REVISITING CHICAGO: When City Center's Encores! series presented its staged concert version of Chicago two seasons ago, no one could have predicted the huge success that this musical would enjoy on Broadway and around the world. The latest recordingthe London cast recordingof the John Kander/Fred Ebb/Bob Fosse musical has just been released in the U.K. by RCA Victor and will be available in the U.S. this month. Starring the international chanteuse Ute Lemper as Velma Kelly and London's Ruthie Henshall as Roxie Hart, this new recording is a must for fans of the musical first seen on Broadway in 1975. Henshall and Lemper are arguably the best singers to take on the roles of the merry murderesses to date, Henshall possessing a voice that can belt (she portrayed Fantine in the Les Miz production aired on TV) and soar into a high soprano (she was awarded an Olivier for her work in London's She Loves Me), and Lemper owning an equally distinguished instrument. The two multi-talented stars bring the score to wonderful, exciting life, and are especially dazzling on their two duets ("My Own Best Friend" and "Nowadays") as well as on their solo work (Henshall on "Roxie" and Ute Lemper on "I Can't Do It Alone"). "Cell Block Tango" and "Nowadays" remain two of the biggest joys of the score, and the CD also includes fine work from Meg Johnson as Mama Morton, Henry Goodman as Billy Flynn and Nigel Planer as Amos Hart.
LIFE IS: Easily one of the highlights of the theatre season past, Sam Mendes and Rob Marshall's production of another Kander and Ebb musical, Cabaret, was selling-out nightly at the revamped Kit Kat Klub on West 43rd Street before a construction accident temporarily shut it down. The creative team and producers of this landmark production wisely realized how integral the cabaret setting of this show is to its full enjoyment that they decided to include audience reaction on the new CD. Although the recording was completed in a studio, the sounds of applause and laughter have been added to many of the tracks. Standouts of the RCA Victor release include Alan Cumming (as the Emcee) and the Kit Kat Girls on a spirited version of "Willkommen"; the strong-voiced Michele Pawk and company on the show's unsettling first-act finale, "Tomorrow Belongs to Me"; Cumming's haunting rendition of the beautiful second-act tune "I Don't Care Much"; Natasha Richardson's (as Sally Bowles) spine-tingling, go-for-the-throat take on the title tune; and Mary Louise Wilson's moving version of one of the show's most brilliant lyrics in the song "So What."
-- By Andrew Gans