Cast Albums Blog

Author Archive:  itsdlevy

REVIEW: The Man in the Moon - Original Cast

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As they were making final tweaks to She Loves Me prior to its initial Broadway bow in 1963, Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick had another show on the main stem just a couple block away. The songwriting team, who already had a Best Musical Tony and a Pulitzer Prize to their name, lent their talents to a Broadway puppet show created by Bill and Cora Baird, perhaps the best-known puppeteers of the pre-Henson age. (Even if you don’t recognize their names, their work will surely look familiar even today, if only from the “Lonely Goatherd” number in the film version of The Sound of Music.)

The Man in the Moon formed the first act of a special, limited production presented by the Bairds at the Biltmore for 22 performances. Golden Records, purveyor of children’s records, released an original cast recording featuring dialogue, narration, and songs, capturing the voice performances of the Bairds along with a cast including Frank Sullivan, Franz Fazakas, Margery Gray, Gerald Freedman, Eric Carlson, and Rose Marie Jun. Although fondly remembered by those young enough to have been in the target audience for the album’s initial release, it has otherwise largely been forgotten.

REVIEW: ...and then I wrote THE MUSIC MAN

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England's Stage Door records continues its delightful Collector's Series with the first CD release of "...and then I wrote THE MUSIC MAN," the 1959 Capitol album featuring composer Meredith Willson and his wife Rini singing the hit score while Mr. Willson provides piano accompaniment and running narration. If you ever wanted to be a fly in the wall at a golden age backers' audition, find yourself a small, crowded New York apartment and play this disc; you'll find it's a perfect simulation.

While this album will never be anyone's go-to version of The Music Man, both Willson sing considerably better than the average musical theater writer you're likely to hear in similar circumstances. Mrs. Willson's Russian accent adds no small amount of charm to a score meant to convey small-town, midwestern America, but it's nothing compared to what her clear, straightforward soprano brings to the table.

REVIEW: State Fair - Original 1962 Film Soundtrack

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For years, the 1962 remake of State Fair was considered the worst film in the Rodgers & Hammerstein canon, and were it not for the 1998 animated atrocity committed upon The King and I, it might still hold the title. Yet despite its many shortcomings, chiefly that it's slow and bloated, it produced an enjoyable soundtrack notable not only for performances by Ann-Margret, Bobby Darin, Alice Faye, and Pat Boone, but also for the couple of new songs Rodgers (post-Hammerstein) added to the score. Now, Stage Door Records has given the original soundtrack album its first CD issue as part of their limited edition Collector's Series, so Rodgers & Hammerstein devotees should act quickly before the edition sells out.

REVIEW: New solo discs from Cheyenne Jackson and Jose Llana

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This summer, two of Broadway's leading men released new recital discs capturing studio versions of recent concert set lists: Jose Llana's Altitude, based on his Lincoln Center American Songbook concert of last year, and Cheyenne Jackson's Renaissance, adapted from the "Music of the Mad Men Era" pops concert he's performed with a number of different orchestras.

Llana's album is largely a career retrospective, featuring songs from On the Town, Saturn Returns (aka Myths and Hymns), The King and I, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, and Here Lies Love, with a few additional songs from both Broadway and the world of pop. The songs from On the Town ("Lonely Town") and Saturn Returns ("Icarus," "Hero and Leander," and the title number) are particularly welcome, as neither production resulted in original cast albums and the material highlights what Llana does best: sensitive singing right at the border of art song and pop.

The King and I numbers suffer the most from the cabaret-sized band (piano, bass, drums, guitar, and woodwinds), with his medley of "We Kiss in a Shadow / I Have Dreamed" sounding particularly square coming after two Saturn Returns numbers. (This transition was smoother on stage, which benefitted from applause and patter to break up the numbers.) The inclusion of "A Puzzlement," which he sang during his two terms as a replacement King in the recent Lincoln Center revival, is a nice idea but it similarly falls flat.

The Here Lies Love numbers are better served by the band, and it's a particular treat to hear Llana sing "Child of the Philippines" (which belonged to his character's rival, played by Conrad Ricamora, in the show) with guest star (and co-star from both Here Lies Love and The King and I) Ruthie Ann Miles. Pop songs from the catalogs of Ed Sheeran ("Thinking Out Loud") and Billy Joel ("Lullabye (Goodnight, My Angel)") fit comfortably in with the show tunes, and "She Is More" from AnnMarie Milazzo's stage version of Pretty Dead Girl will send you Googling for more information about this work-in-progress.

align=left With Cheyenne Jackson's matinee idol looks and confident baritone, it was only a matter of time before he dove deep into the pre-rock and roll music of the 1950s. With Renaissance, he proves all our suspicions true, definitively demonstrating that should the Rat Pack reform tomorrow, he should be first in line. Beginning with a boldly stated "Feeling Good," you would never know these beefy orchestrations were actually reduced (quite skillfully, by John Baxindine) from the symphonic charts Jackson used on tour. Of course, reduced is a relative term, and the 22 pieces here sound fantastic.

The front half of the album stays firmly in the swing lane, mixing vintage hits with the more recent "Americano" (from the Brian Setzer Orchestra's 2000 swing revival album Vavoom!). Jackson is joined by a close harmony trio on the smokey "Angel Eyes" and the playful "Walkin' My Baby Back Home," and his costar from 30 Rock, Jane Krakowski, makes a fine (and appropriately subdued) partner on "Somethin' Stupid."

Halfway through the album, where "Side B" would start had this been a genuine product of the era it celebrates, the tone takes a turn away from the era with Joni Mitchell's "A Case of You." Jackson sings the number well, accompanied by Ted Firth on piano, but it jars as an interloper from another period. Unfortunately, it marks a turn as the rest of the album focuses on 1970s pop and soul (with one jump back to the 50s and one new tune penned by Jackson and Michael Feinstein). While it's hard to complain about any particular track or performance, because they are all lovely in the aggregate, the shift in tone is palpable and uneasy. It feels curmudgeonly to be disappointed that we didn't get a full disc of "Mad Men Era" tunes (and then another disc of 70's music), but the failure to cohere after such a strong start diminishes the collective result.

REVIEW: Paint Your Wagon - Encores! Cast Recording

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Paint Your Wagon is exactly the kind of show Encores does best. It was an early effort by one of Broadway's most successful songwriting teams (Lerner & Loewe), working in an explicitly American idiom (gold-rush Americana). The show was a moderate success, but the cast album was severely truncated. The film bore little resemblance to the show, nor was it very good. So despite a couple of hit songs ("I Talk to the Trees" and "They Call the Wind Maria"), the show more or less faded into obscurity.

When the curtain rose at City Center in March, 2015 to a gloriously large orchestra (44 musicians!) playing a pulsing overture that immediately evoked the American west, audiences knew they were in for a treat. With a trio of perfectly cast leads -- Keith Carradine as old miner Ben Rumson, Alexandra Socha as his daughter Jennifer, and Justin Guarini as the love interest Julio -- songs familiar and surprising sprang to life.