Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Cast Album Round Up

By Mark A. Newman

So far 2012 has seen a wealth of new cast recordings released to keep the iPods of the theater lover full. Here are a few thumbnail reviews of some of the latest offerings.

Bonnie & Clyde: Original Broadway Cast (Broadway Records)

Bonnie & Clyde was a show that definitely did not stay around long enough…while other shows tend to overstay their welcome. The score was rich in melodies that reflect a rural America of yesteryear without sinking to the levels of hokum. This is probably one of Frank Wildhorn’s best scores simply due to its variety of styles and lack of overwrought power ballads (Jekyll & Hyde it ain’t!). As the titular title characters, Jeremy Jordan and Laura Osnes have ample opportunity to shine as do the supporting players especially Melissa van der Schyff who as Blanche comes very close to stealing the show. The show’s score is likable and a nice addition to any theatre fan’s collection whether you like Wildhorn or not.

Bring it On! The Musical: Original Cast EP (Ghostlight Records)

So far the only taste of the new Lin-Manuel Miranda/Tom Kitt/Amanda Green musical is via a three-song sampler available as downloads on iTunes and amazon.com. What a tease these tunes turn out to be. Since I haven’t seen the show I can only hazard to guess that “It’s All Happening” is the show’s opener as it ably sets the tone with an athletic, driving rhythm infused with Miranda’s trademark rhymes and urban beats. The other two tunes—“Ain’t No Thing” and “Enjoy the Trip”—are equally enjoyable but it was the excitement of “It’s All Happening” that hooked me. Broadway is getting another taste of the genius behind In the Heights and I for one cannot wait. (I’ll leave my pom poms at home!)

Evita: New Broadway Cast (Sony Masterworks)

The new recording of the Evita revival will likely cause many arguments among theatre aficionados, some of whom will rally behind Patti and Mandy while others are ready for a new take on a show that is over 30 years old. I fall somewhere in between. Does Ricky Martin sing the songs as well and Mandy Patinkin? Well—to borrow from the show—yes. And no. And yes. Either you like Patinkin’s vocal histrionics or you don’t. Personally I enjoyed Martin’s Latin swagger and if he can’t hit the high notes like yesterday’s Che, I can live with it. I am an admirer of Patinkin’s but it’s nice to hear the role of Che sung without the actor’s often-noted and eloquently parodied overindulgence. Elena Roger’s Evita is an altogether different animal than LuPone’s with a shrewish quality not unlike Elaine Page but, in my mind, probably more in line with the actual Eva Peron (Roger is also Argentinian). The real standout is Michael Cerveris as Juan Peron who brings a depth to this thankless role. You can hear both the ambition and pain as Cerveris ably demonstrates the politico’s many sides. Also, the new orchestrations and arrangements are hands down better than the over-synthesized recordings from the 1970s. What a treat to hear actual musical instruments that don’t need to be plugged in!

Lysistrata Jones: Original Broadway Cast (Broadway Records)

Lysistrata Jones was an adorable little show that I had the opportunity to see twice. Did it belong on Broadway? Probably not. Had it stayed in a cozy off-Broadway house it would likely still be playing to packed houses rather than closing much too soon. The score by Lewis Flynn is one of those tightly knit tapestries that is a blast in the theater, but doesn’t fare as well on the recording. The energy of the hardworking cast is evident but leaves the listener lacking. Some cast albums either get repeated listens or get put on the shelf as a token of a lovely night at the theatre. I’m afraid this recording falls into the latter category. There are some amazing voices, most notably Patti Murin, Liz Mikel, and the underused Jason Tam, but the music had more of a “wow factor” in the theater than it does on my headphones. This would’ve been one of the few cast albums that would have benefited from a live recording.

Newsies: Original Broadway Cast (Ghostlight Records)

Alan Menken and Jack Feldman’s Tony-winning score to Newsies has been an audience favorite since the movie musical first bombed across America in the early ‘90s. The new Broadway cast recording is akin to having your favorite room exquisitely remodeled with improvements you didn’t know you needed. Wisely, the creators have ditched the wobbly tunes sung by Ann Margaret in the film and replaced them with peppier replacements sung by the same character in the persona of Capathia Jenkins. In his second cast recording this year Jeremy Jordan again shines, this time as Jack Kelly, an enigmatic paperboy with dreams of artistic greatness and wanderlust (granted, “Santa Fe” is a great song but set your sights higher, Jack!). With anthems like “Seize the Day,” “King of New York,” “The World Will Know,” “Once and For All,” and the show- and heartstopping opener “Carrying the Banner,” Newsies translates nicely onto CD or into an iPod. While some of the energy that is so prevalent in the theater is not as obvious on the recording, the score won the Tony for a reason: it was the best music and lyrics of the 2011 – 2012 season.

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