cheek; Bob Holliday, who was a good physical match for the role, displays a first-class baritone and delivers “Doing Good” and “The Strongest Man in the World” impressively. The character of Lois Lane, played by Patricia Marand, is treated pretty much like a traditional musical comedy heroine; she pines for you-know-who in “It’s Superman,” a lament that’s both wistful and amusing. (In Act II, this song becomes a super ensemble number.) Marand also has a nifty duet with Don Chastain as scientist Jim Morgan, titled “We Don’t Matter At All,” and after he becomes her love interest, she sings the plaintive “What I’ve Always Wanted.” As bonus tracks, the CD edition of the cast album offers demos of three deleted songs plus a version of “You’ve Got Possibilities” with notably different lyrics, all performed stylishly by Strouse and Adams. — Jeffrey Dunn

The It Girl

The-It-GirlOriginal Off-Broadway Cast, 2002 (JAY) 3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5) Based on It, the 1927 film that starred Clara Bow, The It Girl is a small-scale, 1920s-style musical comedy. It was presented Off-Broadway by the York Theatre Company almost a year before the Broadway opening of Thoroughly Modern Millie, a show it resembles in some respects. Jean Louisa Kelly stars as Betty Lou Spence, a spitfire flapper-type who sets New York aflame with her unique brand of style and sexual appeal. The cast also includes Jonathan Dokuchitz as the object of her affection, Jessica Boevers as the object of his semi-affection, and Stephen DeRosa as the dandy who sets the frantic plot in motion. All of the performers are talented if not exactly bursting with charisma, and the songs provided by composer Paul McKibbins and lyricist B.T. McNicholl are drenched in ’20s rhythms and lively ragtime arrangements. The score’s standout is Boevers’ comic number “A Perfect Plan,” in which she details the peaks and valleys of her troubled love life. A tribute to “Coney Island” is bouncy and tuneful, “Why Not?” is a another cheerfully upbeat entry, and the almost title song “It” is catchy enough to get stuck in your head.  — Matthew Murray

Is There Life After High School?

High-SchoolOriginal Broadway Cast, 1982 (Original Cast Records) 5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5) If this show had opened Off-Broadway instead of on Broadway in 1982, it might have run a lot longer.  Is There Life After High School? represents some of the best work of Craig Carnelia, an extraordinarily talented composer-lyricist who later wrote lyrics only to Marvin Hamlisch’s music for the score of Sweet Smell of Success. With a book by Jeffrey Kindley, the show is about the painful, wonderful experience of high school as viewed in retrospect by a group of young adults. The opening (and closing) number, “The Kid Inside,” is a highlight; the song offers spot-on observations about grown-ups who cling to their inner children, and the soaring musical phrase that’s sung to the words “There (s)he goes again” is a real ear worm. Among the show’s cleverest sequences is “Second Thoughts,” in which five people wonder what would have happened if they’d said or done things differently at pivotal moments in high school. Another standout is the beautiful song in which four women recall every detail of their earliest romantic encounters, even though “Nothing Really Happened.” Then there’s the hilarious ”I’m Glad You Didn’t Know Me” (in high school), sung by a couple to each other. (“Picture a phony / Doin’ the pony,” she sings; “Speaking of fears / I had an erection the whole four years,” he admits.) But the most precious gem of the score is probably “Fran and Janie,” a gorgeous tearjerker about two inseparable high school friends encountering each other years later. The estimable performers are Harry Groener, Maureen Silliman, Alma Cuervo, Sandy Faison, Raymond Baker, Cynthia Carle, David Patrick Kelly, Philip Hoffman, and James Widdoes.  — Michael Portantiere

Irma La Douce

Irma-LondonOriginal London Cast, 1958 (Philips/Sepiano CD) 4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5) This recording was not released in CD format until 2008. It will come as something of a revelation to those who only know Irma la Douce from the original Broadway cast recording. While the three London stars — Elizabeth Seal, Keith Michell, and Clive Revill — and director Peter Brook were all imported to Broadway, the London recording offers a great deal of dialogue that reveals the story with more clarity than on the subsequent Broadway cast album (see review below). Many of the lyrics are different, and there is a truly charming Act II reprise of “Our Language of Love,” in which Irma expresses her feelings about Nestor while he is in prison. In the ballet, we can hear the prison break, and we learn of Irma’s pregnancy and other plot details. The only disappointment is Seal’s delivery of the title song; she does a much better job on the Broadway recording. Other than that, the London LP captures the essence of a most unusual show, and the three leads are perhaps a little warmer and less slick here than they became by the time the show reached New York.  — Jeffrey Dunn

