Category Archives: T-V

The Visitor

Original Off-Broadway Cast, 2022 (Craft Recordings) 2 out of 5 stars (2 / 5) “A few djembe lessons and like that I am enlightened,” sings Walter (David Hyde Pierce), a grumpy economics professor who learns to play percussion — and finds out all about America’s cruel immigration policies — from an undocumented Syrian immigrant named Tarek (Ahmad Maksoud), who has been squatting with his girlfriend, Zainab (Alysha Deslorieux), in Walter’s vacant apartment. The cast album of The Visitor, in the absence of Kwame Kwei-Armah and Brian Yorkey’s squirmy book, does a better job than the show did onstage of distracting from the story’s troubling focus on how the suffering of a family in the clutches of the immigration system reanimates a middle-aged white guy, but there’s still that uncomfortable undercurrent. This is a Tom Kitt score, so the vocal arrangements are reliably superb, and Kitt creates some riveting grooves, enhanced by the orchestrations of Jamshied Sharifi (The Band’s Visit). The score cleverly suggests the way that music is all around us — hear, for example, the rhythmic shushing and rustling of papers in the song “In The Middle of The Middle Row” — all of which works effectively on the recording. But there’s little subtlety or sensitivity in Yorkey’s lyrics, as when Zainab describes her harrowing journey to the U.S., in ungraceful phrases such as: “But the price of the voyage was steep/They would touch me when I was asleep.” Thankfully, though, Deslorieux is marvelous. Her impassioned “Zainab’s Apology” and an undulating duet for Zainab and Tarek, “My Love Is Free,” merit multiple listens. Hyde Pierce also gives a moving, committed performance, even if his songs become progressively worse as Walter sheds his misanthropy. (“Better Angels” is a particularly cringe-inducing anthem bellowed at uncaring ICE agents.) He does his loveliest work, alongside Jacqueline Antamarian as Tarek’s fraught mother, in the unassuming “What Little I Can Do.” This album can’t redeem a deeply flawed musical, but the strong singing and engaging arrangements make this a score worth a listen. — Dan Rubins

The Visit

Original Broadway Cast, 2015 (Broadway Records) 4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5) The Visit is an extraordinary late-career work by composer John Kander and lyricist Fred Ebb, who enriched the American musical theater with multiple scores of excellent quality over a 40-year period. In partnership with book writer Terrence McNally, their previous collaborator for The Rink and Kiss of the Spider Woman, Kander & Ebb crafted a flawed but compelling adaptation of Friedrich Dürrenmatt’s play about Claire Zachanassian, a fabulously wealthy old woman who returns to the town where she grew up and offers to save it from financial ruin if the citizens will be the agents of her ultimate revenge against Anton Schill, her former lover, who wronged her terribly when they were both in their youth. Shocking, moving, and bitterly funny by turns, this story has been musicalized skillfully, for the most part, in songs that run the gamut from the darkly comic “I Walk Away” to the gorgeous love ballad “You, You, You” to the creepy “I Will Never Leave You” to the hauntingly wistful “Love and Love Alone.” One of the most astonishing facets of the show is the production number “Yellow Shoes,” in which the townspeople rejoice over material goods purchased with credit they have been granted in anticipation of the windfall they expect in return for murdering Schill. Following runs in Chicago and at the Signature Theatre in the Washington, D.C. metro area, a shortened version of The Visit was presented as part of the Williamstown Theater Festival in 2014 and then came to New York the following year in a production poorly directed by John Doyle. The Broadway run amounted to only 61 performances, but that tally should not dissuade one from experiencing the cast album, which showcases the stellar performance of beloved Broadway veteran Chita Rivera as Claire. Captivating as always, Rivera is partnered by the Anton of Roger Rees, who recorded this album while suffering from the brain cancer that forced him to bow out of The Visit during its short Broadway run. (In retrospect, his passing in July 2015, as well as the deaths of Fred Ebb in 2004 and Terrence McNally in 2020, amplify and deepen the elegiac feel of the recording.) Among the other standouts in the cast  are Jason Danieley as the schoolmaster who represents the conscience of the town in “The Only One”; Tom Nelis, Matthew Deming, and Chris Newcomer as Claire’s “entourage,” two of them eunuchs who sing in falsetto; and, in the role of Young Anton, John Riddle, whose beautiful tenor is a pleasure to hear in “You, You, You.” With a score that also contains a few songs less effective than those mentioned above, The Visit is not so finely honed a musical as the very best of the best, such as Kander & Ebb’s Cabaret and Chicago, but it’s a worthy addition to the canon. — Michael Portantiere

