For many who live beyond the NY and London metro areas, the cast album IS their experience of a show.
In that light, Playbill On-Line asked members to share their greatest experience listening to a cast album that was released in 1996.
Here is a selection of the results. Playbill On-Line thanks all those who submitted entries.
From Jeff Adams (email@example.com), Eureka CA:
Rent gets my vote. I bought the CD the day it came out and it hasn't left the player yet (I've got a portable so it goes every where with me). It is such a stunning and powerful show that even after six weeks I can't take it out. Every time I think about, it's no, I want to hear [the last song] one more time. Plus, the distance I have to travel to work means I can listen to 1/2 an act on the trip. Favorite cuts you ask? What isn't a favorite cut. I guess if I had to boil it down it would be a tie between "One Song Glory," "La Vie Boheme," and "I'll Cover You" and everything from track 5 to 12 in Act II. Anyway, I love the CD even more since I saw the show in mid-September.
From David Levy (firstname.lastname@example.org), Cambridge, MA:
Without a question, my best experience with a cast album this summer was "Big." I realize it's not the best cast album of 1996, but the first time I heard "Cross the Line" I knew I had to see the show. The song is so upbeat and stirring, but it also has an emotional message that resonated with me so much that I still get chills when I hear it. I immediately bought tickets and counted down the days until I could see it by playing "Cross the Line" over and over again . . . And now that I've seen it, it brings back the memories of what a wonderful time I had when I saw it.
From Richard Ouzounian (email@example.com), Toronto:
It's not in the stores in the US yet, but it will be shortly. My best OCR experience of MANY recent years is the new selections from RAGTIME, which represents about 3/4 of the score performed by almost all of the leads who will be in the production that opens in Toronto on December 8. The album has been on sale in Canada for a few days now, but it's getting very positive reviews and word of mouth.
I think the music by Stephen Flaherty and the lyrics by Lynn Ahrens are incredibly powerful . . . and on disc the performances of Brian Stokes Mitchell, Audra McDonald and Marin Mazzie are already amazing.
There are at least a half dozen songs that you cannot forget after only one or two hearings, and the finest of all is a heart-breakingly beautiful number for Mitchell and McDonald called "Wheels of a Dream". It brings tears to my eyes every time I hear it.
If all a show needs is a great score, this one is a hit already.
It certainly has been a good year for cast albums. Varese's KING AND I will rank as one of the best. I was lucky enough to see the show on my last visit and loved it. Nobody doubts Donna Murphy is a great singer and she was very very good but Lou Diamond Phillips was the revelation. He may be more of a boy king than Brynner but gave it his own and I thought he was tremendous. That performance certainly comes across on the CD.
The London Cast of COMPANY is far superior to the Broadway Angel version. Adrian Lester comes across as a very vulnerable Bobby and one I would have liked to have seen.
BUT the piece de resistance is the Judi Dench LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC. This may definitely be the best version to ever come out. I always found "Liaisons" rather tiresome on record but Sian Phillips brings it alive. I also like combining "Glamorous Life" of the stage and screen version, Patricia Hodge's "My Husband the Pig" and the extras included. And Judi Dench's "Send in the Clowns" is probably the most haunting rendition ever. This has to be the cast album of the year. I only hope that RCA or someone releases it domestically so that more fans have access to it and don"t pay $50 at [the NY theatre district record store] Colony for it.
From Scott Maher (ScottB@microhelp):
I had purchased it the day of its release. Having only seen the Rent performance on the Tony awards, I wasn't quite sure what to expect since I was not familiar with La Boheme. I played the CD while driving and literally wept while listening to "I'll Cover You" from Act II. I must have played that one track a dozen times just trying to capture the intensity of the emotions that Collins was experiencing.
From NEL, Brazil:
I live in Brazil and even though I go to New York once in a while, I know most musicals through their cast recordings.
Here is what I think of this year's releases:
I think that the best new musical of 1996 was, no doubt, RENT. It has a powerful score, great performances and is quite original. BIG was your basic old fashioned musical, full of cliches and mostly uninspired songs ( I hope some numbers didn't look as "tacky" as they sound ). The CD of NOISE/FUNK might bring good memories for those who actualy saw the show. For those of us who didn't, it doesn't make much sense and is realy boring.
My favorite cast recording of 96 is THE KING AND I. Ms. Murphy proves not only that she deserved every bit of her Tony Award but also that she is the most gifted actress to emerge in decades. And for all of us who mocked his casting as the King, Mr. Phillips gives a real lesson. I wish Broadway got more revivals like this one!
