Stage to Disc 2020

Stage to Disc 2020

Cast recording and soundtrack reviews by Peter Pinne

Six – The Musical (Toby Marlow/Lucy Ross) (6 Music Ltd).

It’s easy to see why Six – The Musical has become the second-highest streaming cast recording behind Hamilton, because it’s 80 minutes of hot, sassy, girl-group vocals that nod to the Spice Girls and every girl-group of the nineties. A modern retelling of the lives of the six wives of Henry VIII presented as a pop concert, it’s clever, lyrically astute, and has enough pop-hooks and ear-worm ditties to satisfy even the most jaded. First presented by Cambridge University students at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2017, it’s gone on to become one of the hottest musical theatre hits around the globe. Each wife gets their turn in the spotlight - Renée Lamb (Catherine of Aragon), Christina Modestou (Anne Boleyn), Natalie Paris (Jane Seymour), Aimie Atkinson (Katherine Howard), Izuka Hoyle (Catherine Parr) and Genesis Lynea (Anne of Cleves) - and they’re outstanding individually, but magnificent together as in the opening “Ex-Wives”, the Weimar Cabaret-sounding and satiric “Haus of Holbein” and the finale. Hoyle’s “I Don’t Need Your Love” is a worthy contender for Adele-like popularity, whilst the opening includes a musical quote of “Greensleeves”, widely (but falsely) believed to have been written by Henry VIII for Anne Boleyn. ****

Kwamina (Richard Adler) (Stage 9069)

Stage Door have reissued (for the first time on CD) a deluxe 2 disc set of Richard Adler’s 1961 Broadway musical Kwamina. It contains the original Broadway cast album, alternate takes of four songs, a studio cast recording, a jazz interpretation and pop covers. Prior to its opening at the 54th Street Theatre on 23 October 1961, the press hype for the show had been enormous. It was the first musical for Adler without his The Pajama Game and Damn Yankees writing partner Jerry Ross, who had died in 1956. Expectations were high, but Kwamina was much different to both those shows and not your usual Broadway entry. With the story set in Africa - about the London educated doctor son of a tribal chief who clashes with, but falls in love with, the village’s white female doctor - it was an ambitious attempt to marry African tribal music with Broadway, an attempt that didn’t quite succeed. A lukewarm critical response saw the show close after just 32 performances, but Capitol Records still went ahead and recorded the original cast album on the Monday after closing. Since then the LP has developed a cult following. The choral numbers are strong and powerful. Opening with “The Cocoa Bean Song”, which tells what African laborers have in common with their crops (‘One does the drinkin,’ the other gets drunk’) and following with the lovely Bantu-inspired “Nothing More To Look Forward To” and “The Sun Is Beginning To Crow”, Adler’s Tony nominated music and lyrics sparkle. Sally Ann Howes, Adler’s wife at the time, is perfect for the stitched-up Eve, an Anna Leonowens/Eliza Doolittle-type character whose songs range from “You’re as English As” and “What’s Wrong With Me?” to the big ballad “Another Time, Another Place”. With little to sing, co-star Terry Carter duets nicely on “Ordinary People”, whilst “One Wife” succinctly espouses the tribal view of monogamy. The alternate takes are included, as it was realized that the stereo versions differed from the mono. The studio cast recording features two of the dropped songs, “I’m Seeing Rainbows” and “Happy Is The Cricket”, which are also included on the jazz version of the score by the Billy Taylor Orchestra. Of the cover recordings, there are three male versions of “Another Time, Another Place” by Jerry Vale, Al Martino and Robert Goulet, who all give it a Latin beat, a version by Howes taken from the Stars For Defense program and Gordon MacRae’s “Ordinary People”, but the gem is The Kingston Trio’s calypso-styled “Nothing More To Look Forward To”. ****

 

9 to 5 (Dolly Parton) (ATG 0874678)

