Cast Albums Blog

Author Archive:  WarrenHoffman

REVIEW: Once on This Island - 2018 Broadway Cast


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Can a cast recording be "too perfect?" That's the question I kept asking myself as I listened to the new Broadway cast recording of the 1990 Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens musical Once on this Island, now receiving its first-ever Broadway revival. The answer is an unfortunate "yes." Before I explain how I get to this unusual pronouncement, some context is in order. This might be the third cast album of Once on this Island, but there was really a need for a new recording of this score. Both the original Broadway cast album and the London cast album, while full of musical vitality and energy, are marred by some pitchy performances (the London album in particular), so much so that at least for this reviewer, despite the wonderful breakout performance of La Chanze on the original cast album, I always found a number of tracks on both recordings to be uncomfortably unlistenable.

Which brings us to the new Broadway cast recording. Produced by Broadway Records (it’s their 100th release-congrats!) and featuring a first-rate cast, led by newcomer Hailey Kilgore, the new album is technically flawless. Not a single pitchy performance in sight and full of warmth and musicality. So why then my hesitation in wholeheartedly recommending this recording? What the album has in spades: smoothness, clarity, and polish, it sadly lacks in excitement and personality. It’s unclear as to whether the performers were asked to tamp down their performances or if the album is simply mixed in a way by Elliot Scheiner that put the vocals on the same level as every drum or xylophone, but the result is an album that is "pleasant" and "nice," when it should be electrifying and musically transcendent. Because in the theater, that’s exactly what these performances are: exhilarating and rafter-raising. On stage, Hailey Kilgore is a strong, passionate Ti Moune, but her performance here doesn’t hold a candle to that of La Chanze. But again, maybe that’s not her fault.


REVIEW: The Band's Visit -- Original Broadway Cast


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In the entrancing new musical The Band’s Visit by composer/lyricist David Yazbek and librettist Itamar Moses, Dina, the owner of a local Israeli café, sings about musician Umm Kulthum and film star Omar Sharif who, via Egyptian movies, “came floating on a jasmine wind/From the west, from the south/Honey in my ears/Spice in my mouth/Dark and thrilling/Strange and sweet.” Such lush lyrics, evocative and exotic, also perfectly describe the score of this gorgeously understated musical about an Egyptian military band that takes a wrong turn and ends up in the Podunk Israeli town of Bet Hatikvah for the night.


REVIEW: Hamlisch Uncovered


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When composer Marvin Hamlisch passed away at age 68, he had already achieved a remarkable career, including being an EGOT winner, that would be the envy of almost any artist. Listening to Hamlisch Uncovered, a collection of lesser-known and cut songs from the composer leaves one, though, with a real sense of loss. If only Hamlisch had lived longer, what else would he have produced? Hamlisch is, of course, best known as the Tony Award-winning composer of A Chorus Line and while Hamlisch's career continued long past the 1974 work, with perhaps the exception of They're Playing Our Song, he never really had a hit on the scale of A Chorus Line. Hamlisch was hardly resting on his laurels though. From serving as conductor for Barbra Streisand to writing for film (he wrote "The Way We Were" and "Nobody Does It Better") Hamlisch was always at work on one project or another. But Broadway was probably where Hamlisch was most at home and in the years following A Chorus Line he produced a number of scores that while chock full of melody and heart, never brought commercial success, most only running for a few months on Broadway.


REVIEW: Bubble Boy - Studio Cast


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Most albums that we get to review here at Castalbums.org are preservations of major Broadway productions, shows that many of us have gotten to see. It's a nice treat then to be given the recording of Bubble Boy -- a little known musical with a loopy premise -- without any sense of how it plays on stage, for a listen. Based on the 2001 film starring a young Jake Gyllenhaal, the show tells the improbable story of Jimmy Livingston, an autoimmune-deficient young man who has been forced to live his life in a plastic bubble. In more serious hands, this would be the stuff of Dear Evan Hansen teen-angst, but this wacky musical, fashioned by original screenwriters Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio, is a laugh-out-loud romp. The story, which isn't too hard to follow from the songs (and there are a whopping 23 numbers on the album including reprises), follows a fairly well-worn formula: Boy (in a bubble) meets Girl (not in a bubble), Boy (in a bubble) and Girl fall in love. Girl falls for another Boy (not in a bubble). Boy (in a bubble) goes on a journey to stop Girl from marrying Boy #2. Suffice it to say a tidy ending wraps everything up.


REVIEW: Falsettos - 2016 Broadway Cast


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It seems hard to believe that the 1992 Tony Award-winning musical Falsettos by William Finn is only now getting a complete cast recording. Beloved by musical theater fans, this sung-through show full of Finn’s idiosyncratic melodies and gorgeous ballads follows the story of Marvin as he leaves his wife Trina and son Jason to be with his male lover Whizzer. Hysterically funny one minute and gut-wrenchingly devastating the next, Falsettos painted a picture of gay Jewish life and atypical family arrangements that continue to resonate today, if not more so, in the age of Modern Family.