Category Archives: W-Z

Woman of the Year

WomanOriginal Broadway Cast, 1981 (Arista/Masterworks Broadway) 2 out of 5 stars (2 / 5) This is a musicalized update of the famous Hepburn-Tracy movie of the same title, with the plot changed so that it now concerns a television anchorwoman and a cartoonist. The show is not one of composer John Kander and lyricist Fred Ebb’s better efforts. In the title role, Lauren Bacall sings in a foghorn voice that sounds far worse than it did 11 years earlier in Applause, and the star also seems overwhelmed by having too much to do. On the recording, her limitations are clear in every number — such as “When You’re Right, You’re Right,” her apology to the cartoonist (played by Harry Guardino); “One of the Boys,” in which she bonds with him and his colleagues; and “I Wrote the Book,” a pleasant ragtime number save for the fact that Bacall is singing it. Guardino’s big ballad, “Sometimes a Day Goes By,” is rather boring. Three other number delight in their negativity: “It Isn’t Working,” “I Told You So,” and “Shut Up, Gerald.” Just when the whole enterprise seems doomed, out comes Marilyn Cooper to duet with Bacall in “The Grass Is Always Greener,” a wonderful comedic showstopper and the only reason to buy this recording. — Peter Filichia

The Wizard of Oz (Arlen-Harburg-Stothart)

Wizard-SoundtrackFilm Soundtrack, 1939 (MGM/Rhino-Turner) 5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5) Is it an overstatement to call MGM’s The Wizard of Oz the world’s most beloved film? Happily, a superb job has been done with the latest edition of the soundtrack recording of this gem, and we owe thanks to Marilee Bradford and Bradley Flanagan for doing it so neatly and completely. Many of us have fond memories of an old MGM “highlights” LP, but here we get all of the music from the movie, in the best possible sound. What’s most impressive is all the musical detail that may be heard clearly for the first time. Yes, we know “Over the Rainbow” and the other great Harold Arlen-E.Y. Harburg songs performed by Judy Garland, Ray Bolger, Jack Haley, Bert Lahr, and Frank Morgan, but the background music by Herbert Stothart represents Hollywood scoring at its peak. Included on the two-CD version of the soundtrack are several other treats: multiple takes of many songs, including one of “Over the Rainbow” that comes to a premature stop with a big sneeze/cough from Garland; the song “Jitterbug,” cut from the film, but tuneful and fun to hear; and the original Buddy Ebsen recording of”If I Only Had a Heart,” made before Ebsen’s reaction to the Tin Man’s aluminum makeup forced his replacement by the far more suitable Haley. Another bonus with the two-disc set is a sumptuous booklet with rare photos and detailed notes. — Richard Barrios

Wizard-RSCOriginal London Cast, 1989 (JAY) 2 out of 5 stars (2 / 5) What was more inevitable than a stage version of the extraordinarily popular MGM film The Wizard of Oz? By the 1960s, productions were cropping up everywhere; one of them even had the wonderful Margaret Hamilton reprising her definitive performance as the Wicked Witch of the West. But the most determined effort to put Oz onstage came in the 1980s, by no less a force than London’s Royal Shakespeare Company. The film’s orchestrations were recreated, its special effects adapted, and variations of this production have been performed numerous times since. The cast recording is in no way comparable to the movie soundtrack, but it’s passable. Conductor John Owen Edwards’ tempi differ from those in the movie, and while the orchestra plays well, the results are somewhat jolting. The cast varies wildly, from a sweet Dorothy (Gillian Bevan) to an undistinguished Scarecrow-Tin Man-Lion trio to a geriatric Glinda (Joyce Grant, who doubles as Aunt Em) and a literal drag of a Miss Gulch/Wicked Witch (the coyly named Bille Brown). Of course, the score itself is imperishable. — R.B.

Wizard-concertNew York Concert Cast, 1996 (Rhino-Turner) 1 out of 5 stars (1 / 5) Roger Daltrey as the Tin Man? Jackson Browne as the Scarecrow? Debra Winger as Miss Gulch and the Witch? Yes indeedy, that was the casting of a televised Lincoln Center concert version of The Wizard of Oz, performed only once for charity. But this recording also gives us Nathan Lane as quite a good Cowardly Lion. Of Browne and Daltrey, it might be said that they try hard. While Winger has some fun with her devilish doings, Natalie Cole’s Glinda sounds extremely tentative. The Boys Choir of Harlem makes sweet sounds as the Munchkins, and the idea of casting Joel Grey as the Wizard was so good that it was carried forward to the Broadway musical “prequel” Wicked. Unfortunately, nothing that’s good about this recording can overcome its terminal handicap: the horrific portrayal of Dorothy by Jewel, with her unending overlay of American Idol-style swoops and gulps. Those who revere “Over the Rainbow” are officially alerted that we’re not in Kansas anymore! — R.B.

Wizard-MSGMadison Square Garden Cast, 1998 (TVT) 3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5) This version of The Wizard of Oz was adapted from the Royal Shakespeare Company edition and an interim production by the Paper Mill Playhouse. The double role of Professor Marvel/The Wizard was taken by Mickey Rooney, who at age 78 was still a very game performer. As Miss Gulch and the Wicked Witch, Eartha Kitt has the time of her life, funneling her purring persona into this nasty pair. (Thank you, producers, for giving the bewitching Kitt the reinstated “Jitterbug” number, in which the prescient lyricist E. Y. Harburg supplied lots of “r”s to rrrrroll!) While Jessica Grové is a pleasing Dorothy and Lara Teeter a good Scarecrow, Ken Page goes a bit over the top as the Lion. Another problem is the recorded sound, reverberant and bass-ridden. This Oz may not cast the spell of the movie, but it has its own moments of magic. — R.B.

WizardLondon Cast, 2011 (Verve) No stars; not recommended. If the movie posited  Oz as a dream, why not a bloated stage version of The Wizard of Oz that is, in effect, a nightmare? Surely some of the impetus for this 21st century “reimagining” was the worldwide hit Wicked. Still, why take on such a cherished film, given what must be the widely held opinion — already stated here, above — that no stage production could duplicate, let alone equal, its magic or its cast? Then again, such considerations may be of lesser import to The Right Honourable Andrew, Lord Lloyd-Webber. The Wizard of the West End determined that Oz’s yellow road would benefit from some brick-gilding, which included his writing six new songs with lyrics by Tim Rice; signing the master’s own Phantom, Michael Crawford, for the title role; and casting Dorothy (Danielle Hope) by way of a televised “Over the Rainbow” talent hunt. The result opened at the London Palladium to mixed reviews, with the most praise going to the sets, costumes, and effects. Later, there would later be a Toronto run and a North American tour. (So far, no plans for Broadway. Keep your fingers crossed.) All involved professed their love for the original — but with synthesizer-heavy rearrangements and the unavoidable clash between 1939 and 2011 aesthetics, this show was doomed from the get-go. The offenses are many and unending: a lament for Dorothy called “Nobody Understands Me,” Miss Gulch’s original, immortal “bicycle theme” (by Herbert Stothart) being outfitted with lyrics, the deletion of “If I Were King of the Forest,” a “Red Shoe Blues” (!!) for the Witch, and much, much more. Hope is an OK Dorothy in a chirpy sort of way. Her three farmhand-turned-creature pals tend to sound alike, and Crawford manages a twee sort of authority.  In summary: Remember the adage “There’s no place like home,” and stick with Garland and company. — R.B.