Who would have thought that Dolly Parton’s 9 to 5, which only managed a 148 Broadway run in 2009, would become a smash West End hit. It’s not the first time this has happened. Paint Your Wagon’s London run (478 performances) in the fifties almost doubled that of Broadway (289), whilst Legally Blonde in 2010 ran for 974 performances, easily surpassing the Broadway effort of 595. The success of 9 to 5 is entirely due to director/choreographer Jeff Calhoun, who created the re-imagined US touring production in 2010 which Australia is also set to see. Recorded live, the West End cast acquit themselves very well. The title tune is still the best song in the show, and it’s enhanced by having Dolly Parton introducing it and singing along with the company, which is repeated in the “Entr’Acte” reprise. The three girls, Natalie McQueen (Doralee), Amber Davies (Judy) and Caroline Sheen (Violet), bring the first act to a close with a smashing “Shine Like The Sun”, Sheen dazzles on “One of the Boys”, whilst McQueen absolutely nails “Backwoods Barbie”. As the lecherous boss, Franklin Hart Jr, Brian Conley is sleaze personified in “Here For You”, while Bonnie Langford’s Roz brings comedic obsession to “Heart To Hart”. It’s a fun album. ***

 

TINA: The Tina Turner Musical(Various) (Ghostlight 584577)

This jukebox musical based on Tina Turner’s life is one of the better ones of the genre thanks to raw and searing vocals by Adrienne Warren in the title role. All the hits are present but not in chronological order, and the cast, especially Warren, do them justice. “River Deep – Mountain High”, “Proud Mary” and “Disco Inferno” rub shoulders with “Private Dancer”, “What’s Love Got To Do With It” and “We Don’t Need Another Hero”, but the finale “(Simply) The Best” is, as the Hollywood Reporter claimed, ‘roof-raising.’ Kobna Holdbrook-Smith is good as her abusive ex-husband Ike (he won an Olivier for his performance), whilst the band do amazing work recreating Turner’s iconic sound. ***

 

 

 

 

 

Disney Dreamin’- Matthew Morrison (Various) (Disney 003059502)

Matthew Morrison’s new album raids the Disney songbook with pleasing results. Opening with two Alan Menken tunes, the bouncy “Friend Like Me” (Aladdin) and “Go The Distance” (Hercules), he segues into blues mode with Toy Story’s “You’ve Got A Friend In Me”, following with Aladdin’s blockbuster hit “A Whole New World”, which he duets with former Wicked Elphaba, Shoshana Bean. Acoustic guitar and harp add lustre to Peter Pan’s “The Second Star To The Right”, Pinocchio’s “When You Wish Upon A Star” is given the finger-snapping swing treatment, whilst “Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah” (Song of the South) coupled with “The Bare Necessities” (Jungle Book) are straight out Dixieland. His vocal sound is more poppy than it was as Lt. Cable in South Pacific, but then the new coat of paint he gives these standards is very enjoyable. ****

 

 

 

Wien - Jonas Kaufmann (Various) (Sony 19075950412)

Jonas Kaufmann’s new album Wien is almost a companion piece to his 2014 album of operetta pieces You Mean The World To Me, being another selection of favorite operetta arias and songs, but this time related to Vienna. Kaufmann claims it was his grandmother who instilled in him a love of the waltzing classics of Strauss, Robert Stoltz and Franz Lehar, when he visited his grandparents’ farm in Tyrol, Austria. His first professional production was playing Caramello in Strauss’s Eine Nacht in Venedig (A Night in Venice) in Regensburg (1993-94), so it’s only natural he would include songs from it along with duets from Wiener Blut, Die Fledermaus and Die lustige Witwe (The Merry Widow), sung with the glorious-voiced Rachel Willis-Sørensen.The selection of Viennese songs includes “Vienna, City of my Dreams”, “Vienna Only Becomes Beautiful at Night” and two popular Hans May songs from the 1936 movie Today Is the Most Beautiful Day in my Life, which were originally sung by Joseph Schmidt - “There Is More Taken In Life Than Is Given” and the title song. Kaufmann is in good voice and charms throughout, especially on the duets, which are the best tracks on the disc. Accompaniment by the Vienna Philharmonic under the baton of Adam Fischer is luxurious, and the recording is state-of-the-art. **** 

 

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Frozen II (Kristen Anderson-Lopez/Robert Lopez) (Disney).

