Cast Albums Blog
REVIEW: The Jonathan Larson Project
I'm not going to pretend that any review is at all objective, but even so, it's hard to even pretend an objectivity when it comes to The Jonathan Larson Project. The original cast recording of Rent came out the week I started college, and no matter how old and cynical I get, Jonathan Larson's music has an indelible hold on my heart. Those of us who were blown away in real time when his unique voice burst through into the mainstream faced crushing disappointment when we realized near simultaneously that we weren't going to get to hear more from him.
That turned out not to be entirely true. We got a Tick, Tick... Boom! cast recording in 2001 and Jonathan Sings Larson in 2007, but nothing more in over a decade. Well, that's not entirely true. In 2014, Encores! Off-Center presented a brief revival of Tick, Tick... Boom! As part of their Lobby Project, which presents free musicals events in City Center's mezzanine lobby in advance of certain Off-Center performances, producer Jennifer Ashley Tepper presented a handful of unknown Larson tunes. That event served as the seed that eventually grew (thanks in part to Tepper immersing herself in Larson's papers at the Library of Congress) to a series of concerts at Feinstein's/54 Below, which has now been preserved in the studio and served to us as this album.
REVIEW: Lullabies of Broadway, Act II -- Mimi Bessette
Do you remember the state of "personality albums" circa 1990? It would not be an overstatement to call that the Dark Ages, falling between the period when Broadway stars were big enough celebrities that their names alone could sell records to the general public and the renaissance that began in 1993 when Bruce Kimmel launched the Varèse Sarabande Spotlight Series with Liz Callaway's Anywhere I Wander. And yet, at a time when few singers and even fewer record companies were making these albums, Warner Brothers Records put out singer Mimi Bessette's self-produced Lullabies of Broadway.
Now, nearly 30 years later, Bessette has released a follow-up, Lullabies of Broadway, Act II, this time guided by veteran cast album producer Robert Sher and released by Broadway Records. Children who grew up listening to her original album have children of their own now, and the new generation will be lucky to find themselves soothed to sleep by this new addition, which is in every way superior to the original.
REVIEW: Follies - 2018 National Theatre
A year after it was recorded, the cast album of the National Theatre’s 2017 production of Follies was finally released last week as a download, with the promise of a CD to come. Given that the production’s greatest strengths lay in the book scenes - director Dominic Cooke moved the show back towards a text that is closer to the 1971 original than the current published script, and got his cast to give an electrifying account of James Goldman’s rather heightened dialogue – a cast recording of this production, while welcome, was arguably not essential, not least because several of this production’s leads, while they gave tremendously moving performances, are (much) stronger actors than singers. Having said that, Stephen Sondheim’s score for Follies is one of the American musical theatre’s great landmarks, and a new recording is always welcome – and while it isn’t necessarily an essential purchase, those of us who loved the production, even if we had reservations about some aspects of it, have been eagerly awaiting it ever since it was announced.
REVIEW: Brigadoon - 2017 New York City Center
I should probably admit this upfront: as much as I love the score – and I really love the score – on stage, Brigadoon doesn’t do a great deal for me. I'm well aware that there are people who would probably have me arrested for saying so, but there’s something about Alan Jay Lerner’s book for the show that always feels slightly synthetic, and I am severely allergic to cutesy dancing villagers in period costumes, with or without kilts and overdone accents.
As a score, on the other hand, Brigadoon is glorious. This is some of Frederick Loewe’s loveliest music, and when it’s performed well, as it certainly is here, it is absolutely transporting, even if you usually have to look past a few dodgy ersatz-Scottish accents. The songs at the heart of this score are some of the very best you’ll find in any golden-age Broadway musical. The Love of My Life is a fine character number, Almost Like Being In Love is one of the all-time great duets, and Come To Me, Bend To Me and There But For You, Go I are simply gorgeous.
REVIEW: Lena Hall: Obsessed series
This week's release of Lena Hall Obsessed: Chris Cornell brought the conclusion of one of the most ambitious recording programs to emerge from our small corner of the music industry in recent memory: Lena Hall's yearlong series of Obsessed EPs. Each month since January, Hall has put out a four-to-six song collection of stripped down covers, with each release focused on a different band or musician drawn from Hall's favorites.
While the series launched with a six-song retrospective of numbers from Hedwig and the Angry Inch (a show for which Hall won a Tony Award as Yitzhak before embarking on a tour playing both Yitzhak as well as Hedwig at select performances), Hall kept the spotlight primarily on the world of rock. Post-January, the closet she came to covering other showtunes was the inclusion of "As The World Falls Down" and "Lazarus" in her David Bowie set. All of this is to say, Obsessed is more at home at the Troubador than Cafe Carlyle, and yes, I know Hall has previously played the Carlyle with a show (preserved as Sin & Salvation) featuring similar material.