Tina: The Tina Turner Musical

TinaOriginal London Cast, 2019 (Ghostlight) 3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5) When experienced live in the theater, a “bio-musical” — like any other show — may be judged on several levels, including the production values and the quality of the storytelling, over and above the performances. But a cast album is all about the music. In that regard, this recording of Tina: The Tina Turner Musical, shorn of the show’s execrable book and direction, succeeds  thanks to the searing, passionate singing of Adrienne Warren in the title role. Also a pleasure to hear are the arrangements (by Nicholas Skilbeck) and orchestrations (by Ethan Popp), which deftly approximate the original charts of the songs that brought Turner worldwide fame during her decades-long career as a rock music goddess.  Warren was an Olivier Award nominee for this role on the London stage, and her portrayal was considered so vital to the show’s success that she was signed to repeat it on Broadway. Pick any tracks from the album at random — for example, “River Deep – Mountain High,” “Proud Mary,” “Private Dancer,” or “What’s Love Got to Do With It?” — and you may find yourself marveling at how skillfully Warren pays tribute to the icon’s one-of-a-kind voice and delivery while still making her performance sound organic, something deeper than sheer mimicry. The other singers heard here are fine, including Kobna Holdbrook-Smith as Ike Turner. Still, the recording is All About Warren, and she will not disappoint those who feel they want an audio memento of this show even though, of course, Turner’s actual recordings of these songs are still and no doubt always will be very much available — Michael Portantiere


TootsieOriginal Broadway Cast, 2019 (Decca Broadway) 3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5) Librettist Robert Horn and composer/lyricist David Yazbek made some wise moves in translating the popular 1982 comedy film Tootsie into a stage musical — for example, shifting the milieu from a soap opera to a present-day Broadway musical in trouble. The focus remains on Michael Dorsey (Santino Fontana), a jerk of an actor whose desperation leads him to impersonate a woman (“Dorothy Michaels”) to land a role. Michael’s frustrations and hopes are echoed by his better-behaved show biz colleagues, as Yazbek’s brash and brassy score reveals the vicissitudes of the actor’s life. The ensemble expresses joy in “I Like What She’s Doing” when their show starts to improve in rehearsals, and opening night nerves in “The Most Important Night.” Julie Nichols (Lilli Cooper), the actress cast opposite Dorothy in the musical, Juliet’s Nurse, relates the toll that acting takes on personal relationships in the poignant “There Was John.” Sandy (Sarah Stiles), Michael’s neurotic ex-girlfriend, unloads her audition anxieties (“What kind of masochist keeps coming back for more?”) in the rapid-fire mambo number “What’s Gonna Happen.” The song is not quite a match for “Model Behavior” in Yazbek’s Women On The Verge Of a Nervous Breakdown, but it’s easily the funniest number in the score. During all of this, Michael’s roommate Jeff (Andy Grotelueschen) acts as a fresh, raunchy facet of Michael’s conscience. Fontana’s dual roles come alive through his vocal skills, and he nails Michael’s progression. At first, he’s an annoying narcissist making terrible choices, cleverly conveyed in “Opening Number” and “Whaddya Do.” Next, he’s an “Unstoppable” stage success as Dorothy, starting with the diegetic anthem “I Won’t Let You Down.” This serves as Dorothy’s killer audition — Fontana builds and builds triumphantly — and also hints at how “she” will help the show within the show. While the songs reflect Michael’s growth, they’re less successful at showing how Dorothy affects those around her. This isn’t Yazbek’s strongest score, but it serves the comedy of the plot very well. — Laura Frankos

The View UpStairs

ViewOriginal Off-Broadway Cast, 2017 (Broadway Records) 3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5) A tragic true-life story inspired this musical about The UpStairs Lounge, a popular gay bar in the French Quarter of New Orleans that was destroyed by arson in 1973, resulting in the deaths of 32 people. Max Vernon wrote the book, music, and lyrics. The show employs an interesting narrative device centered around a present-day fashion designer, Wes (Jeremy Pope), who inquires about renting the space where the UpStairs once existed, and who there encounters and interacts with its denizens through a sort of time warp. Among them are the hard-drinking house pianist (Randy Redd), the bulldyke bartender (Frenchie Davis), a budding young Puerto Rican drag queen (Michael Longoria) and his mother (Nancy Ticotin), and the outrageously campy resident diva (Nathan Lee Graham). Also on hand are a priest of the Metropolitan Community Church (Benjamin Howes), a hustler (Taylor Frey) who forms a serious attachment with Wes, and the sketchy guy (Ben Mayne) whom we are led to think may be the one responsible for torching the bar after being ejected from it. While Vernon has trouble avoiding cliché in some of the show’s situations and dialogue, the time-warp setup allows for both jokes and dramatic points to be made as the UpStairs patrons school Wes about gay history and he tells them about the future. Vernon’s ingratiating, eclectic score well suits the characters and effectively sets the atmosphere for the tale, employing period song styles for the bar people and more modern sounds in some of Wes’s material (such as his opening number, “#householdname”). Highlights of the album include the opener, “Some Kind of Paradise,” led by Redd with soulful fervor; “World Outside These Walls,” led by Davis in excellent form; and the big, inspirational number “Theme Song,” featuring the amazing Graham. “Sex on Legs” is quite the show-stopper as delivered by Longoria, possessor of one of the most exciting voices to be heard on or off Broadway. The two prettiest songs in the score are the title tune, which serves as the finale; and “And I Wish,” not included in the Off-Broadway production but heard here as a bonus track, sung by Frey with great vocal beauty and deep emotion.  — Michael Portantiere