The flavour of “Greensleeves” is also evident in “All Is Found’, the first track on the soundtrack of Frozen II. Sung by the character of Iduna (Evan Rachel Wood), the mother of Elsa and Anna, it’s minor-keyed and has a folk-song feel. Disney’s sequel to their epic-blockbuster Frozen has already taken $1.419 billion at the box-office, making it the highest-grossing animated film of all time. Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez, who wrote the songs for the original movie, are back for this latest effort from the Mouse Factory, together with a good many of the original cast. Idina Menzel repeats her role of Elsa and sings the heart out of “Into the Unknown”, a song in the vein of “Let it Go”, with sustained notes in the upper register. Josh Gad’s Olaf essays a jauntily comic “When I Am Older”, whilst Jonathan Groff’s Kristoff sings “Lost In The Woods”, a ballad with multiple key-changes that sounds like an 80s Air Supply number. The album, which is short, is padded out with pop vocals of “Into The Unknown” (Panic! At The Disco), “All Is Found” (Kacey Musgraves) and “Lost In The Woods” (Weezer). ***  

 

Little Shop of Horrors (Howard Ashman/Alan Menken) (Ghostlight)

Jonathan Groff also stars in the new production of Little Shop of Horrors, the 1982 hit which, on this recording, is just as campy and fun as it was nearly four decades ago. Revived by director Michael Mayer, and still keeping it small by playing Off-Broadway, the musical about a man-eating plant based on Roger Corman’s 1960 B-movie gets it right in every department. Groff is wondrous as the nerdy and nervy botanist Seymour, with Tammy Blanchard as the abused Audrey being both trashy and vulnerable. Ari Groover, Salome Smith and Joy Woods doo-wop delightfully as the girl trio, Crystal, Ronnette and Chiffon, Christian Borle is delicious as the sadistic biker dentist Orin, and Kingsley Leggs, with his thumping baritone, makes a meal of “Suppertime”. Middle-class American values have never been more wittily espoused than in “Somewhere That’s Green”, a gem in a score that’s been given a splendid makeover. ****

 

Only Fools and Horses – The Musical (John Sullivan/Chas Hodges) (Silva Screen)

TV spin-offs have a hard time getting the punters into the theatre (why pay money for something you can see on telly) but that’s not a problem with Only Fool and Horses, which has been going gangbusters since it opened last year and has become the West End’s latest hit. BBC TV’s revered series about Del Boy Trotter, Rodney and Uncle Albert - and their get-rich schemes - lovingly puts the working-class characters on stage in a series of set-ups from the series, with a part-jukebox and part-newly written score by John Sullivan (son of the original series writer John) and Chas Hodges (of Chas and Dave fame) with clever lyrics, heaps of rhyming-slang, and knockabout tunes that could have come out of the Lionel Bart basket. “Where Have all the Cockneys Gone” is a great knees-up sung in counterpoint with “Any Old Iron”, “Mange Tout” is rudely comic, whilst “Bit of a Sort” is laugh-out-loud funny. “Being a Villian” could have been lifted from a different version of Oliver!  Jeff Nicholson and Samantha Seager land “The Tadpole Song”, a funny ode to sperm embryos, Pippa Duffy and Ryan Hutton find irony and fun in “Marriage and Love”, and Chas and Dave’s 60s hits “Margate” and “That’s What I Like” get a breezy airing. It’s all very East End London and refreshing. ****   

 

Cats (Andrew Lloyd Webber/T.S. Eliot) (Republic)

In 1981 Judi Dench was cast in the double role of Grizabella and Jennyanydots in the original production of Cats, but one week before previews she injured her Achilles tendon and was replaced by Elaine Paige. The rest, as they say, is history. Dench finally gets to appear in this beloved show as Old Deuteronomy, along with a host of star names - Taylor Swift, Ian McKellen, James Cordon, Rebel Wilson and Jennifer Hudson - in the movie version, which is shaping up to be one of the biggest musical movie flops of all time. These are not even close to definitive performances. The vocals are very ordinary. Dench speak-sings her role, whilst Hudson over-emotes on “Memory”. Best of all is McKellen as “Gus: The Theatre Cat”. The gold-standard is still the direct-to-video 1998 stage production which starred Paige and John Mills. Lloyd Webber has written a haunting new song, “Beautiful Ghosts” (to make it Oscar eligible), for the character of Victoria, sung in the movie by Francesca Hayward, with Taylor Swift singing a pop version of it over the end credits.**

