Cast Albums Blog
REVIEW: Jason Robert Brown: How We React and How We Recover
Many of us first fell in love with Jason Robert Brown's music through the cast recording of his first show, the revue Songs for a New World. His ability to create entire worlds through words and music, telling complete stories in three-minute chunks, lent itself extraordinarily well to cast recordings and concerts -- as the concert revival of the show now playing at New York City Center is demonstrating to a new generation.
It's fitting that Brown has followed a bit of the singer-songwriter path with frequent concert appearances (including a cabaret residency at Subculture) and the occasional album. That How We React and How We Recover, his first studio album since 2005 (with a 2011 concert album in between), drops the same weekend as the Songs revival invites comparison, although given the subjects treated in both that comparison is inevitable: if Songs is about turning-point moments in one's life (often filtered through the somewhat wide-eyed optimism of a writer in his 20s), React/Recover is about the turning point moment we all find ourselves in at this moment in history, filtered through the eyes of a writer in his 40s trying to reclaim the optimism of his youth.
REVIEW: Hello Again - Soundtrack
When RCA released the cast album of Lincoln Center's production of Hello Again in 1994, they introduced a bold new voice of the American musical theatre to the world: Michael John LaChiusa. While savvy New Yorkers had already encountered his complex, challenging work in First Lady Suite, that score had gone unrecorded at the time. I remember not quite knowing what to make of the score; I was a teenager who had little to no experience with the subject matter, but I could tell this was the first composer to make a case that the post-Sondheim generation could keep pushing the form in the ways he had without becoming pale imitations of the master.
Over the next few years, with the premiere of Adam Guettel's Floyd Collins in 1996 and especially with Audra McDonald's debut solo disc in 2000, it became clear that LaChiusa was on the vanguard of an entire school of composers straddling the worlds of musical theatre and art song/chamber opera. McDonald's inclusion of two songs from the score ("Tom" and "Mistress of the Senator") on How Glory Goes (which drew its name from a Floyd Collins ballad) was the first time I (and I suspect many others) could appreciate the component parts of Hello Again as stand-alone songs, and genius ones at that. That album came in the same six-month period that LaChiusa debuted two new musicals on Broadway (The Wild Party and Marie Christine, a vehicle for McDonald), and his place in musical theatre was solidified.
While LaChiusa has never achieved mainstream success, his music has been debated and prized by connoisseurs of sophisticated musical theatre for more than two decades. And yet despite this -- or perhaps because of it -- when a film version of Hello Again was announced, it was met with disbelief. But here we are in 2018 with an honest-to-God film version of Hello Again that played short arthouse engagements and has now produced a soundtrack.
REVIEW: Pat Suzuki - Complete Album Series & Singles and Rarities 1958–1967
Had Pat Suzuki only ever appeared in Flower Drum Song, her knock-out performance of Rodgers & Hammerstein's "I Enjoy Being A Girl" would have secured her place in musical theater history. How lucky we are, though, that she also had a lengthy, if somewhat forgotten, career as a recording artist. And how lucky we are that Stage Door Records is releasing two collections of her studio work: Complete Album Series (out next week) and Singles and Rarities 1958-1967, out now.
REVIEW: Jesus Christ Superstar: Live in Concert - Original Soundtrack of the NBC Television Event
Few scores have been recorded as many times in as many different interpretations as Jesus Christ Superstar. Perhaps owing to its origins first as a concept album, then as a concert tour, and then as a world-wide stage musical phenomenon (with each country's production independently envisioned by its own production team) and film (created simultaneously with and distinct from the stage version), this score has never had a standard mold into which subsequent renditions must fit. Further, the recent NBC "television event" is at least the fifth English-language video production of the material, so there was no pressure to preserve a "definitive" rendition.
The result was received fairly rapturously on television, with two major, near-universal caveats: the sound mix on the live broadcast was less than ideal, and the noisy audience was intrusive. (Yes, yes, there was also some disagreement about whether John Legend's less screamy version of Jesus was suitable; more on that in a bit.)
So, I'm pleased to report that the mix for the TV soundtrack album is entirely different from what we heard on television. If anything, it has been overcorrected for the broadcast issues, with the lead vocals being moved so far forward the band occasionally feels weaker than it should, and the audience moved so far back they occasionally sound phantasmic. This makes the audience less annoying, but also less effective in the moments when they are called upon to represent the population of Jerusalem reacting to Jesus's ministry and persecution. The vocal/instrumental balance smooths over any vestigial rock edge the score once had while obscuring some of the orchestration innovations this production employed. Admittedly, there weren't many -- the music staff wisely hewed closely to the original 70s sound rather than giving the music a contemporary veneer.
REVIEW: Donnybrook! reissue featuring The Pete King Orchestra Plays the Music of Donnybrook!
Donnybrook! Is one of the rare golden age cast albums that's never received a proper digital transfer, despite the near-mania for releasing so many relatively obscure titles that characterized the cast recordings industry in the ‘90s and 2000s. Did Decca Broadway (who now owns the Kapp catalogue to which Donnybrook! belongs) lack appropriate masters, or did they simply deem the material less worthy? Whether as cause or effect, this musical adaptation of The Quiet Man has never achieved even the cult status of shows with similar pedigree from the same era.