Playbill Poll: Your Favorite Cast Albums of 1997 -- Part 1

News   Playbill Poll: Your Favorite Cast Albums of 1997 -- Part 1
The year 1997 has seen a bumper crop of theatrical cast albums: The Lion King, The Life, Titanic, Steel Pier, Side Show, Jekyll & Hyde, "Songs From The Capeman," the Dale-Martin Candide, the re-release of the long-awaited Golden Apple . . . and lots more.

The year 1997 has seen a bumper crop of theatrical cast albums: The Lion King, The Life, Titanic, Steel Pier, Side Show, Jekyll & Hyde, "Songs From The Capeman," the Dale-Martin Candide, the re-release of the long-awaited Golden Apple . . . and lots more.

For many who live beyond the NY and London metro areas, the cast album IS their experience of a show. In that light, please share your greatest experience listening to a cast album that was released or re-released in 1997. Please make sure to explain your choice.

E-mail your responses to Managing Editor Robert Viagas at

Here are the results so far. Playbill thanks those who took the time to write:

From Tenor32079:
Sail on TITANIC!! I think the music in this show is fabulous! The voices are wonderful, and Yeston's music fits with his lyrics and the emotion of the show so well, that it is difficult to listen to without feeling great emotion! The only thing missing "Wake Up, Wake Up", but the score is so strong it makes up for it. A great cast recording!!
I must cast another vote for SIDE SHOW. Another great work!! Emily and Alice are fantastic, and their duets are what makes the album! It is easy to follow the story even if you haven't seen the show. It is a very enjoyable composition.  

From MatHough:
There's only one cast album that to me sent my spirits soaring and my feelings sinking because I never got to see the show on stage - STEEL PIER.
Of the four nominated show for Best Musical at this year's Tony Awards, I felt the STEEL PIER excerpt was by far the most interesting, the most lyrical, the most fun, and the most breathtakingly staged. How infuriating when the show lost Tony after Tony to other musicals.
The cast album validated everything I felt was present in the 4-minute clip of STEEL PIER that was offered on CBS. The stars were superb in their vocals, and the John Kander-Fred Ebb score is magnificent. There isn't a bad song in the bunch, and the album preserves enough dialogue to follow the story easily and give thought to what the show must have looked like on stage. The CD is also beautifully packaged as well, something that can't be said for some of this year's other releases.
I definitely vote for STEEL PIER as the year's best cast album.


My choice for the best Original Cast Album of 1997 is JEKYLL and HYDE. Not a darling of the elite critics! Nonetheless, the show is a smash hit thanks to the audiences who have spread the word that indeed this is a truly entertaining and powerfully moving theatrical experience.
The cast recording is everything one could wish for...superb singing, lush orchestrations, and those glorious songs..."Someone Like You", "This Is the Moment", "A New Life", "Once Upon a Dream", "In His Eyes", "Dangerous Game", "No One Knows Who I Am", and "Sympathy, Tenderness".
Bravo to the best cast on Bdway...from the lovely Christiane Noll, to the brilliant Robert Cuccioli (who was certainly robbed of his Tony Award by a man who definitely has a supporting role in "Chicago"), and the greatest voice currently on Bdway bar none....THE find of the nineties...the incomparable and impeccable LINDA EDER!!!!


From Stephen Oles:
Maybe now Henry Krieger will finally get the attention he deserves. His exciting, groundbreaking, often heartbreaking score for DREAMGIRLS got upstaged by the glitz of the production and was unfortunately abbreviated in the brief (but otherwise brilliant) original cast album.
With SIDE SHOW we get much more music on disk, and terrific music it is -- complex, flexible, overflowing with gorgeous duets, ensemble numbers, and sensationally effective recitative. Krieger puts his contemporaries in the shade -- yes, Sondheim included, imho -- when it comes to recitative, and his style points towards an exciting future for theatre music, merging the best American traditions, the snap and crackle of Pop, with the powerful emotionalism of opera.
Bill Russell's lyrics are not tritely over-rhymed like so much else these days, and have a natural flow and emotional directness others would do well to emulate (yes, Mr. Sondheim, you too).
And the cast -- well, this is what singing acting is all about. If the ladies don't co-win the Tony next year, taste is dead ... the rest of the singers are superb as well.
I'm an aspiring Broadway composer myself, and have not heard a show album in years that inspired and moved me like this one. Check it out!


From Super Cheese:
"Titanic" -- Although I found the show boring, as well as the music--I would have to say that the cast album shows this musical off best. The score comes alive and this musical does not sink on disk!


From Dr David Franklin:
No doubt about it--THE LIFE is the best cast recording as well as the best Broadway musical in years. David Franklin Long Live THE LIFE!


