Ken Mandelbaum's MUSICALS ON DISC: Chicago in German / Gypsy in Spanish

Ken Mandelbaum's MUSICALS ON DISC: Chicago in German / Gypsy in Spanish CHICAGO (Reverso/BMG)
The cast recording of the recently opened, acclaimed Viennese production of Chicago is the musical's fifth cast album (following original and revival Broadway, Australia, and London); the third of the Bobbie Reinking-Weisslers production; the first foreign-language cast album; the first live recording; and, at 79 minutes, the longest.
Greg Louganis in Nunsense A-Men.
Greg Louganis in Nunsense A-Men.

CHICAGO (Reverso/BMG)
The cast recording of the recently opened, acclaimed Viennese production of Chicago is the musical's fifth cast album (following original and revival Broadway, Australia, and London); the third of the Bobbie Reinking-Weisslers production; the first foreign-language cast album; the first live recording; and, at 79 minutes, the longest.

It's an extremely lively, strong performance all around, and the audience is clearly loving it. Leading ladies Frederike Haas (Roxie) and Anna Montanaro (Velma) are young; they have other local credits, but are not major stars. The biggest name here is Rainhard Fendrich (Billy Flynn), a pop singer and TV celebrity. The standouts are Montanaro, whose Velma sounds more like Ute Lemper's than Bebe Neuwirth's, and Isabel Weicken, Vienna's original Evita, who makes a big impression as Mama Morton.

It was to be expected that this most Brechtian/Weillian of Broadway musicals would be a natural in German. As I've written before, one can never quite judge a Chicago production on the basis of a disc alone; the songs are inextricably linked to their staging, and the performers are chosen accordingly and need to be seen. But this one sounds like the hit it is.

TANZ DER VAMPIRE (Polydor)
As Chicago arrived at Theater an der Wien, another Vienna hit, Tanz der Vampire, entered its second year. Some time ago, I reviewed the superb Polydor 79-minute cast recording. Now, in honor of the first anniversary, there's a second cast album, this time a complete, double-CD set twice as long.

Directed by Roman Polanski, based on Polanski's film "The Fearless Vampire Killers," and with a score by Jim Steinman (music) and Michael Kunze (lyrics), Vampire is the latest in a series of successful German-language musicals (Elisabeth remains the most celebrated to date). For the stage version (which refashions the comic film into a romantic, gothic pop opera spectacle), pop composer Steinman, who is currently represented in the West End with the lyrics for Whistle Down The Wind, has recycled some earlier tunes, including the hit "Total Eclipse of the Heart." Vampire's commanding leading man is Steve Barton, the American actor who created the role of Raoul in The Phantom of the Opera, has done several U.S. musicals (including replacing Roger Rees during previews of The Red Shoes), but who is a bigger star in Vienna than in English-speaking countries, his other appearances there including Cats and Beauty and the Beast. (Barton is departing Vampire to play Frollo in this spring's Berlin stage premiere of The Hunchback of Notre Dame.)

While Elisabeth also received single and double-CD Vienna cast recordings, they were four years apart, and featured different casts. The new Vampire features the same original cast as last season's recording, and some of the tracks on the new set are taken from the first release. The score remains an odd but effective mix of lush pop opera sounds with operetta and rock; if it's not one of the very best of the genre, it's a worthy entry. Fans will be especially happy to have the complete recording; for others, the first disc of highlights may suffice.

GYPSY (Mexico)
Not long ago I devoted this space to a discussion of Gypsy recordings, and now a new one is at hand. A major Mexican stage and screen star as well as a producer, Silvia Pinal has already preserved on disc her leading roles in Annie Get Your Gun (Annie Es Un Tiro), Mame (both original and revival cast recordings), and Hello, Dolly!. It was probably inevitable that she would take on Rose, but what's notable about her production is that it co-stars Pinal's daughter, Alejandra Guzman, as Louise. The cast album (no label name) is the first full-length foreign-language cast recording of Gypsy, following last year's six-track CD of numbers from the Theater des Westens, Berlin production starring Angelika Milster.

Pinal's gravelly voice was just right for Mame and Dolly, and young enough when she did Annie Oakley in the '70s. But while it's true that Rose should ideally have a fresher, more attractive sound than Pinal's, the star is a very canny singer/actress who knows exactly how to use what she's got. The character is always there, and she's warm, charming and funny where appropriate, and in full histrionic flower for "Rose's Turn"; even the tonal roughness in "Everything's Coming Up Roses" works. Those looking for a thrilling sound may be disappointed, but Pinal's Rose is very effective.

Guzman has inherited her mother's baritone, and most of the time sounds exactly like her (gone are the usual sweet, high tones for "Little Lamb"). Note too that Guzman's strip sequence includes a new, steamy reprise of "You'll Never Get Away From Me."

You can contact me at kenmanbway@aol.com