Cast Albums Blog

Category Archive:  Review

REVIEW: Ride the Cyclone - World Premiere Cast Recording

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When I saw Ride the Cyclone off-Broadway in 2016, I came away mostly impressed with the stylish visuals achieved through an excellent collaboration among designers and director. The musical spotlighted the teenage victims of a fatal rollercoaster accident, with a touch of mystery added by the presence of a Jane Doe victim found decapitated and unidentifiable. The show at its best was a neo-vaudevillian concept revue about the meaning of mortality, but at times it felt weighed down by the inertia built into the format where you can count the number of bodies on stage and calculate how many songs are likely left in the evening.

Five years later, revisiting the show as a purely aural experience through its World Premiere Cast Recording, the strengths of the score are more palpable, but they don't fully outshine its weaknesses either.

The album, released digitally without liner notes, seems to downplay the plot of the show. (At least at one stage, the dead were competing for the privilege of being revived. If that element remains in the show today, there's no real trace of it on the album.) There is some narration in the voice of Karnak, a fortune-telling carnival machine, played here by co-writer Jacob Richmond. But these tracks are better at setting the tone of morbid black humor than clarifying story points.

This may be a feature, not a bug: the show is more interested in metaphor than plot. You see, life is a ride, and for some of us, that ride may be cut short. These teenagers come from Uranium City, a highway town in Saskatchewan dominated by nuclear industry, giving us a pun-as-foreshadowing about half-lives being their whole lives.

But as much as the show dabbles in metaphor, it also is intereted in metaphysics. What happens when we die? Does it matter how we lived? Can our interior lives be fulfilling even if what's visible to the rest of the world seems less so?

Dead characters by definition can't grow or change, so the songs are burdened with inertia -- a lot of "I Am" songs in a row starts to feel more like a cabaret or senior showcase than a dramatic piece. Capturing the concept of a concept musical on record is a challenge, and the producers of this album (primarily cowriter Brooke Maxwell, credited above a bevy of co- and Executive producers) did not quite meet that challenge.

And yet, the album has a lot to recommend it. The score is a patchwork of genres, from the '70s popera reminiscent of Paul Williams that infuses "The Uranium Suite" to Miley Cyrus-style "What The World Needs" and on, dabbling in chanson, Euro-hip-hop, folk, EDM, prog rock, art song and so forth. Maxwell and Richmond ably skip from genre to genre, blending various pastiches into a coherent score. The songs, for the most part, are a lot of fun! (Although they may work better on shuffle so the first character you spend time with isn't the horrible mean girl played by Tiffany Tatreau.) And the cast -- all of whom have done the show on stage in at least one of its incarnations -- are uniformly excellent.

To my ears, though, the real star of this album is the orchestration by Maxwell (who also served as music director and conductor and sings two trunk songs included as bonus tracks). Maxwell manages to extract so many different sounds from twelve musicians, each new genre sounding as full and authentic as necessary.

There was a moment when this show felt like it was about to be the next big thing, with a rave in the New York Times and a powerful producer raising money for its next step. This album makes it clear why members of the theatrical establishment wanted to invest in the work -- and also why they made the wise decision to continue to develop the piece with regional productions after off-Broadway. Whether this album closes the book on Ride the Cyclone or begins its next chapter, I hope we hear more from Maxwell and Richmond before too long.

REVIEW: Lea Salonga: Live In Concert With The Sydney Symphony Orchestra

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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: If The Fates Allow: A Hadestown Holiday Album

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“Oh, my love, we’ve had our share of tears / Oh, my friends, we’ve had our hopes and fears / Oh, my friends, it’s been a long hard year / But now it’s Christmas / Yes, it’s Christmas / Thank God it’s Christmas”

Those are the poignant lyrics that open If The Fates Allow: A Hadestown Holiday Album, released by Broadway Records on November 20, 2020. This song, originally by Queen, here superbly arranged and orchestrated by Todd Sickafoose, is the anthem we all so sorely need this year. By the end of the track, I was tearing up, and happy that I broke my no holiday music before December 1 rule. In a tumultuous year of ups and, let’s face it, mostly downs, If The Fates Allow: A Hadestown Holiday Album is a balm for the soul.

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REVIEW: Anyone Can Whistle - 2020 Studio Cast

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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.

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REVIEW: Rags - Original London Cast

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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.

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