Irma-BroadwayOriginal Broadway Cast, 1960 (Columbia/Sony) 4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5) One of very few French musicals to earn success in London and in New York,  Irma la Douce went through some changes in each country, but this recording retains enough Gallic charm mixed with Broadway know-how to satisfy all but the most curmudgeonly of FrancophiIes. That’s particularly evident in the orchestrations of André Popp (additional orchestrations by Robert Ginzler, dance music by John Kander), with the obligatory accordion and a stylish xylophone often dominating. The overture is an old-fashioned attention-grabber. The opening number is “Valse Milieu,” in which Clive Revill as Bob-Ie-Hotu — who narrates the story and plays numerous other roles — sets up the plot and defines the French words that are sprinkled throughout the piece: poule for prostitute, mec for pimp, grisbi for money, and so on. The fanciful tale tells how one of Irma’s clients, Nestor, falls so in love with her that he wants to become her only client. The music is by Marguerite Monnot, composer of many songs popularized by Edith Piaf; the original French book and lyrics by Alexandre Breffort were cleverly adapted into English by Julian More, David Heneker, and Monty Norman. London leads Elizabeth Seal, Keith Michell, and Clive Revill also starred in the Broadway production. Seal, who won a Tony Award for her performance, is a singing actress whose personality jumps from a recording. Michell as Nestor has a beefy, full-bodied sound in the love duets, is comedic in “Wreck of a Mec,” and is magnificent in the haunting “From a Prison Cell.” Revill is especially funny in the climactic “But.” The all-male ensemble is excellent in “Sons of France,” “She’s Got the Lot,” and “Christmas Child.” There is also an extended sequence that ends up in an “Arctic Ballet” complete with penguins! It doesn’t make much sense, but the dance music is terrific. In his New York Herald Tribune review of Irma la Douce, Walter Kerr wrote: “If an original cast album is made available in your neighborhood, get it.” Take Mr. Kerr’s advice. — J.D.

Irene

Irene-OBCBroadway Cast, 1973 (Columbia/Sony) 4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5) Encouraged by the success of the 1971 Broadway revisal of No, No, Nannette, producer Harry Rigby and colleagues reworked and mounted Irene, a musical that had been a hit in 1919 but had hardly ever been performed since the 1930s — even though it included such Harry Tierney-Joseph McCarthy songs as the monster hit “Alice Blue Gown.” The buoyant headliner of the new Irene was Debbie Reynolds, who gave her pluckiest performance since the film version of The Unsinkable Molly Brown and helped turn the show into a hit. Happily, her gutsy portrayal is well preserved on the cast album. Reynolds’ rendition of “The World Must Be Bigger Than an Avenue,” a new song by Wally Harper, is dynamite. Other outstanding moments belong to George S. Irving in a Tony Award-winning performance as “Madame Lucy,” and Patsy Kelly, direct from her Tony-winning triumph in No, No, Nanette, as Irene’s mother. More star presence is provided by Monte Markham as Donald S. Marshall III and Ruth Warrick as his mother. The recording was artfully produced by the great Thomas Z. Shepard at the peak of his expertise. — Gerard Alessandrini

Irene-LondonLondon Cast, 1976 (EMI/no CD) 4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5) This bouncy, well-performed London Irene stars the excellent Australian performer Julie Anthony. The arrangements and orchestrations are almost identical to those of the Broadway revisal, and they sound bright and crisp as recorded here. Under conductor Ralph Burns’ excellent baton, the chorus numbers are particularly spirited and exciting. As Irene, Anthony shows off a thrilling voice with much gusto, and she can belt out a show-stopper and then turn around and deliver a soft, tender ballad very effectively. The strong supporting cast includes Jon Pertwee, Jessie Evans, and Eric Flynn. As Donald, Flynn does an excellent job with a lovely old song that wasn’t in the Broadway production, “I Can Dream, Can’t I?” Another added treat is the ballad “If Only He Knew,” persuasively rendered by Anthony. This is an unusual London cast album in that the singers sound like authentic American musical theater performers, and the sound quality of the recording is superb. — G.A.

I Remember Mama

I-Remember-MamaStudio Cast, 1985 (Polygram) 3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5) Richard Rodgers’ musical imagination persisted throughout his life, despite depression, a heart attack, and cancer of the vocal cords. His final show opened just seven months before he died. It was a musical version of I Remember Mama, a play written by John Van Druten and adapted from Mama’s Bank Account, a collection of stories by Kathryn Forbes. The play had also inspired a movie and a television series.) In all its incarnations, the story is about a Norwegian family living in San Francisco around 1910. But, foremost, it’s about Mama, a woman of little education who has a naturally liberal turn of mind. Rodgers wrote the musical with librettist Thomas Meehan and lyricist-director Martin Charnin. Film actress Liv Ullmann, who was not a gifted singer, played the title role. During the out-of-town tryout, producers Alexander Cohen and Hildy Parks brought in a new director, Cy Feuer, and a new lyricist, Raymond Jessel. Amid the chaos of the pre-Broadway tour, Rodgers created six new songs in two weeks. The show opened on Broadway in May 1979 to largely disparaging reviews and closed three months later. Still, Mama proves that even a lower-tier work by Rodgers is superior to almost anyone else’s best effort, and in songs such as “You Could Not Please Me More” and “Time,” the music soars above the pedestrian lyrics. No cast album of the show was made; this studio recording was produced by Norman Newell, with John Yap as executive producer and Theodore S. Chapin as coordinating producer. Parts of it were recorded on either side of the Atlantic to accommodate a dream cast of American and British performers. George Hearn as Papa and George S. Irving as Uncle Chris recreate their Broadway roles; Sally Ann Howes replaces Ullmann as Mama; Ann Morrison plays Katrin, the writer who immortalizes Mama in magazine fiction; Gay Soper is Mama’s benevolent sister; Patricia Routledge is Aunt Jenny; Elizabeth Seal is Aunt Sigrid; and Sian Phillips appears as a British novelist. In the lively “Easy Come, Easy Go” and the acidic “It’s Going to Be Good to Be Gone,” Irving shows off the stuff that made him one of the theater’s great comedic assets. The recording’s high point is the Routledge-Seal duet “A Most Disagreeable Man.” — Charles Wright