The Wizard of Oz (1903)

Wizard-TietjensStudio Recordings, Piano Rolls, Music-Box Discs, 1903-08 (Hungry Tiger Press, 2CDs) 3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5) Shortly after L. Frank Baum published The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, a stage musical version became the biggest hit on Broadway. Finally, a century after the show opened, a masterful CD anthology reconstituted it in audio form. Great credit is due to producer David Maxine, for whom this daunting project was obviously a labor of love: There were no cast recordings, the sheet music survived only in fragments, and the show never had a set score. Originally, Baum worked on the book and lyrics, and Paul Tietjens wrote some music for the show, but those rather halting efforts soon gave way to a never-ending batch of interpolated songs. (The name A. Baldwin Sloane, frequently cited as the composer of the show, is nowhere in evidence here.) As Maxine’s detailed notes make clear, The Wizard of Oz was topical and performer-driven, its material dropped in and removed incessantly. Among the more popular numbers were “Sammy,” “Hurrah for Baffin’s Bay,” and the cheerfully sadistic “Football.” If these titles don’t sound like they should be found on the road to Oz, the plot synopsis indicates just how little of the Baum book remained; even the Cowardly Lion was reduced to the status of a bit player. The two CDs of this set are crammed with all manner of curiosities. The bulk of them are acoustical studio recordings of the songs, but a few numbers exist solely as piano rolls or as music-box tunes. Also included are some non-Oz songs recorded by members of the original cast. Obviously, the “score” is a patchwork, and very little of it is better than mediocre, but it’s helpful that the lyrics are printed in the accompanying booklet. — Richard Barrios

The Wiz

Wiz-OBCOriginal Broadway Cast, 1975 (Atlantic) 3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5) L. Frank Baum hit theatrical pay dirt with The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Two years after the novel’s publication in 1900, Baum and partners launched a musical extravaganza based on the tale; the show was a sensation, racking up hundreds of performances in New York and around the country. After countless other adaptations, including an obscure 1939 film that starred some nobody named Judy Garland, Dorothy and her pals returned to Broadway in The Wiz, an African-American musical version of the story with a brisk book by William F. Brown and fun songs by composer-lyricist Charlie Smalls. Among the very few Broadway tunes to become mainstream hits since the 1960s, this score’s infectious “Ease on Down the Road” got a lot of airplay, and Dorothy’s yearning 11-o’clock number, “Home,” put Stephanie Mills (who played the heroine) on the pop map. The Wiz enjoyed a long run and nabbed a bunch of Tony Awards, including Best Musical. Geoffrey Holder’s clever costumes and inventive direction helped turn the old tale into a fresh hit. Heard on the recording are several stellar turns in character roles: Clarice Taylor’s Addaperle (think Good Witch of the North) is a daffy, knowing delight; Tiger Haynes’s Tin Man is a smooth song-and-dance man; Hinton Battle’s Scarecrow is sweet as pie; and Ted Ross’s Lion is full of bravado. Mabel King sounds like a truly wicked witch, and her gospel-inflected “Don’t Nobody Bring Me No Bad News” proves that, for Evillene, double negatives ain’t the half of it. André De Shields is perhaps  a bit too campy as the Wiz, sounding like a real friend of Dorothy. The arrangements are terrific, full of energy and Soul Train-style bounce.  — Robert Sandla

Wiz-filmFilm Soundtrack, 1978 (MCA, 2CDs) 1 out of 5 stars (1 / 5) What is it about Hollywood versions of Broadway musicals? Time and again, shows that worked onstage bomb big-time on screen. The Wiz seemed a natural for filming: It was a Tony-winning Broadway success, some of the songs had hit the pop charts, and the central concept of adapting the classic tale of The Wizard of Oz for performance by a black cast was timely and hip. But what had been a brisk stage production was turned into a lumbering film, and the soundtrack album is better only in that you don’t have to watch the movie. The gifted Quincy Jones adapted and supervised the music, and he engaged A-list musicians: Toots Thielemans, Grady Tate, and Patti Austin, among others. But almost everything is overblown here, lacking the drive and imagination that mark Jones’s other work. Some negligible new musical material was contributed by Jones, Luther Vandross, and Ashford and Simpson. Diana Ross was too old for the role of Dorothy, and although she sings well enough here, she begins every song as if she’s just been on a week-long crying jag. (Cut from the movie but present on the soundtrack recording is a new ballad for Ross, “Is This What Feeling Gets?”) A young Michael Jackson is irresistible as the Scarecrow, and Nipsey Russell has an affable vaudevillian flair as the Tin Man. Ted Ross repeats his Broadway role as the Lion, but his big moments are diminished here. On the other hand, Mabel King reprises her show-stopping stage turn as Evillene to even more hilarious effect; and the glamorous Lena Horne, in the role of Glinda, gives her all to “If You Believe.” Richard Pryor plays the title role, and since he’s not a singer, the propulsive “So You Wanted to Meet the Wizard” is reduced to bits of woeful dialogue. — R.S.

Television Cast, 2014 (Masterworks Broadway) 3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5) This cast album is far more enjoyable on its own terms than the live television production it represents, for several reasons. The book of The Wiz has never been considered a masterpiece to begin with, but Harvey Fierstein’s heavy-handed rewrites for the TV presentation were almost all for the worse, so it’s nice to be able to enjoy this fine performance of the score without having to experience all of that — not to mention the flat direction of Kenny Leon, or the production and costume designs, which might be described as garish rather than fun and fanciful. But the most obvious way in which the audio-only experience of this Wiz satisfies far more than watching the video is that Shanice Williams’ vocal performance as Dorothy comes across so much better when not hampered by her limitations as an actress on screen, specifically her limited range of facial expressions. Only 19 years of age when The Wiz was telecast, Williams has an exceptionally beautiful and supple voice that’s lovely to hear in the sweeter moments of Dorothy’s music, and when she’s required to riff or to belt at the top of her range, it all sounds organic rather than like someone just showing off.  Her rendition of “Home” is spectacular, as great a success on its own terms as that of Stephanie Mills, who happily turns up here as Aunt Em. Most everyone else in the cast does a fine job with the vocal showcases for their characters, including Elijah Kelly as the Scarecrow, Ne-Yo as the Tin-Man, David Alan Grier as the Cowardly Lion, Amber Riley as Addapearle, and Uzo Aduba as Glinda. The only exception is Queen Latifah as The Wiz, wasted in a role that makes no sense when played by a woman. And it is a disappointment that Kelly doesn’t get to sing the wonderful song originally written for the Scarecrow, “I Was Born on the Day Before Yesterday,” but instead was handed “You Can’t Win,” the far inferior number that Michael Jackson performed in the movie.  It would be nice eventually to have a fully satisfying film or TV adaptation of The Wiz, but in the meantime, this cast album is an overall worthy addition to the catalog.– Michael Portantiere