 

Moulin Rouge! (Various) (House of Iona/RCA)

With a jukebox score of over 70 songs from a period of 70 years, but mainly the last thirty, Moulin Rouge pretty well has something for everyone. Adam Tveit stars as artist Christian, with Karen Olivo as Satine, the Moulin Rouge star. They’re both brilliant. Broadway belting has never been better. Olivo is introduced in the “Sparkling Diamond” medley, which is a mash-up of “Diamonds Are Forever”, “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend”, “Material Girl” and “Single Ladies”. It’s non-stop disco. They both close the first act with the “Elephant Love Medley”, which includes a heap of love songs: “What’s Love Got To Do With It?”, “Falling in Love With You”, “Up Where We Belong”, “I Will Always Love You” and others, but their best outings are Elton John’s “Your Song”, which hits all the emotional beats of the show, and “Come What May”, a stunning second-act highlight. A simple acoustic-guitar rendition of “Nature Boy” by Sahr Ngaujah is a welcome relief from the relentless pace and non-stop beat. Whilst Tveit and Olivo are the nominal names on the marquee, the star of the show is Justin Levine, who did the orchestrations and arrangements. Seamlessly integrating song after song in medley after medley, he’s worthy of, and deserves, a Tony. ****   

  

Jesus Christ Superstar (Andrew Lloyd Webber/Tim Rice) Australian Cast Recording Live (Aztec Records AVSCD083)

The original Australian stage production of Jesus Christ Superstar, only the second in the world after New York,opened at Sydney’s Capitol Theatre in 1972 and ran for two years. It became the basis for the London production. During the Australian season there were several cast changes, but the one that blew the critics away was Reg Livermore as King Herod in one of the great show-stopping performances in the history of Australian musical theatre. It’s captured in all its outrageousness on this new live recording that has surfaced of a 1973 performance. Running twice as long as the track on the original concept album, he seduces, cajoles, and plays with the audience in a simply brilliant performance of “King Herod’s Song”.

Jon English is solid as Judas (his performance is captured on the original Australian cast album MCA MAP56244), as is John Paul Young as Jesus, but it’s Marcia Hines, the first black woman in the world to play Mary Magdalene, who is outstanding. She excels on “Everything’s Alright” and “Could We Start Again Please” and is just beautiful on “I Don’t Know How to Love Him”.

The performance was recorded, on his own equipment, by cast member Peter Chambers, who played various roles and was a cover for both Jesus and Judas. He has painstakingly restored the tape, eliminating all the clicks, bumps and grinds associated with live hand-held microphones in those days, and the result is a raw and exciting version of the show. Accompaniment is by a large orchestra led by Patrick Flynn, augmented by a rock ensemble which featured Michael Carlos on organ and Moog synthesizer. The production, directed by Jim Sharman, was also notable for bringing together two young singers, Russell Hitchcock and Graham Russell, who went on to form Air Supply, becoming one of Australia’s most successful pop groups and song-writing duos. Aztec Records are to be congratulated on this superb time-capsule of Australian theatrical history. It’s cause for celebration and deserves accolades. *****

 

Hayden Tee – Face To Face (Broadway Records BR-CD13019)

Raw and exciting are also terms that describe Hayden Tee’s Face to Face, a collection of songs sung by rebels and antagonists. Last seen in Australia as Javert in Les Misérables, heopensthe CD with that character’s anthem “Stars” but then he also includes Marius’s “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables”, which he sang in his West End debut. Singing better than ever, his top notes on “Till I Hear You Sing” (Love Never Dies) are glorious, and a duet with his Les Miz co-star John Owen-Jones, of The Secret Garden’s “Lily’s Eyes”, is thrillingly passionate. A folk version of Dvorak’s New World Symphony is present in the backing of Jason Robert Brown’s “It All Fades Away” (The Bridges of Madison County), whilst a mash-up of Kander and Ebb’s “I Don’t Care Much” and “So What” (Cabaret) brings out the indifference and apathy of the characters. Best of all, however, are a riveting “Molasses To Rum” (1776) and his original cast West End performance of Miss Trunchbull’s “The Smell Of Rebellion” from Tim Minchin’s Matilda. Accompaniment is by the magnificent sounding 50-piece Budapest Scoring Orchestra, with excellent and inventive orchestrations and arrangements by Nigel Ubrihien. It’s a classy album of show songs from a performer at the top of his game. Highly recommended! *****        

