Cast Albums Blog
REVIEW: Lea Salonga: Live In Concert With The Sydney Symphony Orchestra
A long time ago – thirty-one-and-a-half years ago, to be exact – I saw the original London production of Miss Saigon at the first Saturday matinee after press night (no of course you can’t believe I’m that old). The show’s worldwide search for a star had been a significant element of the pre-opening publicity; cynical student that I was, I thought nobody could possibly live up to that level of hype - until Lea Salonga started singing I’d Give My Life For You, when the combination of her flawless voice and the astonishing intensity she brought to the song made my mouth drop open.
She’s a much bigger name now than she was then, but – whatever issues you may have with the show itself, or with other aspects of the original production’s casting – her London debut was one of the great star-making performances, and her subsequent transfer to Broadway in the role, coupled with her voice work in Disney’s Aladdin and Mulan, propelled her into a major international career – hence this concert, filmed in Sydney (as opposed to Manila, London, or New York, the cities where she made her name) in November 2019, and subsequently screened in the USA by PBS and released as a record album by Broadway Records.
Thirty years on, miraculously, her voice is still as pristine as it was in 1989. More than that, while Salonga has played an impressive range of theatre roles on Broadway and in Manila, she’s also matured into a more or less peerless concert artist, which is a leap by no means all musical theatre performers are able to make. She has great taste, too, and she knows how to pull a surprisingly eclectic selection of songs together into a coherent programme.
Refreshingly, she doesn’t simply fall back on a catalogue of her greatest hits. Of course she includes A Whole New World from Aladdin – a duet with guest performer Mat Verevis – and Reflection, one of her songs from Mulan, along with The Human Heart, the song she made her own in the Broadway revival of Once On This Island. Miss Saigon, though, is represented only by Why God Why? (with the pronouns unchanged), a song she didn’t sing in the show. Verevis’s rather wan contribution aside, these are all terrific performances, but the album’s highlights – as you might guess if you’ve heard Blurred Lines, her 2016 recording of her cabaret act at 54 Below - are the numbers in which Salonga goes off-piste into a more unexpected repertoire.
A medley of soprano songs from Broadway’s golden age – Will He Like Me? and Ice Cream from She Loves Me, and Till There Was You from The Music Man – is simply gorgeous, and the keys are not lowered and the big high notes are all present and correct (and impeccably produced). She brings a sly sense of fun to her closing Boyband Medley, which includes songs by Take That (Back For Good), Hanson (Mmmbop), NSYNC (Tearin’ Up My Heart), the Backstreet Boys (I Want It That Way), Westlife (My Love), and One Direction (What Makes You Beautiful). Best of all, she belts her way through a roof-raising, pull-out-all-the-stops rendition of rock band Train’s 2001 hit Drops Of Jupiter.
Rounding out the package, the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Gerard Salonga – yes, Lea’s brother – kick things off in fine style with a specially-arranged overture, which begins with the opening section of the overture to Miss Saigon and encompasses a couple of songs from Salonga’s stage CV which aren’t heard in this concert (Sun And Moon, I Dreamed A Dream). What you’ll mostly take away from this recording, though, is Salonga’s enormous range, both as a singer and as a performer. It’s not every singer who could put Will He Like Me? and Mmmbop on the same programme and get away with it; this is a tremendously entertaining collection of songs, and a beautifully-produced record of what must have been a thoroughly dazzling live performance.
REVIEW: Anyone Can Whistle - 2020 Studio Cast
They began recording it in 1997, and it's finally being released next week. If, like me, you've been waiting for JAY's complete studio recording of Anyone Can Whistle for over two decades, you may find it a little difficult to believe you finally have a copy of it in your hands. No need to pinch yourself – yes it's real, and yes, it's really good.
It has a lot to live up to. The show's now-legendary original Broadway cast recording, made the day after the Broadway production closed after a run of just twelve previews and nine performances, is one of those albums that makes you wonder how a show could possibly have failed to find an audience. As heard on that recording, Stephen Sondheim's songs for the show sound dazzlingly original, and they're given warmly characterful (if not always flawlessly sung) performances by the production's trio of stars – Angela Lansbury, Lee Remick, and Harry Guardino, none of whom had previously appeared in a Broadway musical.
REVIEW: Rags - Original London Cast
It’s not impossible that somebody could spin a doctoral thesis out of picking apart all the various revisions that have been made over the years to Rags, the four-performance 1986 Broadway flop with a Charles Strouse-Stephen Schwartz score. That score, which contains a great deal of Strouse’s best music, is the reason so many people have tried to fix a show that stubbornly refuses to work; the 1987 studio recording, which features most of the Broadway production’s cast with Julia Migenes standing in for original leading lady Teresa Stratas, is one of the most glorious musical theatre albums of its decade, and gives the impression of a show that very much deserved to be a hit.
That 1987 recording, though, is the reason people approaching this new London cast recording of the most recent revised version of the show might want to manage their expectations: the show has undergone many revisions over the past three decades, and there are significant differences between the version of the score heard in the now-standard version of the show and the version represented on the studio album.
REVIEW: Songs From Inside My Locker - Robbie Rozelle, Live at Feinstein's/54 BELOW
The first line of designer/director/producer/singer Robbie Rozelle's liner notes for his debut cabaret album – "I never expected to be a performer" – might lead you to lower your expectations. There's no need: Songs From Inside My Locker – a Kickstarter-funded live recording of Rozelle's show at New York's 54 Below – is a delight. It's a brave show for Rozelle to put out there as the basis of his first solo recording – the show's backbone is Rozelle's own coming-of-age story, which inevitably means this album presents the listener with a very personal collection of songs and stories – but Rozelle is such an endearing, engaging presence that this hour or so in his company flies by.
REVIEW: The New Yorkers - Encores! Concert Cast
Three years after it played at New York's City Center, here's the cast recording of the Encores! Production of what, here, is billed as "Cole Porter's The New Yorkers." It's not, as the liner notes will tell you, precisely an authentic recreation of the 1930 original, but don't let that put you off: this album is an hour and five minutes of the kind of sheer pleasure you wish someone could bottle.