From Kyle Clausen (KyClaw@aol.com), St. Paul, MN:
My favorite cast recording that was released in 1996 was the Nathan Lane "Forum". Although the show is often considered trivial, the music is quite good (as always with Stephen Sondheim). It is one of the few Broadway cast recordings I own that makes me laugh out loud when I am listening to it.
Nathan Lane makes a superb performance, and the recording would NOT be the same if someone else was playing the role. However, just as important is the fact that the recording has an outstanding supporting cast. Often times, a big name on a cast recording will be very good, but the rest of the ensemble lacks in intensity and grandeur as the star does. However, in forum this is not the case......the whole recording is wonderful. The list of "catchy" tunes is almost non-stop on that recording. "Comedy Tonight," "Everybody Ought To Have a Maid," and "Pretty Little Picture" as three of the best; but, the whole recording is filled with wonderful tunes and funny quips ("fraughter than I thought" in "Impossible"). This is my 1996 pick for best cast recording. Bravo!
From Stephen L. Faulkner (firstname.lastname@example.org), Provo, UT:
In terms of best cast album, though not necessarily the best musical of the season, Bring in Da Noise, Bring in Da Funk is clearly the finest album. Choosing to do the album live was well thought out by the producers. The rhythms and sound of that cast and the audience's reactions to them make Noise/Funk a great album. I also feel that the cast album of Noise/Funk recreated the experience of seeing the actual production much better than did other recordings such as The King and I or Rent. Listening to "Chuck, Greene, Chaney, and Slyde" brings chills on the album almost as effectively as watching it in person. The album simulates incredibly well what the show felt like to be there.
From Doug Knight (email@example.com) Corvallis, OR:
In my opinion, RENT is not only the most exciting cast album of 1996 but of the 1990s thus far. This has been a terrible decade for show music. Only two other widely distributed cast alums have recorded scores which are not absurdly indulgent towards either the writers or the audience: THE SECRET GARDEN and ONCE ON THIS ISLAND.
RENT is flawed, of course, but many of those flaws add to its charm and power. Rock music is not supposed to sound polished. Perfect rhymes and lyrics that always make sense are not characteristic of rock. RENT is not exclusively a rock piece, but its rock credentials come more from where it is rough than from where it perfectly obeys the conventions of show music. I wish the album sounded rougher.
The two things which make the recording remarkable are the quality of the music and the strength of the performances, particularly Anthony Rapp's. Rapp is amazing in his ability to unite the skills of a trained actor with an incredible willingness not to back away from the naivete of the writing.
From Nicholas Cheng:
It's of my favorite musical...BIG!!!!!!!!!!!!
Since I listen to it soooo much, it started to skip on "Cross the Line"
Other fav's are Rent and Forum.
Although I loved parts of BIG, the Ziemba-Garrison I DO! I DO! has my vote as most memorable album of the year. It's fun, new and a very fresh interpretation of the score. The real stars on this album are the pianists. I cannot remember hearing a cast album where the piano was such an integral part of the action. The piano is a character just like Agnes and Michael and adds commentary throughout the CD. It is a real pleasure to play this CD over and over.
Can we vote twice? I originally voted for I DO! I DO! and I still think its the best cast album to come out in a while. However, this weekend I got King and I. What an album! Now I know what all the fuss is about and why Murphy won the Tony. The confrontation scene is perfection-she broke my heart. The only thing this CD is lacking is the "Small House of Uncle Thomas." With such a great reading of this score WHY did they omit this important piece of music. A real disappointment.
From Tony Melson (firstname.lastname@example.org) New Haven, CT:
My favorite cast album of 1996 was State Fair. It was so neat to listen to Andrea McArdle. I listened to Annie a lot so it was fun comparing her voice when she was 13 in Annie to her voice in State Fair. My favorite song happens to be "Spring Fever."
From Adrian D. Cameron (email@example.com), St. Louis, MO:
For myself, although it may seem rather an odd choice, I had the best time listening to BED AND SOFA. It's so different and strange and wonderful, and the last fifteen minutes get me crying every time. Of course, maybe my affection towards it came mostly from the fact that it drove my family completely bonkers (thought that only happened with Sondheim...). I can still hear their screams.
From Ali Day:
FAVOURITE 1996 CAST RECORDING: Sunset Boulevard-German cast recording.
