By Steven Suskin
30 Nov 2009
This was the fullest year in memory for new recordings of musicals; some Broadway, some off, some revival and some studio. Plenty, for a change, to chose from.
When is a new musical not a new musical? When it's been presented in three different guises with staging by three distinct, award-winning directors. ROAD SHOW [Nonesuch/PS Classics 518940], the final (?) version of this Stephen Sondheim/John Weidman musical (previously known as Wise Guys, Gold, and Bounce), came to the Public Theater last November under the direction of John Doyle. Any new Sondheim recording with original material and the composer's personal attention makes my list. Road Show might, after years and years of work, remain less than a crowd-pleaser as a musical; the score, though, is up to Mr. Sondheim's standards.
From Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens comes THE GLORIOUS ONES [CDJAY 1407], their eighth full-scale theatre score and a highly enjoyable one. Marc Kudisch heads the cast of this show-biz based, commedia dell'arte musical. The big news of the year for Flaherty and Ahrens fans, though, is the Broadway revival of Ragtime, which will presumably make it to our CD players by Tony time.
Zina Goldrich and Marcy Heisler's pint-size DEAR EDWINA [PS Classics PS-871] only appears to be a kid's musical. It is, in actuality, a canny and highly entertaining work in the vein of You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown. Exuberant, toe-tappin' fun — and full of musical comedy know-how. This is not a new musical, exactly; Edwina has been entertaining audiences since it was released for stock and amateur use back in 1998. The show finally made it to New York last winter, and is about to return for its second holiday season at the DR2 on Union Square. The delightful studio cast includes the likes of Kerry Butler, Andrea Burns, Rebecca Luker, Terrence Mann and more.
The surprise CD of the year, perhaps, was Douglas J. Cohen's THE GIG [Jay CDJAY 1402]. A lost musical that was developed in the mid-90s at the Manhattan Theatre Club and moved on to Goodspeed's Norma Terris, The Gig never seems to have had a major chance at the New York market. The York examined it in 2006, resulting in an arrestingly interesting studio cast album. Cohen, composer of the 1987 musical No Way to Treat a Lady, grabbed me from his opening number and kept me engaged. How discouraging to think that a score of this quality can get shuffled aside and all but forgotten.
New Recordings of Old Shows
Conductor Marin Alsop's new recording of Leonard Bernstein's MASS [Naxos 8.559622-23] just might be the indispensable item of the year. Falling between theatre and concert hall, Mass is the orphan among the works of the great LB. This new recording makes the perfect excuse for those unfamiliar with the score to finally discover it. Thanks to the artistry of the conductor and the central performance of Jubilant Sykes, I rank this above Bernstein's own excellent 1971 recording.
The studio cast album event of the year, I think it is safe to say, was Rodgers and Hammerstein's ALLEGRO [Masterworks Broadway 88697-41738]. The authors' estates, which have learned the value of spending some of their vast income on restoration and preservation, saw fit to underwrite a first-class recording of this unusual 1947 musical (which briefly interrupted the remarkable hit parade of Oklahoma! and Carousel, on one side, and South Pacific and The King and I on the other). I don't expect that the new recording will turn Allegro into a sudden staple of the repertoire like the similarly slow-starting Candide; but it certainly will earn respect for Dick and Oscar's neglected score. And if you're going to do something, do it right: R&H's Ted Chapin and Bruce Pomahac enlisted the likes of Audra McDonald, Nathan Gunn, Patrick Wilson, Liz Callaway, Norbert Leo Butz, Laura Benanti and Judy Kuhn. Larry Blank leads the orchestra in Russell Bennett's original orchestration, and everybody makes Allegro sound quite wonderful. Continued...