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 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. Although this decision was not without precedent (Phantom didn’t make a recording of the New York cast, though Cats and Les Miz did), it remains heartbreaking. Sure Jonathan Pryce and Lea Salonga followed the production from London to New York (though not without controversy), but surely Liz Callaway’s Ellen,
Hinton Battle’s Tony-winning John, numerous adjustments to the score, and more seasoned, informed performances by Pryce and Salonga would have ensured that an OBCR would not be redundant. (At least we have bootlegs). In 1995 a “Complete Recording” was created, correcting some–though not nearly enough–of these omissions. Though most everything accomplished by this recording could have been better served by a “complete” OBCR, there’s plenty to enjoy. The fact that it seems to be out of print serving as just another example of the ways in which Miss Saigon gets the short end of the stick.
The completeness of the recording is its biggest selling point and its greatest asset. People familiar with the show only through the Original London Cast Recording may be surprised how much more show is present on these two disks. The other great asset of this recording is Ruthie Henshall’s Ellen, notably her “Now That I’ve Seen Her” (heard as “It’s Her or Me” on the OLCR, despite liner notes to the contrary). It’s also nice to hear Hinton Battle get the chance to preserve his performance (especially his impassioned “Bui Doi”). The late Kevin Gray is an excellent Engineer, and it’s nice to hear the role performed by a stronger singer. Joanna Ampil give an assured and committed performance as Kim, if it does serve to illustrate how truly exceptional and irreplacable Salonga is in the role.
Hawks Test Report Card: I’ve always preferred Saigon‘s score to that of Les Miz. And hearing a commercial recording of hte complete score confirms this perference. Like Les Miz, Miss Saigon is full of great ballads (“Why, God, Why”, “The Movie in My Mind”) and musical scenes (the great “Thuy’s Death/You Will Not Touch Him” seguing into the stunning choral showpiece “This is the Hour”). I was afraid the complete recording could bury the “good stuff” in a sea of ponderous recitative (as can happen in Les Miz), but the passages of recitative are much more efficient and compelling here.