My favourite musical is SUNSET BOULEVARD, by the way.
I had to pleasure to watch SUNSET BLVD. in this summer's trip. I saw it first in Wiesbaden, Germany; then again with Petula Clark in London's West End.
The cast recording includes all the highlights. Obviously, cuts have been made to fit recording time. Not only highlights, but a track that doesn't usually appear in the SUNSET highlights album: "Salome."
I think the recording has very good acting singers. From the way I saw the show, the recording is sung just the same as the sung material on stage. Every actor brings his or her character in that recording.
The lyrics are in German. I think the actors did a very good job in showing that the setting is in America. Their German accents are somewhat American. The "t's" are pronounced "d's" as the American tend to pronounce them.
Helen Scheider plays the silent movie queen Norma Desmond. Schnieder has a good voice, starting with her "With One Look" ("Nur ein Blick"), ending her beginning scene with "Salome". She, like Glenn Close can't decide weather to be a soprano or an alto. Her "With One Look" has more voice than Close's, though.
Her "As If We Never Said Goodbye" ("Als hatten wir uns nie Goodbye gesagi" is quite surprising and enjoyable. Helen makes an increasing scale in her "at-last". Another good parts done in that song is when Norma cries at some parts of the song. Her final scene response to "it's Max who writes your letters" is also original. She bursts out laughing saying something like "this is a good one Joe, let's have another one!"
Our Joe Gillis is played by the blue-eyed handsome Uwe Kroger. Which does a good job in mystifying the audience/listeners in "I Guess It Was 5 A.M" (Es war etwa funf Uhr fruh). He stresses on the word "Sunset" (mansions up on Sunset). He also bursts out with all his angers in the title song, yelling out some words.
I guess I have highlighted the important parts of the recording. I have no comments on Max and Betty, except that they are such wonderful singers and actors.
From Mike Busillo, (CybrSefr@aol.com) Cherryhill, NJ:
DEFINITELY without a doubt, RENT! What other answer is there!? It was the first time I actually cried just listening to a CD. My favorite cuts are "Take Me or Leave Me," "Contact," "Goodbye Love" and "Another Day." Listening to the recording, I really felt the loss of the incredible Jonathan Larson. I believe the how awesome and unique the cast is. Definitely the best of '96 if not one of the best ever!
From Alan, Ontario, Canada:
This poll comes at just the right time. Without a doubt THE cast album experience of the year for me is the recently released (in Canada) "Songs from RAGTIME."
Although it's not strictly an original cast album, the album contains 62 minutes of highlights from the show, which is set to open next month in Toronto, prior to Broadway.
The album is, in a word, superb. There are excellent performances from Brian Stokes Mitchell, Marrin Mazzie, Audra McDonald, Lynette Perry, Camille Saviola, (all of whom will be in the stage production) Mark Jacoby, and an outstanding supporting cast.
The team of Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens have once again shown us what an exceptionally talented and versatile team they are. This score is so completely different from their previous works (LUCKY STIFF, ONCE ON THIS ISLAND, and MY FAVORITE YEAR). They have written moving ballads, Vaudeville pastiches, syncopated rags, and powerful soaring anthems. Their songs have brilliantly captured the feel and the sounds of the ragtime era.
From Elyzabeth Gorman:
Hi, my name's Elyzabeth Gorman and I'm a 16-year-old actor/director. You're right that this year had some awesome cast albums, but I think "Rent" blew all the other ones out of the water. Admittedly, I am a little biased against revivals, because I think they make us focus on what musical theatre has achieved in the past, not what we can achieve in the future. That's why I love "Rent" so much. Not only is it great music, but it's dealing with issues that, except for a couple exceptions, like "Jeffrey" (another favorite of mine) haven't been dealt with by mainstream theatre. Plus, the music is really entertaining. I got the "Rent" cd the day it came out and I've listened to it so much that by this point, if someone gives me four words I can say what song they're from, where the song is in the show, the name of the actor, and the character they're playing. The only other show I can do that with is "Les Miz."
From Matthew Dykty:
In my opinion, Nathan Lane in Forum is the best new Cast CD of the season. Lane add so much to the show, and he makes the show. The CD gives that same feeling, and that is why this cd exceeds the others of the season.
From Drayton Hiers (Charleston, SC):
My name is Drayton Hiers, and I'm a 17-year-old senior who lives in Chas. SC, but I recently made a two week pilgrimage to NY to see shows. Concerning CD's- Noise/Funk works surprisingly well due to the fact that one can hear how the tap fits into the beat of the music, something lost in the theater due to the spectacle of the dance.