Wish You Were Here

Wish-OBCOriginal Broadway Cast, 1952 (RCA) 3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5) Eddie Fisher’s mega-hit recording of the title tune helped turn this Catskills summer romance, based on Arthur Kober’s play Having Wonderful Time, from an almost certain flop into the biggest success of a slow season. But there’s much more to Harold Rome’s score for his first book show to reach Broadway than that repetitive rumba. The other ballads are uncommonly fine, from the intense “They Won’t Know Me” to the elegant melodic line of “Where Did the Night Go?” All of the above are lucky to be sung by Jack Cassidy; with his thrilling tenor and ardent delivery, he’s the best thing on the album. His leading lady, Patricia Marand, is technically proficient but a little stolid, and soubrette Sheila Bond hits some harsh, nasal notes, but Paul Valentine sings “Summer Afternoon” attractively. As befits a snappy musical of its period, Wish You Were Here has a steady stream of tangy comedy songs and a brassy set of Don Walker orchestrations, nicely matched by some excellent, uncredited vocal arrangements. Larry Blyden, Phyllis Newman, Florence Henderson, and Reid Shelton are in the chorus, though you probably won’t be able to pick out their voices. — Marc Miller

Wish-LondonOriginal London Cast, 1953 (Philips/Sepia) 4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5) London cast recordings of Broadway hits are often inferior to the originals, but this one bests its American cousin on several counts. The technical quality is superb, once you get past an echo-y overture that seems like it was lifted directly from the Broadway album. Cyril Ornadel’s musical direction is livelier than Jay Blackton’s. The musical program is almost the same, although “Goodbye, Love” is replaced by “Nothing Nicer Than People” to make the heroine more sympathetic. It’s fun to note the slight lyrical revisions that were made to suit West End audiences, such as changing “the BMT” to “the workmen’s train.” All of the Brit principals affect New York accents quite nicely, with Christopher Hewett outstanding as the unlikeliest wolf in the history of the Catskills. The rest of the London cast is inversely talented as compared to the New York company: Where Jack Cassidy was the vocal muscle of the original, his London counterpart, Bruce Trent, is uninteresting (and requires a downward modulation in “They Won’t Know Me”); but Shani Wallis is pert and more vocally secure than Sheila Bond as Fay, and Elizabeth Larner’s Teddy has the edge on Patricia Marand’s. They all sound like they’re having a whale of a summer. — M.M.


WingsOriginal Cast Members, 1995 (RCA) 3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5) Composer Jeffrey Lunden and lyricist-librettist Arthur Perlman deserve credit for tackling such difficult source material: Arthur Kopit’s acclaimed play Wings, about a former aviatrix and stunt pilot who’s recovering from a stroke. Their score for the musical is complex and multi-layered; if it doesn’t quite reach the skies, it doesn’t crash, either. Much of the music is exquisite, but the style of the score is more like a chamber opera. There’s very little in the way of “numbers,” some of the vocal lines are curious, and the lyrics often eschew rhyme. However, there is one song that’s likely to please those looking for an old-fashioned melody: “A Recipe for Cheesecake,” here sung by Russ Thacker, the only performer on the album who wasn’t in the stage production. It’s as close to a “show tune” as Wings gets. The strange noises you’ll hear at several points during the recording are part of a complex melding of sound design (Richard Woodbury) and orchestration (Lunden), designed to simulate the scary world inside the head of the central character, played by Linda Stephens. Recorded several years after Wings premiered at Chicago’s Goodman Theatre and then moved to New York’s Public Theater, this one-disc album contains nearly the entire show, dialogue and all. It was superbly produced by Thomas Z. Shepard; listen through headphones for the full effect. — Seth Christenfeld

Windy City

Windy-CityOriginal London Cast, 1982 (EMI/Ange1) 3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5) Much of Tony Macaulay’s music is too pop-rocky for an adaptation of the classic 1920s Ben Hecht-Charles MacArthur comedy The Front Page, but Macaulay and the gifted lyricist Dick Vosburgh created many songs for Windy City that are terrific in their own right, so the show scores on this recording in a way that it never did onstage. The story of ace newspaper reporter Hildy Johnson (played by Dennis Waterman) wanting to abandon his boss Walter Burns (played by Anton Rodgers) for marriage and a different career is outfitted by Macaulay and Vosburgh with several intoxicating numbers (“Hey, Hallelujah,” “I Can Just Imagine It,” and the title song), some lovely ballads (“Wait Till I Get You on Your Own,” “Long Night Again Tonight”), and only a couple of clunkers (“Waltz for Mollie,” “Bensinger’s Poem”). When the chorines sing “Saturday,” which does sound like a 1920s tune, it reminds us how out-of-period the other songs are. Still, “Water Under the Bridge” is a terrific 11-o’clock number and would be a great audition song for strong leading men. — Peter Filichia

The Will Rogers Follies

Will-RogersOriginal Broadway Cast, 1991 (Sony) 3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5) Chameleonic composer Cy Coleman and stalwart Broadway lyricists Betty Comden and Adolph Green wrote the songs for The Will Rogers Follies, a fanciful musical biography of the populist humorist as might have been concocted by Florenz Ziegfeld, in whose revues Rogers made numerous appearances. Coleman combines country twang and Broadway know-how in his music (evocatively orchestrated by Bill Byers), and the Camden-Green lyrics are bright and clever. If the score isn’t of first-tier quality, it’s better than just utilitarian; but it’s hard to tell that from the cast recording, a rather lackluster audio presentation of a show that burst with life under Tommy Tune’s direction. The cast certainly isn’t to blame: Keith Carradine is ingratiating as Rogers, Dee Hoty’s velvet voice brings Will’s wife Berry to warm-hearted life, and future Tony Awards winners Dick Latessa and Cady Huffman find great charm and humor in their supporting roles. But the score, separated from the energy of Tune’s direction/choreography and Peter Stone’s book, is less than wholly effective on its own. The dynamic production numbers “Will-a-Mania” and “Our Favorite Son” suffer the most, but even the major solo turns — Carradine’s “I Never Met a Man I Didn’t Like” and Hoty’s show-stopping “No Man Left for Me” — are somewhat disappointing here. Still, the music’s attractiveness and the performers’ abundant talents save the day, making a weak representation of the show still well worth a listen or three. — Matthew Murray