 

Judy (Decca)

The soundtrack to this TV movie masquerading as a feature about Judy Garland and her last London stint and final days at Talk of the Town in the 60s features all of Garland’s signature tunes - “By Myself”, “The Trolley Song” and “Over the Rainbow”, and some that she sang which are not in the movie (“For Once In My Life”). Based on Peter Quilter’s cliché-ridden play The End of the Rainbow, the movie stars Renée Zellweger in a performance that’s been called Oscar worthy. She does give a good performance and while you’re watching the movie you accept her vocal interpretations, but divorced of the images it comes across as merely competent. The songs lack the Garland throb, but there’s some great big-band arrangements of her catalogue which mirror Garland’s originals. Sam Smith duets on a driving “Get Happy”, with Rufus Wainwright doing likewise on “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”. ***

 

 

 

The Little Mermaid Live (Disney)

Although it captured 11 million viewers, Disney’s latest live action TV event was criticised for having too much animation and not enough live performance. Despite that, the cast, headed by Queen Latifah, has a great deal of fun with Alan Menken and Howard Ashman’s Caribbean flavoured delight. “Under the Sea” is insanely infectious, as is the calypso ode “Kiss the Girl”. Graham Phillips is a virile Prince Eric hero, leading the ensemble on “Fathoms Below” and being dreamily romantic on “Her Voice”, whilst Auli’i Cravalho sounds lovely as Ariel, the underwater heroine, in “Part of Your World”. John Stamos reprises his movie role as Chef Louis on “Les Poissons”, but it’s Queen Latifah’s Ursula that’s irresistible. Her “Poor Unfortunate Souls” is deliciously dark. ***

 

 

 

 

 

Beau (Douglas Lyons/Ethan D. Pakchar) (Masterworks Broadway)

It’s not often a major label releases a regional production but that’s the case with New York based Douglas Lyons (lyrics) and Ethan D. Pakchar’s (composer) Beau, which premiered at the Adirondack Theatre Festival in 2019. The plot tells the story of Ace Baker, who at 12 discovers the grandfather his mother intended to keep secret - a man who changes Ace’s life forever by putting a guitar in his hand. The music and lyrics nod towards Pasek and Paul’s work in that they’re poppy but have individuality in this likeable funk-rock score. “Coming Home” is tender, “Thursday in July” documents first love, whilst “Disappear” has some full vocal diva screams. The single release, “Runnin’ ”, finds Matt Rodin joyously reflecting about love and self-worth. ***    

 

 

 

 

The New Yorkers (Cole Porter) (Ghostlight)

The Encores! 2017 production of Cole Porter’s 1930 musical The New Yorkers has spawned a cast recording and it’s a gem. In one of their most extensive reconstructions, Encores! have pieced together a version of the original score plus some interpolations from other Porter shows. It’s a great compilation which does Porter proud. The story - which involved broads and sugar daddies and a gangster who wants to take-over New York’s caviar market - had tons of Porter’s famed wit in a dazzling array of songs. Summer Strallen kicks up her heels to a frenetic Charleston version of “Most Gentlemen Don’t Like Love”, warbles winningly on “Night and Day” and couples nicely with Tam Mutu on the languid “Where Have You Been” and the all-stops out finale “Take Me Back To Manhattan”. Robyn Hurder registers early with “Please Don’t Make Me Be Good”, Ruth Williamson scores the laughs on “The Physician”, whilst Cyrille Aimee is seductively sexy on the show’s enduring hit “Love For Sale”. Porter’s wit has never been droller than in “Say it With Gin”, a first act number for the Male Ensemble that mentions Gordon’s and Gilbey’s et al. The show closes with Porter’s paean to the Big Apple, “I Happen To Like New York”, sung by Strallen and the company. It’s vintage Porter, vintage Broadway, and delightfully zany. ****

 

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