Rent is also a great CD, b/c it shows that the score is brilliant, even if the stage production is the worst mess to hit B'way in a few years. It's a pity that the brilliant lyrics and musical phrasings were lost in the garish sound design of the show -- is the designer deaf?
From Dan Derby (firstname.lastname@example.org ), Chicopee, MA:
Nathan Lane is SUPERB in the new cast recording of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. You can almost see his facial expressions when listening to the cd. I am pleased that they added the song "Pretty Little Picture", which is not currently performed at the St. James.
"Comedy Tonight" is by far the best number on the recording, with the added "tragedy" material included. It is so refreshing to hear an actual recording where "Pseudolus" has a decent voice. Zero Mostel in the orig. Broadway cast and Frankie Howard in the orig. London, are humor masters in their own ways, but listening to them belt out "FREEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE" would pierce even a fly's hearing.
The one thing that I would do differently on this recording would be to change Mark Linn Baker's number "Calm". I miss hearing the hilarious antics of Jack Gilford in the role of "Hysterium", who originated the part.
By far this is one of the best recordings of 96'. I am sure that most people would pick "Rent" for their top choice, but what Broadway is lacking is NEW musical comedy. Even though, this is revised material, it is still fun to listen to. Now, what I look forward to is a cast recording of Liza Minnelli in "Victor/Victoria" in 97'. How Exciting!!!!!
From Seth Sklar-Heyn (email@example.com) West Hartford, CT :
In response to your poll about the best 1996 album. I vote for Rent. This is an unbelievable show and the music is a pure masterpiece. The cast is young and strong, and they truly portray their characters in a way that is unimaginable. After buying the cd I witnessed the production and was really able understand the lyrics that other people complained about.
From Carla Burwitz (firstname.lastname@example.org), Chisago City, MN:
My favorite CD is "A Funny Thing...". I was able to take a trip to New York in the early part of April and while there I saw the show 5 times. Every time I listen to the CD I'm transported back in time and I'm just as excited as I was the first time I saw it!! My favorite track is "Pretty Little Pictures." Listening to the CD also helps me find a little bit of peace during a crazy day! I live in and my name is Carla Burwitz.
From Art Fenster (email@example.com):
After cutting away the glitz and big production numbers, I would have to say that the cast recording of "I Do, I Do" was the best so far in 1996. My second choice, because of its creativity, and novelty would have to be "Bring in 'da Noise, Bring in 'da Funk". The recording of "Forum" did not impress me, it was not much different or memorable when compared to the original. Nathan Lane is obviously funnier when you can see him, than when you cant. As for "Rent", I found it interesting as a recording, but difficult to follow the story line despite the dialogue. The libretto enclosed with the CD was simply unreadable. As for the "King and I" is there really a King after Yul Brynner? Enough Said.
Cast album reissues excepted, I'd say that Rent is easily my favorite album of 1996. When I saw the show in August, I was bowled over by the musical's marvelous, electrifying staging and astonishing cast, particularly leads Daphne Rubin-Vega and Adam Pascal. What was harder to fully appreciate on a first viewing was Jonathan Larson's extraordinary score. Although I was somewhat familiar with some of the songs (i.e. "Out Tonight," "One Song Glory," "Rent," of course "Seasons of Love"), the complexity and variety of the score left me feeling that this was a work that demanded, and almost required, repeated hearings.
Happily, Dreamworks' excellent recording has given us all the opportunity to play and replay Rent. After multiple listenings, I now can comfortably state that Mr. Larson's score is one of the most exciting that Broadway has heard in several years and it brings the sounds of rock music to the theater. A devout collector of cast recordings, I have commented to many people that Rent is the only "rock" album I own in my music collection! But this composer uses contemporary musical styles to tell an overwhelmingly moving story and there are innumerable emotional, quirky, humorous, and beautiful moments throughout.
My favorite track has to be "Out Tonight," because of Daphne Rubin-Vega's sizzling performance and the electric beat of the song. I also love this number because of where it comes in the show-- it follows a touching, sad scene at an AIDS support group and provides a startling contrast (this contrast was even more pronounced in the theater, with a spotlight hitting Ms. Rubin-Vega on the second-level platform just as the band blasted the song's first note). A friend of mine joked that when they make the Rent movie, they should stage "Out Tonight" in the precise way that Nancy Kwan's "I Enjoy Being a Girl" was done in the Flower Drum Song film!