The Wild Party (Lippa)

Wild-Party-LippaOriginal Off-Broadway Cast, 2000 (RCA) 4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5) This was the first of the entries in the 2000 competition between two stage musical adaptations of Joseph Moncure March’s epic poem. Although Andrew Lippa is a talented musical dramatist, his lyrics aren’t always perfect here (he employs a lot of metaphors that don’t make any sense), and the pop-rock influence in his music is rarely accurate to the period. Still, the overall effect of the Manhattan Theatre Club production was dazzling. Unfortunately, the cast album doesn’t fully indicate how brilliant the piece was onstage. For one thing, the nearly through-sung score was chopped down to 73 minutes of “highlights,” leaving out a great deal of interesting material. Also, the album was made shortly after the show closed, when its astounding leading lady, the previously unknown Julia Murney, wasn’t in her best voice. Murney still belts the score to high heaven, but not quite as high as she did in the theater. The other excellent leads are Brian d’Arcy James, Idina Menzel, and Taye Diggs, and there are terrific supporting performances by Alix Korey (who delivers the hilarious “Old-Fashioned Love Story”), Raymond Jaramillo McLeod, and Jennifer Cody. Even with the above caveats, this recording is still a fantastic listen; among the highlights are “Raise the Roof,” “A Wild, Wild Party,” “Queenie Was a Blonde,” “Poor Child,” and “Make Me Happy.” — Seth Christenfeld

The Wild Party (LaChiusa)

Wild-Party-LaChiusaOriginal Broadway Cast, 2000 (Decca) 5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5) Composer-lyricist Michael John LaChiusa was not unknown when The Wild Party, his adaptation of Joseph Moncure March’s 1928 poem of the same title, hit Broadway in 2000; but he truly laid his claim as a major force in the musical theater with this work, among the most dazzling of the “postmodern” school.  The cast album is dynamic, a thrilling document of one of the most stirring theater scores of the late 20th century. LaChiusa’s songs are heavily steeped in period jazz and vaudeville styles (aided by Todd Ellison’s flawless musical direction and Bruce Coughlin’s searing orchestrations) while still sounding thoroughly modern and fresh. Beginning with a startlingly dissonant horn blast, the delights of the recording don’t stop. Consider the raunchy “Queenie Was a Blonde,” the rip-roaring “Uptown Downtown,” the torchy “Lowdown-Down,” the bathtub-gin-infused “Wild,” the bluesy “Black Is a Moocher,” the lost-in-life lovers’ duet “People Like Us,” and the 11-o’clock showstopper “When It Ends.” That last number is delivered titanically by the legendary Eartha Kitt, but the whole cast is excellent. Leading the way are Toni Collette, sounding like a veteran in her Broadway debut as the bleached-blonde chorine Queenie, and Mandy Patinkin as her manic and violent lover, Burrs. They receive top-notch support from Marc Kudisch, Tonya Pinkins, Norm Lewis, Brooke Sunny Moriber, Yancey Arias, and other distinctive performers. Although this is not a complete document of the score, there’s a lot packed into the recording’s 78 minutes. — Matthew Murray


WildcatOriginal Broadway Cast, 1961 (RCA) 2 out of 5 stars (2 / 5) Why did the star of Wildcat choose to make her Broadway debut in a show with requirements so far afield from her abilities? Lucille Ball had looks and charisma and great comic timing, but this was a musical, and its leading lady couldn’t sing; all those I Love Lucy jokes about her tin-eared vocalizing were not exaggerations. The show itself is all right, sort of a female Music Man of the oil fields with a synthetic book by N. Richard Nash and a bouncy score by composer Cy Coleman and lyricist Carolyn Leigh. “Hey, Look Me Over” was the hit of the score, but “What Takes My Fancy” and some of the other tunes are also nice. The whole company sounds energetic on the disc, and the male lead, Keith Andes, handles his music very well. Although the recording can’t convey the inventiveness of Michael Kidd’s choreography, it does hint at the gusto with which Ball threw herself into her song-and-dance numbers. Wildcat would have run longer on Ball’s name alone had she not become exhausted with the grind of eight performances a week, but the show is not compelling enough to have ever entered the arena of perennial showcase musicals. — Richard Barrios


Wicked copyOriginal Broadway Cast, 2003 (Decca) 4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5) Don’t go to this recording for a perfectly accurate representation of what’s heard in the theater; the songs were somewhat edited for the cast album to remove any hint of the twisty plot of Wicked, a musical based on Gregory Maguire’s novel, which purports to tell the true story of the “good” and “bad” witches immortalized in L. Frank Baum’s The Wizard of Oz. Still, this is one of Stephen Schwartz’s best scores — an unpopular opinion, admittedly! — and the excellent album boasts more than an hour of knockout songs, terrific high belting courtesy of stars Idina Menzel (Elphaba) and Kristin Chenoweth (Galinda/Glinda), and a fantastic-sounding orchestra conducted by Stephen Oremus. Listen particularly to Menzel’s astounding performances of “The Wizard and I,” “I’m Not That Girl,” “No Good Deed,” “Defying Gravity,” and her two gorgeous duets, “As Long as You’re Mine” (with Norbert Leo Butz as Fiyero) and “For Good” (with Chenoweth). Also pay special attention to William David Brohn’s great orchestrations in a pop-rock idiom that’s unusual for him. Unfortunately, very little of Winnie Holtzman’s adept libretto is included on the disc; the absence of dialogue leaves the estimable supporting performers Carole Shelley, Joel Grey, Christopher Fitzgerald, and Michelle Federer in the lurch. — Seth Christenfeld


Whoop-UpOriginal Broadway Cast, 1958 (MGM/Polydor) 2 out of 5 stars (2 / 5) With music by Moose Charlap and lyrics by Norman Gimbel, Whoop-Up was a quick failure set in a Montana bar (“where you don’t have to wear a tie to tie one on,” goes one of the forced lyrics). You’ll shake your head in amazement at such songs as “Nobody Throw That Bull,” “‘Caress Me, Possess Me’ Perfume,” “The Best of What This Country’s Got (Was Taken From the Indians),” “I Wash My Hands,” and “Montana,” which will never become that state’s official song. Susan Johnson has the strangest piece of material: “Men,” in which she speak-sings nearly three minutes’ worth of complaints about the male gender as a Dixieland melody plays underneath. The love songs, including the saccharine “Never Before,” are no better. Particularly bizarre is “Love Eyes,” sung by Ralph Young. (Sample lyric: “Your lipstick’s wet and waitin’ for my smear.”) That there were cover versions of some of these songs would be hard to believe if the  CD reissue hadn’t included quite a few of them. Jazz pianist Dick Hyman’s two cuts are bewitching; they prove that composer Charlap did come up with some fetching melodies for this score. — Peter Filichia

