Ken Mandelbaum's MUSICALS ON DISC: Bacharach & European Musical Sampler

Ken Mandelbaum's MUSICALS ON DISC: Bacharach & European Musical Sampler THE BURT BACHARACH ALBUM (Varese Sarabande)
The current Burt Bacharach renaissance has included New York and Los Angeles concert versions of Promises, Promises, the films Austin Powers and My Best Friend's Wedding, a couple of TV specials, the revue What The World Needs Now that tanked in San Diego instead of moving on to New York, and the new Varese Sarabande release The Burt Bacharach Album.
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THE BURT BACHARACH ALBUM (Varese Sarabande)
The current Burt Bacharach renaissance has included New York and Los Angeles concert versions of Promises, Promises, the films Austin Powers and My Best Friend's Wedding, a couple of TV specials, the revue What The World Needs Now that tanked in San Diego instead of moving on to New York, and the new Varese Sarabande release The Burt Bacharach Album.

The album does a successful job of arranging the songs in a manner that doesn't emulate the classic, Dionne Warwick-style Bacharach sound. Jason Graae kicks things off with a zesty "What's New, Pussycat?" (with some Jellicle cats thrown in). The Plaids have a medley of movie themes, including those from The Blob and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. "Anyone Who Had A Heart" lies well for LaChanze. And Helen Reddy still sounds good in "That's What Friends Are For."

Because I have a definite affection for the Bacharach catalogue, I found this an enjoyable collection, with one significant quibble: The disc is the first entry in the new V-S series Broadway Sings . . ., featuring theater performers in popular music (only the three Promises, Promises songs on the Bacharach album are from the theater). But I do feel that the casts on these V-S compilations are not as strong and theatrically-based as they once were. Earlier V-S series boasted regular appearances by Debbie Gravitte, Sally Mayes, Liz Callaway, and Judy Kuhn; how many Broadway musicals have Farah Alvin, Melba Joyce, Michelle Nicastro, Alet Oury and Linda Purl (not to mention Guy Haines) been in?

Two final comments: The "hidden track" at the end is rather self-serving. And where are all the great songs from the Lost Horizon film and the ABC-TV Stage 67 On The Flip Side?


SHADES OF NIGHT: MUSICAL GOES ROCK (Sound of Music)
I recently took note in this space of the phenomenon of European musical hits largely unknown in English-speaking countries. Along with these has come an explosion of interest throughout Europe in musical theatre, both home-grown shows and hits from New York and London, and that has inevitably led to the rise of home-grown musical theatre stars.

Nowhere in Europe is the interest more intense than it is in Germany, where classic repertoire pieces (up until two years ago, Chicago was performed with greater frequency there than in the U.S.), current Broadway and West End shows, and local musicals co-exist in profusion. And Germany has developed its own Patti LuPones, Terrence Manns, Sam Harrises, and Betty Buckleys: If you've never heard of Pia Douwes (creator of the title role in the Viennese blockbuster Elisabeth, and Fantine and Evita in Amsterdam), Maya Hakvoort (a later, celebrated Elisabeth, and star of Catherine), or Andreas Bieber (another Elisabeth veteran, more recently a triumphant German Joseph), well, you don't live in Germany and follow musicals.

Sound of Music in Essen is Germany's foremost collector's store and mail- order service (they were under strict orders to air-mail me the Helen Schneider Sunset Boulevard CD the moment they opened the boxes), and, like London's Dress Circle, they also have their own label. The latest release, Shades of Night: Musical Goes Rock, features the above-named stars, along with such other regulars as Paul Kribbe (Elisabeth, Cats) and Maik Lohse (Miss Saigon, Gaudi); several of these performers were also heard on the 1994 SOM release Being Alive!: The Art of German Musical Stars.

The new disc is given over to songs from rock musicals and pop operas, ranging from English-language shows like Pippin, Jesus Christ Superstar, Blood Brothers, Tommy, and Chess, to Elisabeth, Gaudi (a very successful and rather silly show vaguely about the celebrated architect, with some pretty songs--- I've seen two TV tapings), and Starmania (a hugely successful pop opera with numerous productions in France, Canada, and Germany, also adapted into English by Tim Rice for a concept album called Tycoon that was supposed to have led to an English-language staging).

Indicating just how international musical theatre has become, the performers here sing everything in remarkably good English -- could Broadway's young musical performers do as well in German? Naturally, the most interesting tracks are those from the non-American/English musicals. This is an enjoyable CD, a good introduction to some shows not otherwise available in English, and to some talent we may not get to see here.

You can contact me at kenmanbway@aol.com