ON THE RECORD: Original Broadway Cast Albums of Matilda, Hands on a Hardbody and Scandalous

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13 Oct 2013

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Hands on a Hardbody [Ghostlight]

I did not quickly rush to hear Hands on a Hardbody either, but for a different reason. This was one of those shows in which the creators were very much in earnest, but in the theatre — at least in a Broadway theatre — it just didn't engage my interest at all. It was a reality-based story about a group of down-and-out Texans competing to win a new truck: Whoever keeps his or her hand on the Nissan longest, wins. Thus, kind of like A Chorus Line without Michael Bennett and with too few characters to care about. "I really need this job" is one thing; "I really need this truck" is something else.

This last-one-in-wins plot — not unlike a dance marathon — boxed in the authors. It got to the point that you could tell precisely who was going to be axed next; as soon as the songwriters gave a character a big solo, they were toast. Once the pattern was set, there was little to do but wait for them all to drop. Fortunately, we got to meet some engaging performers in the process.

My night at the Atkinson did not leave me looking forward to the cast album. What I find, though, is that some of Trey Anastasio and Amanda Green's songs are considerably more effective than they seemed when saddled by that unforgiving framework. Effective character studies, with the ring of truth. Hands on a Hardbody had its ardent fans, which propelled it eastward from La Jolla, but it was quickly dismissed in New York by critics and audiences at large. Still, it just may be that Broadway was simply the wrong place for this show at the wrong time.

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Scandalous [Shout]

It is my feeling that every Broadway musical deserves a cast album. After all the work and all the effort that are poured into the show, it is fit and proper that there be something that remains after the scenery has been carted to the dump and everybody has gone home. Going back to the so-called good old days when a professional musical without a cast album was a rarity, I can think of numerous fast failures that I happily listen to on a regular basis.

That said, there are exceptions — like Scandalous, the Kathie Lee Gifford musical about "the life and trials of Aimee Semple McPherson." Talk about trials! The show was altogether raked over the coals when it opened at the Neil Simon Nov. 2012, so I needn't do any further roasting. Let's just say that Carolee Carmello gave her all in a hopeless cause — earning a Tony nomination but deserving hazard pay — and leave it at that. But since we are discussing original Broadway cast albums from last season, Scandalous certainly qualifies. Completists who dutifully collect every original Broadway cast album that comes along be advised.

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

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