A White House Cantata (1600 Pennsylvania Avenue)

White-HouseStudio Cast, 1998 (Deutsche Grammophon) 1 out of 5 stars (1 / 5) The recording of a previously unrecorded musical theater score is usually a cause for celebration, but A White House Cantata is a maddening misfire. The 1976 Broadway flop 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue deserves better than this, not least because its score was written by luminaries Leonard Bernstein and Alan Jay Lerner. Many of their compositions for the show, which concerns race relations in 19th-century America, are of epic sweep, but in this cantata drawn from the score of the musical, they’re hurt by the style of presentation. From a purely vocal standpoint, the cast is fine: Thomas Hampson and June Anderson sumptuously sing the music of all of the presidents and first ladies, while Barbara Hendricks and Kenneth Tarver are more than capable as their black servants. But the renditions of most of the songs are overwrought and lacking in character and color; this is especially evident in “Duet for One,” in which two first ladies duke it out in song. The choral numbers are rich and full, the orchestra (conducted by Kent Nagano) is beyond reproach, and a good amount of material that was lost during the show’s tumultuous preview period has been restored. A White House Cantata is not a total loss, but the lack of theatrical verve makes this recording a poor representation of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue as a theater piece. — Matthew Murray

Whistle Down the Wind

Whistle-Songs-FromStudio Cast, 1998 (Polydor) 2 out of 5 stars (2 / 5) Labeled Songs from Whistle Down the Wind, this collection of 12 numbers performed by a lineup of pop stars is easier to take than the subsequent London stage cast recording of this Andrew Lloyd Webber score. Divorced from the show’s ludicrous story line (detailed below) and arranged as the disposable pop artifacts they really are, the songs actually provide some enjoyment. Tom Jones, aided by Sounds of Blackness, offers a soulful “Vaults of Heaven.” The boy band Boyzone does right by the repetitive “No Matter What,” and Donny Osmond proves to be the ideal interpreter of “When Children Rule the World.” Also on hand are Elaine Paige, Meat Loaf, Boy George, Bonnie Tyler, and Michael Ball. It’s a relatively painless way to enjoy the modest pleasures of a misbegotten show. — David Barbour

Whistle-OLCOriginal London Cast, 1999 (Really Useful Records) 1 out of 5 stars (1 / 5) This egregious Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, based on a novel by Mary Hayley Bell and a subsequent screenplay by Keith Waterhouse and Willis Hall, is about a group of poor children in rural England who mistake an escaped murderer for Jesus Christ. Told with restraint, it could have been a moving tale. Unfortunately, a committee of librettists — Patricia Knopf, director Gale Edwards, and Lloyd Webber himself — made the disastrous decision to reset the action in the American South during the 1950s. The show begins with one of the composer’s finest songs, the gospel tune “Vaults of Heaven,” but the score quickly turns into an unpalatable mixture of sticky sentiment and violent melodrama. Catchy tunes are often laughably unsuited to the onstage action, and matters aren’t helped by Jim Steinman’s clunky lyrics. The songwriters’ try-anything approach includes a pair of faux Brecht-Weill items, “Annie Christmas” and “Charlie Christmas,” plus the unbearably cute “When Children Rule the World” and the ridiculous “A Kiss Is a Terrible Thing to Waste.” The nadir is “Tire Tracks and Broken Hearts,” which recycles the melody of “English Girls” from Lloyd Webber’s Song & Dance. As the simple young waif Swallow and the escaped convict whom she believes is her Savior, Dottie Mayor and Marcus Lovett provide plenty of vocal emoting, but the songs are further sabotaged by the vulgar orchestrations of David Cullen and the composer. — D.B.

Where’s Charley?

Wheres-CharleyOriginal London Cast, 1958 (Columbia/Angel) 4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5) Based on Charley’s Aunt, the reliable old farce by Brandon Thomas, Where’s Charley? was a big hit on Broadway in 1948 with Ray Bolger in the lead. But the show didn’t yield an original cast album, apparently due to a musicians’ strike; nor has there ever been a commercially released soundtrack album drawn from the obscure 1952 film version, in which Bolger recreated his stage role of Charley Wykeham. Fortunately, the 1958 London production yielded a good recording of the delightful score by composer-lyricist Frank Loesser. British stage and film comedian Norman Wisdom may not have had quite the same type of high-wattage comic energy that Bolger possessed, but he was much better suited to the part of Charley in terms of accent and singing ability, and his performance here is ingratiating. The supporting cast is generally fine: Pip Hinton is adorable as Amy Spettigue, while Pamela Gale and Marion Grimaldi sing beautifully as (respectively) Kitty Verdun and Donna Lucia d’Alvadorez. Felix Felton is very funny as Mr. Spettigue, who has no idea that Charley’s aunt — the woman he’s wooing for her money — is actually Charley in drag. The one inadequate performance on the album comes from Terence Cooper, who exhibits an unattractive, throaty singing voice as Jack Chesney. “Once in Love With Amy” is the show’s big hit, but the score is chockablock with skillfully crafted charm songs and comedy numbers (“Better Get Out of Here,” “The Woman in His Room”) and beautiful love ballads (“My Darling, My Darling,” “Lovelier Than Ever,” “At the Red Rose Cotillion”). Disappointingly, only a fragment of the title song is included on this recording; a lengthy ensemble number as written, it’s here reduced to one brief chorus introduced by Wisdom’s quotation of the show’s most famous line of dialogue: “I am Charley’s aunt from Brazil — where the nuts come from!” The album would be essential if only because it’s the sole recording of a fine Loesser score, so it’s good news that the performance is so praiseworthy overall, and that the early stereo sound is excellent. — Michael Portantiere

When Pigs Fly (aka Howard Crabtree’s When Pigs Fly)

When-Pigs-FlyOriginal Off-Broadway Cast, 1997 (RCA) 2 out of 5 stars (2 / 5) The second of two revues that showcased the talents of outré costume designer Howard Crabtree was an evening of bright, largely gay humor. Though several of the songs by composer Dick Gallagher and lyricist-librettist Mark Waldrop are fun, the show’s real strength was visual, matching sketches to outrageously elaborate costume designs. A number called “Light in the Loafers” loses something when you don’t see dancers wearing electrified shoes; so does “Not All Man,” which was delivered onstage by David Pevsner done up as a centaur. A sketch featuring Stanley Bojarski as Carol Ann Knippel, the doyenne of a Midwest community theater, doesn’t slay on the recording the way it did live. Still, there are pleasures to be found here — many of them courtesy of Jay Rogers, who delivers a series of torch songs aimed at the right-wing ideologues Newt Gingrich, Strom Thurmond, and Rush Limbaugh. Rogers also gets the show’s best number: the touching, ruminative “Laughing Matters,” which only gains in poignancy when one knows that Crabtree died of AIDS shortly after this show opened. — David Barbour

What Makes Sammy Run?

