Cast Albums Blog
REVIEW: Back to My Roots - Kate Rockwell
Kate Rockwell’s debut solo album Back to My Roots is an ode to the “Second Golden Age of Broadway,” which Rockwell defines as the 1970s-1990s. I’ll leave it to others to decide if it was such a Golden Age, but regardless, Rockwell’s album is a smooth and polished orchestrated album (a bit of throwback to Bruce Kimmel’s Fynsworth Alley solo discs), full of both well-known and lesser-recorded Broadway songs. The album shoots out of the gate with a brassy rendition of Cy Coleman’s “Hey There Good Times” from I Love My Wife. From there through the next six songs, it’s one up tempo song after another: a saucy “Bring on the Men” from the better-left-forgotten Jekyll and Hyde, a mashup of “I Know Things Now” from Into the Woods and “Now You Know” from Merrily We Roll Along, and then two numbers from Falsettos: “I’m Breaking Down” and a song typically sung by a man, “The Games I Play.” Rockwell brings panache, exuberance, and excitement to each of these tracks. Rockwell’s Falsettos numbers are followed by a duet with Ariana DeBose on “What You Don’t Know About Women” from City of Angels, before tackling the mother of all-belt songs, “Buenos Aires” from Evita. If all this sounds like an exhausting listen so far, it is. Perhaps the album should have been titled “Back to My Belt,” because while Rockwell has an astounding full gorgeous belt (Seth Rudetsky would be in heaven), the album could stand from a bit more variety or at least some better ordering of the tracks.
REVIEW: Once on This Island - 2018 Broadway Cast
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
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
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
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.