Cast Recording Response: 110 in the Shade (1999 Studio Cast)

110The gulf between the musicals that connoisseurs love and those that people pay to see is ever widening. The rapturously beautiful The Bridges of Madison County doesn’t last half a season, while the pedestrian Beautiful – The Carol King Musical continues to play to capacity, full-price-paying houses. Roundabout’s Broadway revival of Violet got among the best reviews of the season, but was consistently near the bottom of weekly box office, audience capacity, and ticket price rankings. My recent listens to the studio cast recording of 110 in the Shade (recorded in 1997, released in 1999) reminded me that this chasm is not necessarily new. Continue reading

Emmy Time!

39555_lgI’ve recently decided that, for the first time in years, I’m very interested in the Emmy Awards. Mind you there are MANY MANY top contenders that I haven’t seen this season/ever (Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad, Veep, Louie, and The Normal Heart are the most notable that come to mind). And the majority of the TV I do watch regularly was never in danger of being nominated (I haven’t missed an episode of the decidedly un-trendy Bones, Castle, or Criminal Minds in YEARS). But I’ve enjoyed reading the wonderful bounty of criticism about this season, and am a huge fan of The Good Wife, Fargo, OITNB, True Detective, House of Cards, etc. So what the hell, here’s my take on the upcoming Emmy nominees.
Predicted Winners will appear in bold.
My personal preferences will be italicized.
[egregiously overlooked nominees will be bracketed] Continue reading


I conclude my tour through Kiss Me, Kate on screen with the best–though most truncated–version to be found. A 1958 telecast, presented by Hallmark and available thanks to the folks at Video Artists International, who have made a habit of preserving such delicacies. This adaptation runs only 78 minutes (a full hour shorter than the 2003 London taping), but you hardly notice anything is missing. Of course, a lot is missing: “Too Darn Hot”, “Were Thine that Special Face”, “Bianca”, and while a brief dance portion is all the remains of “Sing of Love”, most of the other dancing has been cut. Elsewhere dialogue is trimmed throughout (especially in the Shrew scenes), and if that means the transition from scene to song is sometimes graceless, much of the humor and all of the plot is retained and the added efficiency is welcome (especially in the Shrew scenes). But the greatest asset of this production is the presence of the original stars of the Broadway production. As Fred/Petruchio and Lilli/Kate, Alfred Drake and Patricia Morrison are peerless. Their chemistry is tangible with as much of their performance communicated through sly looks and innuendo as text or song and their obvious fondness for the material and each other is infectious. Though the staging of “Wunderbar” lacks the movie version‘s graceful choreography or the precisely crafted jokes found in the revival, Morrison and Drake’s seemingly effortless rapport make it the most genuinely engaging of the three.


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And we open again where?

The latest …Kate I checked out is the 2003 taping of the London production of the hit Broadway revival

kmkKiss Me, Kate seemed to spend years before its succesful revival burdened with the perception that it was in dire need of re-writing in order to be playable. In a May 1998 review of a re-issue of the Original Cast Recording, Ken Mandelbaum wrote:

“I’ve always found Kiss Me, Kate the most overrated title in the top echelon of celebrated Broadway musical classics. Study the script and note that, while the exchanges between former husband and wife Lilli Vanessi and Fred Graham couldn’t be sharper, the show is vaguely conceived, its comedy far- fetched, its emotional reality shaky…That these problems are real ones is the chief reason why the show has never had a Broadway revival and why, when one was announced a few years back, it was cancelled owing to a dispute about book rewrites.”

Nearly 18 months after Mandelbaum’s assessment the first Broadway revival of Kiss Me, Kate opened at the Martin Beck theater as the first major hit of the season, going on to win Tonys for Revival, Director (Michael Blakemore), Actor (Brian Stokes Mitchell), Costumes and Orchestrations. Continue reading

Only hoop-de-doo songs…

kmk posterIt has been over 20 years since I’ve seen the 1953 film version of Kiss Me, Kate, and I remembered it mostly for the ways it was different than the stage version. So I was delighted to discover that–a few significant, and I do mean SIGNIFICANT, exceptions aside–the movie is actually one of the more faithful stage-to-screen adaptations, with musical numbers that are well sung and cleverly staged, sumptuous and colorful production design, and considerable wit. Continue reading

Why there’s a wench!

0000284109_500Kiss Me, Kate is a show I hold near a dear to my heart. As I junior in High School I played Bill Calhoun/Lucentio (and also got to sing “Too Darn Hot”) in a production that, by pure coincidence, happened around the time of the Broadway revival. A friend of mine went to see the show in New York and got Michael Berresse to sign a playbill “To Donald, from one Bill to another” (this was inexplicably THROWN AWAY by my ex-step dad, but I just have to move on with my life). I then got to see the national tour when it came to Cleveland.