What-Makes-Sammy-RunOriginal Broadway Cast, 1964 (Columbia/GL Music) 1 out of 5 stars (1 / 5) Longtime theatergoers will recall that, for a brief time decades ago, Steve Lawrence was touted as the next great Broadway leading man. Exhibit A is this now-forgotten hit (540 performances), adapted by Budd Schulberg and his brother Stuart from the former’s scalding novel about Hollywood climbers. Lawrence is Sammy Glick, who rises from the position of copy boy for a New York newspaper to top Hollywood producer in record time, by any means needed. Sally Ann Howes plays a buttoned-up screenwriter with a yen for hustlers; she’s loved from afar by Robert Alda in the role of a fellow screenwriter and student of Glick. All three are fine, but they’re let down by composer-lyricist Ervin Drake’s score, which strains for ring-a-ding sophistication and doesn’t achieve it. Every number sounds like the opener of a Vegas floor show. Lawrence and Howes do well in “A Room Without Windows,” and Lawrence teams effectively with Bernice Massi, as a studio exec’s predatory daughter, in the appropriately titled “You’re No Good.” Don Walker’s generic orchestrations are no help; neither is the CD edition of the recording, released in mono by Lawrence. It was mediocre shows like this, with their derivative melodies and almost-clever lyrics, that helped bring down the curtain on Broadway’s golden age. — David Barbour

What About Luv?

Luv-editStudio Cast, 1990 (JAY) No stars; not recommended. The only reason to musicalize a play is to add something to it, to enrich the original material. But again and again in this show based on Murray Schisgal’s unique, distinctive, and uproarious 1964 comedy Luv, moments from the play are flattened out by what can only be called by-the-numbers musical theater writing. For instance, one famous scene in the play has two men comparing their miserable childhoods, each trying to prove that he had a tougher upbringing; simply putting the scene into song form robs it of most of its surprise, and about half of the original material is missing entirely. In another scene in Luv, the wife of one of the men comes on with a graph illustrating their lack of a sex life, and the no-nonsense tone of her speech is immensely funny; but composer Howard Marren and lyricist Susan Birkenhead have set the sequence as a jazz waltz, which is not only emotionally inappropriate but also makes it very difficult to understand the words. The plot point is covered, but it’s not the least bit funny anymore. Throughout, the thoroughly conventional songs sentimentalize the characters in a complete betrayal of the loopy original material. The cast of this recording includes Judy Kaye (who starred in the original Off-Broadway production) along with her husband David Green and the unrelated Simon Green. — David Wolf

West Side Story

WSS-OBCOriginal Broadway Cast, 1957 (Columbia/Sony/Masterworks Broadway) 5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5) Conceived by Jerome Robbins, with music by Leonard Bernstein, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim (and an uncredited Bernstein), and a book by Arthur Laurents, West Side Story is a groundbreaking musical theater work that remains thrillingly vital and is continually revived worldwide, both professionally and by schools and community theaters. The phenomenal score, including such by now universally beloved songs as “Tonight,” “Maria,” and “Somewhere,” deepens the audience’s emotional involvement in an immortal story of star-crossed lovers, inspired by Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and reset among warring American and Puerto Rican gangs in Manhattan circa 1957. Happily, the score is well represented by this recording, which has a theatrical snap and an emotional conviction that more than compensate for any flaws in the performance. Although Carol Lawrence’s soprano thins out in the highest reaches of Maria’s music, and Larry Kert’s tenor develops something of a braying quality when he pushes for volume, both singers sound lovely in the more lyrical sections of the score, and they bring a youthful, unaffected style to their roles. Chita Rivera is a ball of fire as Anita, and Mickey Calin (later Michael Callan) sounds equally sexy as Riff. Reri Grist sings a lovely “Somewhere,” and Marilyn Cooper makes a notable contribution to the “America” number. Nearly an hour’s worth of material was laid down in the studio, making this one of the longest Broadway cast albums of its day, the better to document the superb score as performed by the original company; among the few significant sections missing are the “Blues” and “Promenade” sections of the Dance at the Gym. The bravura playing of the orchestra, conducted by Max Goberman, is captured in excellent early stereo sound. — Michael Portantiere

London/British Tour and Studio Casts, 1959-1966 (Various Labels) 3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5) A note from Christopher Hamilton: “The Original London Cast Recording of West Side Story was only an EP with four songs — ‘Maria,’ ‘Tonight,’ ‘I Feel Pretty’ and ‘One Hand, One Heart’ — sung by Don McKay and Marlys Watters. It was released in 1959. In 1961, a studio cast recording was released, conducted by Lawrence Leonard, who was the MD [musical director] on the original London production. The album featured George Chakiris (Riff) singing ‘Cool.’ In 1966, another studio cast recording was released featuring David Holliday (Tony), Jill Martin (Maria), Mary Preston (Anita), and Tony Adams (Riff). These performers had all played the roles in the West End or on tour. This recording was conducted by Alyn Ainsworth.” As heard in a historically valuable compilation presented on YouTube by Hamilton, the overall quality level of these rare recordings is quite high. Particularly enjoyable tracks include Holliday’s “Something’s Coming” and Chakiris’s “Cool.” (Chakiris won acclaim and an Academy Award for his performance as Bernardo in the film of West Side Story, so it’s a lot of fun to hear him sing one of Riff’s songs.) Watters and McKay do a beautiful job with the “Tonight” duet and “One Hand, One Heart”; her high soprano notes are fuller than Carol Lawrence’s, and some listeners will find his vocal tone more pleasing than Larry Kert’s. On the minus side, McKay’s “Maria” is marred by a too-slow tempo and his flattening of some of the rhythms.  It’s interesting to note that, as was the case with the OBCR, the tempi for many of these recordings — especially the dance numbers — are very fast, no doubt to help fit more material onto the vinyl LPs of the day. [Note: The image included with this review is of the LP cover of the 1961 recording.] — M.P.

