The King and me2ism: The Film’s Recordings

The King and I (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)

kandisoundtrackI recently discussed the faithful and visually opulent 1956 film version of The King and I, with it’s unforgettable (and Oscar-winning) performance from Yul Brynner and equally memorable (and similarly Academy Award-winning) sets and costumes. But the film boasted two other equally lauded and awarded assets:Carlton W. Faulkner’s sound recording and Alfred Newman’s adaptation of the score. With it’s lush cinematic orchestrations, more assessable (i.e. lower) keys and smooth vocals (most of which were dubbed), the original motion picture soundtrack was always a worthy (if incomplete) alternative to those who found Gertrude Lawrence’s vocals on the OBCR an acquired taste. Continue reading

Advertisements

The King and me2ism: The King and I (2000 London Cast Recording)

Many musical theater cognoscenti maintain that The King and I is Rodgers and Hammerstein’s overall strongest show (though Carousel is frequently regarded as leader on score and “feels” fronts). I will admit that for years its charms eluded me. Partially because my mom was never particularly fond of it (or Deborah Kerr), so the movie didn’t play a part in my childhood. The only live production I ever saw was a semi-professional affair that some friends were in that I mostly remember for its ugly unit set and length. The only cast recording at my disposal growing up was the Original Broadway Cast, and that disk vanished from my collection a decade ago (and didn’t get much play while I had it because of my distaste for Gertrude Lawrence’s singing).

kingandi_paigeA few weeks ago I was alerted to a promotion on amazon that offered a digital download of the 2000 London Cast Recording (starring Elaine Paige) for $5, and have since been bitten by a The King and I bug. Continue reading

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

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

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

Cast Recording Response: First Date

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.

First Date
first dateInstinct (as well as critical and commercial response) told me I wouldn’t like this score. It’s certainly admirable for a group of producers to bring an “original” musical comedy by unknown writers to Broadway. And there are a few nice ballads as well as fine performances by the leads (who will hopefully star in future, more deserving, musicals). But while the best the score ever gets is “pleasant”, at it’s worst its patently offensive and clueless. The “techno”-styled voicemails left by a gay best friend are inexcusably stereotypical (did no one on the creative staff know an actual gay person?). The number in which the protagonists imagine their respective parents’ disapproval of a Christian going on a date with a Jew is just…forget knowing an actual gay person, did anyone on the creative staff ever meet an actual person?

Hawks Test Report Card: Not a single song would qualify a “great”. Many are terrible. The worst is repeated THREE TIMES.

Cast Recording Response: Aladdin

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.

Aladdin
aladdinOne of the biggest problems with Disney’s stage adaptations of their popular films is how to make an evening length musical out of a 70-minute movie with a handful of songs. The Lion King has been the most successful with the challenge, complementing Julie Taymor’s concept of telling the familiar story through her version of native theatrical traditions by filling the evening with wonderful music evocative of “the pride land”. The concept behind Broadway’s Aladdin seems to be “show biz razzamataz” and the score is filled with, well, filler. While some of the new ballads are pleasant enough, they are almost uniformly inferior to what’s in the movie and frequently feel redundant. Only the earnest “Proud of Your Boy” brings added dimension to the story. The added Musical Comedy(!) numbers are perhaps effective in the theater, but come off as asinine on disk. Even great opportunities–an “I want” song for Jasmine, a villain’s manifesto–seem squandered when the results pale in comparison to their analogs in the Disney song catalog. On the bright side, the songs that are good sound great with lush orchestrations and a capable cast.

Hawks Test Report Card: While there a many great numbers, there are quite a few clunkers in the new material that, for me, prevent this incarnation score from truly succeeding.

Cast Recording Response: Fun Home

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.

Fun Home
fun homeBefore listening, I had concerns about being able to appreciate the score (or follow the story) without benefit of seeing the production. Fortunately Jeanine Tesori and Lisa Kron’s score is tuneful and the emotional underpinnings resonant. The score manages the trick of writing very specifically for the characters and situations and, in doing so, reveals themes and feelings that are universal. “Ring of Keys” marks Young Alison’s transformative experience of meeting her first “butch”, but it’s joy and wonder can be appreciated by anyone who discovers a community in which they belong after previously feeling singular and alone. Continue reading

The Hawks Test

HowardHawks

Hawks (according to Wikipedia)

As I begin to talk about cast recordings I’ve listened to, or movies I’ve seen, I plan on using “The Hawks Test” as a foundation for discussion. But before I can do that, I think I should define my understanding of how the “test” works.

Celebrated film director Howard Hawks had a famous criteria for what makes a “good movie”: Three great scenes, and no bad ones.

I was probably ten years old when I first heard this rubric mentioned on an episode of Siskel & Ebert & the Movies (I think in reference to True Lies or something like that), and have always loved it’s simplicity. It wasn’t long before I started mentally applying a similar grading system to musical scores: three great songs and no bad ones. Continue reading