ON THE RECORD: From Beautiful to If/Then, How Do This Season's Broadway Cast Albums Hold Up?

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22 Jun 2014


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It is more difficult to address the other items on this week's list, for a not unfamiliar problem. How do you impartially judge a recording of a score that didn't work, for you, in the theatre? Once in a great while, I've been surprisingly enchanted by posthumously-released cast albums of musicals that I'd found excessively dire; The Grass Harp and Mack & Mabel spring to mind. These are rare exceptions, though.

Bullets Over Broadway [Masterworks Broadway] is the new Woody Allen/Susan Stroman musical, based on the 1994 film written by Allen and Douglas McGrath (who as it happens contributed the amusingly breezy libretto for Beautiful). The screen "Bullets" featured a jukebox score, from a decidedly obscure jukebox; Mr. Allen has often laced his films with soundtracks of vintage songs, and that seems to have been the inspiration for the musical. Zach Braff, Marin Mazzie, Nick Cordero, Brooks Ashmanskas, Betsy Wolfe, Heléne Yorke and Karen Ziemba lead the cast, with the music — mostly from long-forgotten composers — selected and adapted by Glen Kelly and orchestrated by Doug Besterman.

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If/Then [Masterworks Broadway] is the new Idina Menzel musical from the Next to Normal team, composer Tom Kitt and lyricist/librettist Brian Yorkey. The show has been ensconced at the Richard Rodgers since opening March 30, with Menzel proving a box office draw. The star is joined by an impressive group of musical theatre performers — LaChanze (Once on This Island), Anthony Rapp (Rent), James Snyder (Cry-Baby), Jerry Dixon (Once On This Island) and more. The CD seems to be selling well, thanks presumably to the reach of Menzel and loyal fans of Next to Normal. Carmel Dean conducts the orchestrations by Michael Starobin.

And then there's A Night with Janis Joplin [Broadway]. Mary Bridget Davies attracted attention — and a Tony nomination — as the rock singer who grew up doing her housecleaning listening to Jerry Herman cast albums, at least per the libretto. I, for one, rushed out of the Lyceum into a bustling Times Square seeking a moment's quiet.

(Steven Suskin is author of "Show Tunes," "The Sound of Broadway Music: A Book of Orchestrators and Orchestrations," "Second Act Trouble," the "Opening Night on Broadway" books, and "The Book of Mormon: The Testament of a Broadway Musical." He also writes the Aisle View blog at The Huffington Post. He can be reached at Ssuskin@aol.com.)

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