Album Review: On The Town (2014 New Broadway Cast Recording)

“I try hard to keep detached,But I get carried away”

On The Town is an undoubtedly frivolous show, a plot as light as gossamer, but seeing it recently at the Open Air Theatre reminded me just how tuneful a musical it is, Leonard Bernstein’s 1944 score full not just of classic songs but gorgeous instrumental passages too, to allow the many dance sequences to really pop. This recording comes from the 2014 Broadway revival which received good notices but barely lasted a year altogether.

Who knows why it didn’t last. It has a strong trio of men as its sailors on 24-hour ship leave in New York – Tony Yazbeck, Clyde Alves, and Jay Armstrong Johnson – and some women who steal the show from them, most notably Elizabeth Stanley’s Claire de Loone, and Jackie Hoffman too for good measure. Stanley’s portrayal in particular really shines through, matching a strong soprano with serious comic skills and making her someone I want to find out more about.  Continue reading “Album Review: On The Town (2014 New Broadway Cast Recording)”

CD Review: Xanadu (2007 Original Broadway Cast)

“A place, where nobody dared to go”
And from the musicals that will be on at the Southwark Playhouse to one which has already played. The glitter and roller-skates of Xanadu took up residence at the tail end of 2015 and was a hugely enjoyable camp-fest of a show – tongue not so much in cheek as licking lips lasciviously whilst adjusting leg-warmers. An unexpected Tony-nominated success on Broadway in 2007, this cast recording dates back to that production and so features the rather marvellous Cheyenne Jackson.
If I believed in guilty pleasures then this would be the thing but what was heightened in the theatre due to tanned thighs, clouds of chiffon and raucous roller-skating doesn’t quite come across on record here. For listening to this record ultimately depends on how much you like the oeuvre of Olivia Newton-John and ELO and little more besides, as little is done to many of the songs and the orchestrations that they receive here are pitifully thin compared to the originals as they inevitably are.

Jackson’s hapless hunk Sonny is undoubtedly appealing but there’s a real caustic edge to Kerry Butler’s Clio/Kira, the goddess who helps him to build the ultimate roller-disco, in her savage Newton-John impersonation. And there’s nothing unpleasant about their duets together, tracks like ‘Suddenly’ and ‘Suspended in Time’, they just end up being versions of the inoffensive pop songs that they are.
It’s left to the likes of Mary Testa and Jackie Hoffman as evil sisters Melpomene and Calliope to transfer the campness directly into the music, their takes on ‘Evil Woman’ and ‘Strange Magic’ raising at least a chuckle throughout as they’re allowed to strain at the MOR leash. Otherwise, sadly, you’re best off just listening to your Best of Olivia Newton-John and ELO if it’s their music you’re craving.

Album Review: James and the Giant Peach (World Premiere Cast)

“Have you even begun to wonder?”

In an act of great generosity and canny marketing, an all-star recording of Benj Pasek and Justin Paul’s score for James and the Giant Peach was made available as a free download for a time earlier this year and though it may have taken me a little while to get around to it, I can safely say it is one of my favourite new musicals that I have listened to all year. Roald Dahl novels seem to lend themselves to strong musical adaptations but there’s something magical at work here that means James is closer to Matilda than Charlie in the grand scheme of things.

It’s all the more surprising considering how much I wasn’t a fan of Pasek and Paul’s breakout hit Dogfight, highly lauded in some corners after its Southwark Playhouse premiere last year but not by me. Here though, their musical language has a gorgeous sensibility to it, full of buoyant energy and fresh harmony and interesting orchestration that really makes it stand out from the crowd. Utterly contemporary but avoiding chasing trends, there’s a sophistication to the writing here that really does, for me, recall the heights of Tim Minchin’s score for Matilda. Continue reading “Album Review: James and the Giant Peach (World Premiere Cast)”

Album Review: Scott Alan – Dreaming Wide Awake

“I have fought, I have cried.
I’ve been broke, I’ve been bruised.
Yet at the end of the day
This life is what I still choose.”

I was recommended this Scott Alan CD, Dreaming Wide Awake, by a reader who like me wasn’t a huge fan of Tim Prottey-Jones’ album which I reviewed last week and claimed that US composers were basically better all round. Whereas that sentiment made me automatically want to not bother, I do love a good recommendation and Scott Alan is one of those composers of whom I’ve heard a fair bit without having actually engaged with his music or any of his shows. Alan is a lyricist and composer who has written a handful of shows but more recently, his output seems to have been channelled into collections of his work on CD: he is now up to his third, of which Dreaming Wide Awake is the first.

I’m not going to get sucked into a US/UK debate here, there’s room in my heart to like all sorts of different things for different occasions, but I do have to say that this is an album which pretty much blew me away from first listen. Opening with the punchily brilliant ‘I’m A Star’ by Eden Espinosa, it is clear that Alan is unafraid of showing emotion in all its colours through his writing. I’m A Star is the kind of song to get pulses racing with its determined dreams of success and one I’m surprised I haven’t heard in a cabaret set (yet). Tracie Thoms’ ‘Let Love Begin’ has a driving tunefulness and there’s a great comic number in the countering viewpoints of ‘At Seventeen’. Continue reading “Album Review: Scott Alan – Dreaming Wide Awake”