The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee

Spelling-BeeOriginal Broadway Cast, 2005 (Ghostlight) 4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5) This show, about a regional spelling bee with prepubescent contestants, marked the Tony Award winning composer/lyricist William Finn’s return to Broadway after a long absence. For that reason alone, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee is worth celebrating. It also happens to be an inventive, warm, and joyful musical. Finn shines best as a writer when his characters are up to his intelligence, and here we have six abnormally smart, strange, prematurely eloquent pre-teens who let their insecurities, jealousies and hormones rage during the competition. It seems evident that Finn enjoyed himself while writing Spelling Bee, as this marks his most playful work since In Trousers. The cast album isn’t given the highest possible rating here only because the score is woven so intricately into Rachel Sheinkin’s excellent libretto (arguably one of the best of its era) that a good deal of it may not impress listeners out of context as much as it does in the theater. One exception is “The I Love You Song,” a beautiful piece in which speller Olive Ostrovksy (played beautifully by Celia Keenan-Bolger) imagines the support and devotion of her parents, neither of whom are present at the bee. The entire cast is definitive, including Deborah S. Craig, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Dan Fogler, Jose Llana, and Sarah Saltzberg as the other young competitors. In addition to being excellent singers, they are charming, intelligent actors so in tune with their roles that it’s easy to forget they’re all a good decade or two older than the characters. — Matt Koplik


VioletOriginal Off-Broadway Cast, 1998 (Resmiranda) 3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5) Dorris Betts’ short story “The Ugliest Pilgrim” — about a young woman who, maimed by an axe blade as a child, goes on a journey of healing — was the basis for this gem with music by Jeanine Tesori and lyrics by Brian Crawley. Lauren Ward’s Violet is a complex heroine; injured inside and out, she’s full of both bitterness and hope, and her lovely performance translates well onto the recording. It’s when Violet’s biting tongue turns sweet that she sings the highlight of the score, “Lay Down Your Head,” with a melody that makes one’s heart ache. The other songs don’t quite reach that level of simple perfection, but a few that come close are the all-too-brief “Water in the Well,” the thrilling “Let It Sing,” and “On My Way,” a rousing ensemble number that sets Violet and her fellow passengers off on their bus trip. Violet’s trek takes her from North Carolina to Oklahoma, where she goes to meet the televangelist whom she hopes will heal her. On the way, she becomes involved in a love triangle with two soldiers, one white (played by Michael Park), the other black (played by Michael McElroy). Crawley tells their story through colloquial lyrics that feel effortless and natural, and Tesori comes up with a handful of fine countrified tunes. Her gospel songs are less distinguished, but the Broadway Gospel Choir and the powerhouse singer-actor McElroy give this spirited musical some real soul. — Brooke Pierce


Victor-SoundtrackFilm Soundtrack, 1982 (MGM/Rhino/GNP Crescendo) 1 out of 5 stars (1 / 5) The Blake Edwards film that served as the basis for Julie Andrews’ last Broadway musical is really a comedy with a few incidental songs. Based on a 1933 German film, it stars Andrews as Victoria, a light opera soprano stranded in  1930s Paris. She’s taken in by Toddy (Robert Preston), a gay nightclub performer who reinvents her as Victor, a Polish female impersonator. Trouble sets in when King Marchan, a Chicago gangster (James Garner), finds himself attracted to “Victor.” The wildly padded soundtrack disc is filled with instrumental interludes from Henry Mancini’s easy-listening score. The film’s few actual songs, with lyrics by Leslie Bricusse, are heard repeatedly in different versions; for example, the silly specialty item “The Shady Dame From Seville.” Andrews and Preston are never less than pros, but this recording is barely worthwhile. — David Barbour