WSS-movieFilm Soundtrack, 1961 (Columbia/Sony) 5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5) The ubiquitous movie vocal double Marni Nixon here sings Maria’s music in lieu of the film’s star, Natalie Wood, and her performance points up one of the challenges in casting West Side Story: If you find performers who can fulfill the musical requirements of this difficult score, they  probably won’t be entirely convincing as New York City street kids. Nixon’s opera-quality lyric soprano is not exactly that of a teenage Nuyorican girl, but her voice is very beautiful in itself, and the matching of her singing to Wood’s speech is skillfully done in the movie. Jim Bryant, dubbing for Richard Beymer, has a less “legit” sound, but he does an overall admirable job with Tony’s vocals, despite the fact that he often seems to be singing below his ideal range because the original keys of many of the songs were dropped for the film medium. Sharing Anita’s musical moments, Rita Moreno and dubber Betty Wand both do very well, and there is no disconnect between their voices. An intriguing fact of the recording is that, while Russ Tamblyn sings for himself in “Gee, Officer Krupke,” he’s dubbed by fellow cast member Tucker Smith for the “Jet Song.” Since Smith does his own singing in “Cool,” that means he’s actually heard on the soundtrack as two different characters. To make things even more interesting, Nixon sings Anita’s part in the latter part of the “Quintet,” presumably because it was too high for Wand or Moreno. Happily, the movie and this recording feature what are more or less the original theater orchestrations by Bernstein, Sid Ramin, and Irwin Kostal, beefed-up for a much larger orchestra conducted by Johnny Green. The “expanded” edition of the soundtrack album includes dialogue and music taken directly from the film. Though it’s great to have this extra material, including a thrilling orchestral performance of the “Mambo,” the sound quality of the added sections is noticeably different from that of the tracks taken from the original soundtrack album master, and the switching from one to the other is a bit disconcerting. — M.P.

WSS-DGStudio Cast, 1985 (Deutsche Grammophon) 0 stars; not recommended. A near-total disaster, preserved for posterity in the form of this album and also in a gasp-inducing film documentary of the studio sessions. It was a great idea (in theory) to have Leonard Bernstein conduct a full recording of the West Side Story score, but a horrendous idea to cast all of the major roles with opera singers. While José Carreras’s tenor sounds gorgeous here, his thick Latino accent makes him ridiculous in the role from a dramatic standpoint. This wouldn’t be a problem in terms of enjoying the performance on a purely musical level, but Carreras also seems uncomfortable with the more “pop” elements of the score — for example, the syncopations in “Something’s Coming.” Although the late, great operatic mezzo Tatiana Troyanos was duly praised for her performances in works by Bizet, Mozart, et al., she is an overripe Anita, while the talented baritone Kurt OIlman creates a sound more appropriate for Don Giovanni than for Riff. Kiri Te Kanawa as Maria fares best among the principals, but still, she sounds too mature and self-possessed to be credible as a very young, innocent, Puerto Rican girl. Even Bernstein’s conducting is a disappointment; there are wonderful moments, but also some extremely odd tempi. For example, both “One Hand, One Heart” and “I Feel Pretty” are way too slow by any reasonable measure. The one major plus of the project is star mezzo soprano Marilyn Horne’s gorgeous and moving rendition of”Somewhere.” — M.P.

WSS-JAYLondon/Studio Cast, 1993 (JAY, 2CDs) 2 out of 5 stars (2 / 5) According to a note in the accompanying booklet, “This recording is inspired by the Leicester Haymarket Theatre production which opened on November 20, 1992.” It’s a complete recording of the score with many nice features but a few flaws so major that they damage the overall experience. The tempi set by conductor John Owen Edwards are much closer to ideal than those often found in a British performance of an American musical; one exception is “I Feel Pretty,” which is far too slow, Edwards here following the bad example set by composer Leonard Bernstein himself on the Deutsche Grammophon recording reviewed above. The brilliant West Side Story score, in its original orchestrations by Bernstein, Sid Ramin, and Irwin Kostal, is for the most part magnificently played by the National Symphony Orchestra under Edwards’ leadership. Also, the sound quality of the recording is superb, its dynamic range allowing for many exciting musical moments. As for the singers, Tinuke Olafimihan is a lovely Maria, and Caroline O’Connor is very good as Anita despite her tendency to growl a little too often. Another plus is Sally Burgess’s beautiful rendition of “Somewhere.” But Paul Manuel’s voice is so thin that it’s hard to understand how he could ever have been cast as Tony. A further problem is Manuel’s inability to disguise his English accent; the same can be said for all of the “Jets” on this recording, and it sure is disorienting to hear New York street toughs sounding as if they were born and bred in Great Britain, as compared to the far more skillful accent work heard on the previous British recordings reviewed above. — M.P.

WSS-Michael-BallStudio Cast, 1993 (Pickwick/Warner Classics) 0 stars; not recommended. This recording features West End musical star Michael Ball and the acclaimed American operatic soprano Barbara Bonney as Tony and Maria, with LaVerne Williams as Anita and Christopher Howard as Riff. (In a major oversight, the “Somewhere” soloist is not identified. It sounds like it could be Bonney, but who knows?) The principals are backed by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus, conducted by Barry Wordsworth. But if any of that sounds good to you, please think twice. While Ball possesses a strong and attractive vocal instrument, his singing is severely marred by weird inflections, exaggerations, and enunciations. For example, when he sings “Tonight there will be no morning star,” the last word sounds like “staa-huh-EHHHH.” The tastelessness of Ball’s singing is exacerbated by his failed attempt to sound like a New York teenager; instead, he comes across as a Brit affecting the mannerisms of a Las Vegas lounge singer. The performance of Williams, a mezzo with a cavernous register break, is equally problematic, her Anita almost seeming to have been created for a comedy sketch about opera singers ruining great musicals. Howard and the other Jets are less objectionable, though their attempts to hide their British accents are more amusing than successful. Bonney, with her sweet but strong vocal tone, is the best of the leads by far. As for the orchestral cuts on this album, the prologue is lethargic, and each section of the “Dance at the Gym” sequence is either a little too fast or a little too slow.  — M.P.

WSS-NaxosStudio Cast, 2001 (Naxos) 2 out of 5 stars (2 / 5) This is billed as a recording of “the original score” of West Side Story, whatever that means. All sections of the “Dance at the Gym” are included — except for the lovely “cha-cha” setting of “Maria” that accompanies Tony and Maria’s love-at-first-sight scene. The version of “America” heard here is sung by the Sharks and their women, as in the 1961 film, but the lyrics are a mixture of those used in the stage show and the movie. (Apparently, the original concept of the number in the Broadway production was that it would be performed by the Shark men as well as their girlfriends, but during rehearsals, a decision was made to feature the women only.) Mike Eldred acquits himself best among the leads; in fact, his ardent, youthful tenor makes him one of the best Tonys on records, despite some mildly intrusive pop mannerisms. Betsi Morrison as Maria is less consistent, sounding rather insipid at times but coming through in the clutch, as in the “Tonight” quintet. Similarly, Michelle Prentice calls to mind a breathy pop singer in the opening phrases of “Somewhere,” but she handles the song’s climaxes well. Robert Dean offers a paradoxical Riff, his burly vocal tone undercut by sibilant esses. As captured in thrilling digital sound, the Nashville Symphony Orchestra sounds great playing the score, even if some of Kenneth Schernerhorn’s conducting is a little sluggish. — M.P.