My only complaint about the recording is that I wish that a little more of the dialogue was included, especially Anthony Rapp's final, touching words right before the first act curtain. But this is quibbling. I consider Rent the greatest cast album of 1996.
From Cheerios (firstname.lastname@example.org):
The best cast albums would have to be both Big and Rent. They are both the best musicals to have come to broadway. The music is perfect. The best song on the Rent CD is "One Song Glory" and Big's best song is "Cross the Line." I have seen Big (One of the best musicals EVER), but not Rent.
From Jeff Pugel (email@example.com) NYC and Cleveland:
My favorite cast album by far is RENT. After seeing the show 4 times before the album was released it was an awesome experience to finally have it at home and being able to listen to it more intensely than is possible at the theatre. By just listening to it and not seeing the action on stage, I felt a deeper understanding of the show by listening more to the lyrics and the music itself. Plus the cast brings such a passion to the recording that it still carries their individual personalities across.
There are two drastic drawbacks however. First is the choice to leave out bits of dialogue and sound effects. This is most evident from Mark's opening lines of the show. With dialogue during the show at a minimum, why not put the extra lines on the album? Also sound effects that are in the show (such as the motorcycle right before "Over the Moon" are omitted while the screeching car bits are included) should've been included.
The album also is a bit too polished for my ears. With the show being as gritty as it is, it feels weird to listen to a polished version on the CD. It just doesn't seem so real. The little breaks between tracks are also a major annoyance. I wonder why they couldn't have recorded the show symphonically like Les Miz and Miss Saigon.
I think The King and I was my favorite album produced in 1996. I thought that Taewon Kim was superb at her role vocally! I thought the new recording brought new life to the show. It has so many great songs that sound even better than on the original recording. It is truly "something wonderful!"
From Josh Ludzki (firstname.lastname@example.org):
My favorite cast album would definitely have to be Rent. Every song on the album is so different but they're all great! I don't think I could chose a favorite cut but I could name a few that I really like: "One Song Glory," "La Vie Boheme," "Another Day," and "What You Own."
From William Whitehouse:
My favorite cast recording of 1996 may be a bit biased by a few facts.
1. I only own two cast recordings and one is Jesus Christ Superstar, which, if I'm not mistaken, actually belongs to my older brother.
2. For some bizarre reason, I love theatre but hate musicals.
3. My only Broadway experience is less than a month old when I embarrassed my date by laughing OUT LOUD at some of the finer moments in Durang's Sex and Longing. (We were two of the six people there born after the Kennedy administration.)
4. I don't have immediate access to shows opening on Broadway, being I live in Ohio.
All that aside, my vote for best cast recording goes to RENT.
Although I expected more of a "rock" sound from the music, the CD became a good book I just couldn't put down. I would listen to it over and over until I knew it well enough to find the emotional high points of the show. Hands down, Adam Pascal became my favorite voice. His roots to rock music bloom visibly throughout the recording to give the show the "rock" sound I so craved.
As far as my favorite moment on the CD, in Act II, the song "Goodbye Love" begins with Mimi's quivering voice and builds, person by person, relationship by relationship, to Roger (Adam Pascal)'s explosive finale for the first portion of the song. Then, to end the song with Mimi's crystalline voice singing "Goodbye Love, Hello Disease."
I got shivers. Chills. Powerful, powerful stuff. If Broadway can produce more musicals like RENT. . . or better yet, allow RENT to be the springboard for more daring music theatre that can breathe youthful life into an industry whose audiences were more peeved than pleased that I was enjoying "Sex and Longing."
From Paul D. Broussard (email@example.com), New Orleans, LA:
I think that this year's best cast album was the very highly anticipated release of the late Jonathan Larson's Rent. This recording has made this truly amazing show more accessible to people around the globe. It is truly a good recording, and it (in my opinion) was well made, despite what some of the critics write.
Another good cast album (not really a "cast album"), which though released in 1995, is the CD by Betty Buckley - "New Ways to Dream": Songs from Sunset Boulevard. For the overwhelming popularity of Ms. Buckley's Norma Desmond, this short, four song album is the centerpiece to anyone's music collection, because it is performed by the definitive Norma, and it is a tribute to Lloyd Webber's thoroughly well-written Sunset Blvd. A note - I write this with regards to Ms. Buckley's departure from the Broadway production of Sunset.