Victor-BroadwayOriginal Broadway Cast, 1995 (Philips/Decca) 1 out of 5 stars (1 / 5) Julie Andrews’ much-anticipated return to Broadway was upstaged to a certain extent by this show’s many peripheral dramas, including Andrews’ frequent absences, her Tony Awards boycott, and the notorious replacement runs of Liza Minnelli and Raquel Welch. Victor/Victoria was a long-run disappointment, a ham-fisted adaptation of a hit Andrews film put together by a mediocre creative team led by Andrews’ husband, director-librettist Blake Edwards. As in the film, which was also written and directed by Edwards, Andrews’ Victoria is transformed into Victor by Toddy, played here by Tony Roberts (see the review above for more of the plot). Even with her voice darkened by age and afflicted with mannerisms, Andrews is fun to hear on the album; but to get to the pleasant bits, you’ll have to put up with some of the weakest songs ever written for a Broadway show. The main culprits are Henry Mancini and Leslie Bricusse, but additional music was written by Frank Wildhorn after Mancini’s death. “If I Were a Man” sets up the plot in the most laborious fashion. Even worse is “King’s Lament,” in which Victoria’s love interest, King Marchan (Michael Nouri), wrestles with his masculinity. The rock-bottom songs go to Rachel York in the role of King’s chorine girlfriend; they include “Chicago, Illinois” from the movie version (“Smack on the lake, this is a rare port / Someday, they say, we’ll have an airport!”) and the egregious “Paris Makes Me Horny,” which rummages through the names of European cities for the sake of smutty jokes. (Sample: “Been to Munich, where every guy’s a eunuch.”) Andrews makes something out of generic ballads like “Crazy World” (again, from the film) and “Living in the Shadows,” and she has fun with “Le Jazz Hot” (also from the film), but she and Nouri are defeated by the deadly “Almost a Love Song,” which has almost a melody. An unintentional camp highlight is “Louis Says,” one of Victor’s onstage numbers, in which Andrews swans about the stage as Marie Antoinette. Just try to parse the impenetrable stream-of-consciousness lyrics of this song. — D.B.

Very Good Eddie

Very-Good-EddieBroadway Cast, 1975 (DRG) 3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5) Very lively, very catchy, very melodic — but not Very Good Eddie. The Goodspeed Opera House’s revival of the 1915 Jerome Kern musical — the first show in the famed Princess Theatre series — was such a hit in Connecticut that David Merrick picked it up and brought it intact to Broadway, where it ran for nearly a year. But, as is Goodspeed’s bad habit, the production fiddled with perfectly fine original material. The result was a kind of hybrid, with several songs missing and others appropriated from various other Kern shows, so much so that nine lyricists are credited! Russell Warner’s lean orchestrations are probably reasonable reductions of Frank Saddler’s originals but, as musical director/conductor, Warner sticks pretty much to one speed: “rollicking.” Yes, the score is full of infectious ragtime, but even ragtime should have more variety than this. Worse, the performance style evinces much winking and borderline camping, especially among the women: Virginia Seidel’s Minnie-Mouse-on-speed chirping just about kills the irresistible “Left All Alone Again Blues,” and Travis Hudson stomps “Moon of Love” into the floorboards. But male leads Charles Repole and David Christmas are more appealing, and the chorus numbers, such as “I’ve Got to Dance” and “Hot Dog,” are so ingratiating that you will, in fact, want to get up and dance. — Marc Miller

The Utter Glory of Morrissey Hall

Utter-GloryOriginal Broadway Cast, 1979 (Original Cast Records) 2 out of 5 stars (2 / 5) This was a good idea: a sort of unofficial musical version of the old “St. Trinian’s” stories and movies about an English school filled with horrid little girls. The first 10 minutes of the show are fun, as authors Clark Gesner and Nagle Jackson (who also directed) set up various characters and story lines — and then simply abandon them. The rest of The Utter Glory of Morrissey Hall is plotless, filled with incidents that don’t tie together. For example, one group of girls believe they’re about to be sold into white slavery; a young boy in love mails himself to his girlfriend in a trunk; and there’s a grown-up romance between a secretary and a salesman who must hide their passion. Presiding over all of this is the dotty headmistress, played amusingly by Celeste Holm. As events spin out of her control, the woman simply withdraws, locking herself in her office and happily pressing flowers. Gesner, the composer-lyricist of You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown, provides a score that’s lightly mocking in a stiff-upper-lip sort of way, but with nothing substantial to hang these songs on, they don’t add up to much. — David Wolf