But despite my fondness for the material, I haven’t really revisited it. Many of the songs have become standards, so I’ve heard plenty I’ve heard its greatest hits in various contexts and mash-ups throughout the years. But a dazzling concert presentation, presented as part of the BBC’s annual “Proms” concert series and streaming live on their website until the end of August, has reinvigorated by interest. Continue reading

Cast Album Response: Violet 2014 Broadway Cast

The public library system here in Cleveland is fantastic, with a great many new cast recordings at my disposal between my library’s well curated stock and what I can find through inter-library loan. Every few weeks I drop off a collection of CDs and pick up a new one. The Cast Recording Response contains my thoughts on my latest returns.

Violet (2014 Broadway Cast)

The story in Jeanine Tesori and Brian Crawley’s Violet is slight but emotionally rich: a young woman with a scar on her cheek seeks out a televangelist for literal healing and instead finds emotional healing through a combination of a compassionate young soldier and her own growing sense of empowerment. The original production never moved past Playwright’s Horizons, but did yield an Original Off-Broadway Cast Recording (on a label started by composer Jeanine Tesori ), and subsequently became a sentimental favorite for devotees of musical theater. It contains many wonderful numbers–most notably “On My Way“, “Let It Sing“, and “Lay Down Your Head”– and memorable performances by an impeachable cast (including Lauren Ward, Michael McElroy, Michael Park). The songs are presented without interrupting or introductory dialogue, which makes for a smooth listening experience but is confusing for listeners, like me, who have never seen a production. The lack of context can do the score a disservice, forcing songs that are meant to be heard as underscoring for scenes to sustain as individual tracks along side the more impressive highlights. The result is a disk that can seem uneven, and occasionally tedious.

This past weekend saw the closing of a well received, if unexpected, Broadway revival which boasted an acclaimed performance from star Sutton Foster and a revised text, which was refined and trimmed it to an intermission-less 90-ish minutes (losing a song or two in the process).The Broadway cast gets a deluxe two-disk recording that seems to preserve just about the complete show. Continue reading

Cast Album Response: Hedwig and the Angry Inch (2014 Broadway Cast)

The public library system here in Cleveland is fantastic, with a great many new cast recordings at my disposal between my library’s well curated stock and what I can find through inter-library loan. Every few weeks I drop off a collection of CDs and pick up a new one. The Cast Recording Response contains my thoughts on my latest returns.

Hedwig and the Angry Inch (2014 Broadway Cast Recording*)
hedwigHedwig and the Angry Inch is a rare sort of musical that premiered in a commercial Off-Broadway production that went on to have multiple regional/international productions (many of which got cast recordings) and a screen adaptation without benefit of a Broadway transfer. Little Shop of Horrors and The Fantastiks are the only other members of this club that come to mind. But if Hedwig‘s success was always more “niche” or “cult” than mainstream, the new Broadway production proves that Hedwig has broad appeal–it has been playing to capacity houses, had a Beyonce-level award haul, and recouped its investment in a matter of months. I can’t attest to the success of the production as a whole (though many people I greatly expect all agree that it’s nearly flawless), but I can say that it has received a wonderful cast recording. Continue reading

Scene in Cleveland: The Frogs

showimageI honestly thought I would make it through my entire life without seeing a production Stephen Sondheim’s musical version of The Frogs. However, last week a friend of mine from NYC was in Cleveland assisting the lighting designer on a production of the rarely produced show at Cain Park (where I interned, fittingly enough, the same summer the revised Frogs debuted on Broadway). The production is quite ably performed, with an outstanding chorus and pit that present the pleasant, though not-particularly inspired, score in the best possible light. Dan Folino is consistently entertaining (and occasionally, sincerely moving) with a Mitch-Hedburg-inspired take on Dionysus, playing the God of Wine and Theater as an underachiever who is so disappointed in modern writers’ ineffective response to world affairs that he is motivated to go to Hades in the hopes that retrieving George Bernard Shaw will inspire them to do better. The direction and design elements are elegant and creative. If I HAVE to sit through a production of The Frogs, Cain Park’s offering is as good as any and better than most. But it’s hard to not spend the script’s more tedious moments imagining the cast’s and creative team’s talents applied to a worthier project. Continue reading

Cast Album Response: Miss Saigon (1995 Complete Recording)

The public library system here in Cleveland is fantastic, with a great many new cast recordings at my disposal between my library’s well curated stock and what I can find through inter-library loan. Every few weeks I drop off a collection of CDs and pick up a new one. The Cast Recording Response contains my thoughts on my latest returns.

Miss Saigon (1995 Complete Recording)

Miss Saigon holds a fascinating place in theater history. Despite being an international sensation and running for a decade on Broadway, it’s always been burdened with a faint whiff of disappointment. Though a ten-year run is a dream for any writer/producer/director, it falls short of the precedents set by the “British Invasion” musicals that preceded it (Cats, Les Miz, Phantom). It was the first of these imported “mega-musicals” to be a hit while losing the Tony for Best Musical. But the greatest indignity served the show is the lack of an Original Broadway Cast Recording. Continue reading