CD Reviews - 2005
by John Kenrick
- All Shook Up - Original Broadway Cast
- Barbara Brussell - Lerner In Love
- Finian's Rainbow - Irish Rep Cast 2004
- The Light In The Piazza - Original Broadway Cast
- Little Women - Original Broadway Cast
- Ka - Cirque Du Soliel
- Monty Python's Spamalot - Original Broadway Cast
- The New Moon - Encores! Concert Cast
- The Phantom of the Opera - Soundtrack
- The Producers - Soundtrack
All Shook Up - Sony/BMG
As a rule, "Jukebox musicals" are not my thing. But this extremely well-produced CD offers something we don't get on cast recordings much anymore -- genuine, lighthearted fun, and an abundance of it! Nothing will ever replace Elvis Presley's classic renditions of these songs, but it is a surprise treat to hear these fresh interpretations. Some gifted newcomers (most notably the drop dead gorgeous Cheyenne Jackson) are teamed up with beloved Broadway veterans Jonathan Hadary and Alix Korey, turning this Elvis-fest into a kickin' good time.
Barbara Brussell - Lerner in Love
Fellow fans of Alan Jay Lerner are in for some rich listening with this handsomely produced CD. Fresh, intimate arrangements and Brussell's warm, sensative vocals let more than two dozen Lerner lyrics shine out in all their glory. Along with familiar standards are some delicious rarities, such as "You Haven't Changed at All," a personal favorite from The Day Before Spring. Brussell gives lyrics and music equal attention, making this one of the most enjoyable cabaret recordings in recent years. Kudos to pianist Tedd Firth, producer/arranger Todd Schroeder and executive producer Frank Skillern for such a classy presentation -- and to Ms. Brussell for such a worthy tribute to a master Broadway lyricist and his gifted composing colleagues.
Finian's Rainbow - Irish Rep Cast 2004
What a "grand-ish" delight! A cast of Broadway veterans makes this my nominee for the finest recording this classic Burton Lane-Yip Harburg score has ever received. Melissa Errico is pure heaven as Sharon, making "Look to the Rainbow" and "How Are Things in Glocca Morra?" shimmer with enchantment. Malcolm Gets steals everything in sight as the leprechaun Og, but kudos also go to Max Von Essen, Jonathan Freeman, Terri White and a uniformly delicious ensemble. Mark Hartman's intimate arrangement and sensitive musical direction crown it all. I found myself wiping away tears of joy listening to this recording, which I heartily recommend to all fellow-lovers of this brilliant musical.
The Light In The Piazza - Nonesuch
It has been nine years since the off-Broadway musical Floyd Collins made composer-lyricist Adam Guettel one of the most promising talents in the business. That promise is at long last fulfilled with his sophisticated score for The Light In the Piazza, which teeters somewhere between the lush operatic sound of Puccini and the contemporary inventiveness of Sondheim. Few of these demanding melodies could be called catchy and humor is in rather short supply, but it is no wonder this impressive, literate score has so many vocal admirers. Gorgeous orchestrations, and heartfelt performances make this handsomely produced recording a particular treat. Victoria Clark is a revelation as a woman trying to facilitate a love match for her emotionally challenged daughter, and Kelli O'Hara offers some ravishing singing as the troubled daughter. Some have complained about the heavy used of Italian lyrics in the score, but my only complaint is that the golden-voiced Matthew Morrison has no idea how to pronounce the language -- couldn't he have picked up a Berlitz tape? It will be fascinating to see what sort of post-Broadway life this musical achieves.
Little Women - Ghostlight Records
Let me preface this by saying that I love Maureen McGovern. That said, how dare they make such a needless waste of such a marvelous talent. Adapting a classic for the stage requires imagination and musical variety, and both are in painfully short supply here. Sutton Foster tries her darndest to inject some life into this dull score, but a gifted cast and top notch audio production (kudos to the Ghostlight team) cannot make up for such pretentious writing. Ballad after ballad after ballad . . .even the few "up" songs teeter on the brink of ballad. Enough already! This is one project that would never have made it to Broadway in a happier time -- certainly not with this meager excuse for a score.
Ka - Cirque Du Soliel
Over the years, Cirque du Soliel has redefined the way Americans think of circuses, restoring some much needed luster to this old art form. Along with a new sense of visual spectacle, Cirque has also elevated its musical accompaniment to a par with sophisticated film soundtracks. Ka, their latest Las Vegas incarnation, has a varied and dramatic score courtesy of frequent Cirque composer Rene Dupere and Hollywood musical director Simon Leclerc. As before, the lyrics are in a synthetic language (except for two bonus tracks in English) leaving the music to hold forth with varying bursts of drama, whimsy, or what have you. Fans of the franchise are going to relish every track.
The New Moon - Ghostlight Records
What a spectacular delight! A cast of Broadway veterans (and one amazing operatic ringer) is unleashed on a vintage score, and the result is track after track of aural magic. Romberg's and Hammerstein's songs soar, exploding with romance and swashbuckling bravado. Opera hunk Rodney Gilfrey proves a first rate musical actor in the lead. His "Stouthearted Men" has me sold, and his duets with the divine Christiane Noll are something to really cheer about -- their "Wanting You" is ravishing. Brandon Jovanovich sounds like he just beamed in from Broadway's golden age -- his "Softly As In a Morning Sunrise" is a total wow. The supporting cast is uniformly excellent, with such reliable pros as Alix Korey and Burke Moses among the standouts. As always, Rob Fisher provides flawless musical direction, turning this into a nifty musical time capsule. God bless Ghostlight Records for bringing the City Center Encores concert series back onto CD with such a superbly produced recording.
Monty Python's Spamalot - Decca Broadway
Talk about amateur night! Eric Idle and John Du Perez are both totally clueless as to how to write showtunes. The result is the sort of material that used to barely pass muster in a senior class revue. Each song takes one minor joke and pounds it to death. This is what happens when you let people dabble in an art form they know nothing about. As a longtime Python fan, I could not be more disappointed. An amazingly gifted cast is left making the best of a bad deal, offering recycled versions of gags the original Pythons concocted decades ago. The strongest number track has David Hyde Pierce explaining "You Won't Succeed On Broadway (If You Don't Have Any Jews)" -- which is funny, until it is reworked more than a dozen different ways. (Oy!) This is sophomoric nonsense. Handsomely recorded and packaged, but all to no avail. Shame on the critics and Tony voters who praised this tripe!
The Phantom of the Opera - Sony
If you liked the stage version, you may enjoy this too. For my money, what seemed pretentious live is downright ridiculous on film. The leads are not particularly gifted, so this soundtrack is almost like listening to a touring or regional cast -- quite professional and even pretty at times, but mostly an anonymous rehash of what you've already heard on the original cast recording . Even the delightful Minnie Driver cannot breathe much life into the tepid interpolated solo "Learn to Be Lonely."
The Producers - (Soundtrack) Sony Classical
The weaknesses that Tony voters blithely overlooked became painfully obvious in this uneven screen version -- but the best of the film's musical moments are captured handsomely on this fine CD release. The Mel Brooks score gets polished (if somewhat flat) performances from original stage stars Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick -- and the expanded "Springtime for Hitler" is a hoot! However, the ill-cast Will Farrell would not pass muster in a high school staging, and his performance seems even weaker without the slapstick visuals. Otherwise, a worthwhile addition to any soundtrack collection.