WSS-GrigoloStudio Cast,  2007 (Decca Broadway) 2 out of 5 stars (2 / 5) The shining star of this recording is the Italian operatic tenor Vittorio Grigolo, who gives a gorgeously sung, heartfelt, idiomatically persuasive performance as Tony.  In all honestly, Grigolo’s Italian accent is nearly as thick as José Carreras’s Spanish one,  but somehow this unsuitability for the character doesn’t rankle nearly as much here — partly because Grigolo sounds captivatingly youthful despite the maturity of his “legit” sound, and he seems much more at home with the score on a stylistic level.  Also, he’s smart and sensitive enough to sing softly and lyrically when called for (as in “One Hand, One Heart”) without ever sounding like he’s crooning or condescending to the music. In contrast, the very thin and “white” sound of Hayley Westenra’s voice in the role of Maria is not offset by her vocal acting, which is also pallid in terms of emotion. Especially in her higher register, she sounds so wispy that one can only wonder why she was tapped for this assignment, regardless of whatever name value she may have possessed at the time. Melanie Marshall doesn’t successfully solve the belt-or-head-voice issues presented by Anita’s music, and Connie Fisher sings the achingly beautiful “Somewhere” with too much of a pop-song approach. But Will Martin is one of the best Riffs on record, a couple of obviously Brit pronunciations aside; and the Jets sound convincingly American, including Loren Geeting as Action, who does a fine job with the comedy of “Gee, Officer Krupke.”  Nick Ingman conducts the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic with snap in some sections of the score, too slowly in others. But Grigolo’s performance makes this is a must-have recording despite its flaws, and earns it a higher star rating than it would have received otherwise.  — M.P.

WSS-Broadway revivalBroadway Cast, 2009 (Masterworks Broadway) 0 stars; not recommended. Here, for what it’s worth, is an audio memento of a misguided 2009 Broadway revival of  West Side Story.  While the production itself was primarily sunk by the willfully odd direction of the show’s book writer, Arthur Laurents, the cast album is more specifically undone by the musical direction and conducting of the normally reliable Patrick Vaccariello. His reading of the score begins with a loose performance of the orchestral “Prologue,” and things don’t get much better thereafter; “The Rumble” is conducted stolidly, and Vaccariello drags the tempi for many of the vocal numbers. Among the singers, the female leads come across best: Josefina Scaglione’s sweet yet strong soprano is right for Maria, and Tony Award winner Karen Olivo is alternately sexy, funny, and ferocious as Anita. Matt Cavenaugh sings prettily if somewhat nasally as Tony, but he takes many liberties in terms of musical phrasing, and his delivery of the spoken dialogue included on the recording is extremely stiff. Cavenaugh also stumbles in his far-from-credible New York accent — as does Cody Green, whose intentional mispronunciation of the “r” consonant makes his Riff sound like he requires the services of a speech therapist. When this production opened, much was made of the decision to have Lin-Manuel Miranda (composer/lyricist of Broadway’s In the Heights and, later, Hamilton) translate some of Stephen Sondheim’s lyrics to be sung in Spanish by the Puerto Rican characters, in order to emphasize the clash of cultures that bears significantly on the show’s plot. This might have seemed like a good idea in theory, but in practice, it didn’t work — certainly not in those sections of the “Quintet” version of “Tonight” when the Jets and Sharks, respectively, sing in English and Spanish at the same time. (Most of the Spanish lyrics were eliminated from this production as the run continued, but not before they were recorded on the cast album.) All of these flaws, plus the unwise choices to have a boy soprano sing “Somewhere” and to throw a silly vocal competition into “I Feel Pretty” (sung in Spanish as “Me Siento Hermosa”), make this a highly unsatisfying addition to the West Side Story discography, so much so that it’s not recommended for listening despite its few pluses. — M.P.

WSS-SFSan Francisco Symphony Concert Cast, 2014 (S.F. Symphony, 2CDs) 4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5) This is an honorable, limited-edition recording of the West Side Story score. Alexandra Silber is generally very fine as Maria, even if she occasionally phrases too freely and distorts some of the written note values. As Tony, Cheyenne Jackson displays an innately beautiful baritenor and excellent musical theater instincts, yet he has a distracting habit of obviously manipulating or “placing” his voice differently for various passages of the score; sometimes he sounds a little throaty, sometimes a bit nasal, sometimes just right. Kevin Vortmann, who has shone in other roles, comes across as rather too “legit” in sound for Riff, and when the Jets and Sharks are singing as a group, they sound more like a large-size concert chorus of trained voices (which they are) than a small band of street toughs. But Jessica Vosk is definitely among the top-tier Anitas, and Julia Bullock sings “Somewhere” gorgeously. The score is presented note-complete and is well conducted overall by Michael Tilson Thomas, even if he sometimes indulges in the penchant of some classical music conductors to set too-slow tempi in WSS. (“I Have a Love” and the opening section of “America” are two examples.) Quite a bit of dialogue is included here, some lines delivered more persuasively than others. The state-of-the-art sound of the recording is spectacular. — M.P.

Film Soundtrack, 2021 (Hollywood Records) 4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5) Steven Spielberg’s and Tony Kushner’s reimagining of West Side Story for a motion picture remake is near miraculous in its overall excellence, and the soundtrack album is one of the best recordings of the classic Bernstein/Sondheim score. Gustavo Dudamel expertly and passionately leads the New York Philharmonic (and, for a few passages, the Los Angeles Philharmonic) in a new adaptation of the score that largely preserves the incomparable original arrangements and orchestrations. In the role of Maria, Rachel Zegler displays a lovely voice and is far more natural-sounding that some previously recorded exponents of the role, complete with what strikes this listener’s ears as an accurate Puerto Rican accent. Opposite her as Tony, Ansel Elgort also sings beautifully and persuasively, and both he and Zegler are 100 percent vocally credible as teenagers. Ariana DeBose is strong, sexy, and deeply moving by turns as Anita; David Alvarez impresses in his brief musical moments as Bernardo; and the actors who solo in “Gee, Officer Krupke” (Kevin Csolak, John Michael Fiumara, Jess LeProtto, Ben Cook, Kyle Allen, Myles Erlick, Patrick Higgins) offer vivid vocal characterizations. As Riff, Mike Faist brings to the “Jet Song” a sound as lean and mean as his striking appearance in the film. (Faist is also heard briefly in the “Tonight” ensemble and in “Cool,” but the bulk of the latter song has been given to Elgort as Tony; nor is Faist heard at all in “Gee, Officer Krupke,” as his character has been removed from that number, for some reason.) In the new role of Valentina, Doc’s widow, Rita Moreno — who won an Academy Award for her performance as Anita in the first big-screen version of West Side Story — offers a heartbreaking rendition of “Somewhere.” If the 2021 film itself has any flaws, they may be found in the overwriting of some of the new dialogue that Kushner created for the screenplay, but since very little of that is heard here, the soundtrack album is thoroughly enjoyable as an aural document of a superlative cinematic achievement, presented in state-of-the-art recorded sound. — M.P.