From 4rgg:
This year, I have purchased many cast albums, including Titanic, Once Upon a Mattress, Songs from Ragtime, Guys and Dolls (the London Studio cast), The Life, Chicago, and The King and I. Although I love each and every one of them (some a little more than others), my favorite by far has been the recent release of "The Lion King: Original Broadway Cast Recording".
This choice is not based on the hype that has been seen regarding its recent Broadway opening, but solely by the musical material presented on this BRILLIANT CD. I originally purchased this album because I needed a replacement of the movie soundtrack recording that I had lent someone (who has conveniently moved away). From the rich elaborate harmonies and chants added to "Circle of Life", to the new opening to "I Just Can't Wait to Be King", to the AMAZING rendition of "Hakuna Matata" (no flak to Nathan Lane, but Max Casella rocks!), to the beautiful setting of one of the instrumental works from the film, for Nala called "Shadowland", this CD will have you captivated and will have your CD system on repeat for days!! The three new pieces added by Tim Rice and Elton John are great, but its the work of Lebo M and Hans Zimmer (among others) that breathes new life into this already great work.
The performances on this CD are FANTASTIC!! The choice to change the character of Rafiki from male to female (vocally anyway) was a smart one, and Tsidii Le Loka's voice enchants and amazes throughout the opening number. The characters of Young Simba and Young Nala (Scott Irby-Ranniar and Kajuan Shuford, respectively) are represented in fine fashion here, and one can look forward to great future performances from these young actors. As I've previously stated, Max Casella does a WICKED job of portraying the "rat-thing from the Lion King" Timon (as described by Nathan Lane at the 1995 Tony Awards), in both "Hakuna Matata" and "Can You Feel the Love Tonight", and is a great choice to replace Nathan Lane (who also did a great job in the movie) on stage. His sidekick Pumbaa, played by Tom Alan Robbins, is also expertly played, and the two actors make a great team on the recording (and one can hope on stage as well.) The two greatest performances come from Jason Raize and Heather Headley. As Raize is introduced as Simba at the end of Act One, the listening audience is left with the desire for more of this fantastic voice, which wails at the end of "Hakuna Matata". His solo "Endless Night" in Act Two re-establishes Raize as a wonderful vocalist and a great asset to the show. Heather Headley brings her outstanding voice to the role of Nala, and the solo "Shadowland" in Act Two will captivate and entrance even the most critical musical theatre lover. (I had the pleasure of seeing Headley in the original Toronto cast of "Ragtime" and am pleased to see that her talent is being recognized in the Broadway community!)
Now, being only 21, I don't have the luxury of having 20 or 30 years of musical theatre exposure in my background, but I have tried to cram as much of it as can (performing, listening, reading, and LOVING) in the past 5 years. I pride myself on my excellent judgement when it comes to musical theatre, and hope to someday channel the information in my head into the musical theatre history books. (It's amazing -- the stuff in my head that I know about musical theatre far outweighs anything I'm learned at university!) Take my advice: purchase "The Lion King" Original Broadway Cast Recording. It's not that Disney needs the money (and I definitely don't work for them), but that you will kick yourself for not purchasing this CD sooner, and for all of the time you've lost that you could've been listening to this wonderful cast performing wonderful music for a wonderful new show. :o) HAPPY LISTENING!!


From hensach :
"TITANIC" has to be the most exciting new Broadway Cast Album for 1997. As presenter of Australia's longest running Broadway Radio Show, "Henry Sachwald's Theatretrack", (13 years and counting) I have an extensive collection of Original Cast Recordings on LP and CD. I try to keep as up-to-date as possible with new releases as the focal point of my weekly broadcasts. Ever since hearing "NINE" I have been impressed with the writing of Maury Yeston. I had the privilege of meeting and interviewing Maury almost ten years ago. While he has been successful writing in conjunction with other peoples' projects, "TITANIC" has finally given him the recognition he so justly deserves. "NINE" was not a once off for Maury as can be witnessed listening to his "PHANTOM" recording as well as his writing for "GRAND HOTEL" and "GOYA". I hope "ONE, TWO, THREE FOUR, FIVE" gets recorded some day.
Getting back to "TITANIC". Many times recordings need to be listened to more than once in order to judge the quality of the work, and to get an image of the story in your mind. With the recording of "TITANIC" the story comes to life immediately. The music is outstanding. The production of the recording presents a steady flow of the action, and provides the listener with images of hope,joy and optimism. As the first act comes to a close with the haunting "No Moon", you want the show to end right there. Don't go on to the unavoidable disaster that is about to take place. One wonders how there could be a second Act. But as Yeston and Peter Stone have proved, there is more of the story to tell.
This is an outstanding recording. I can't wait to see the show.


From Joshua Block:
Titanic. Because you get a different feeling from the recording than you do seeing it, one greater than the visual of the show. It is definitely better aurally than visually.


From Sue H:
My vote goes to Titanic. I was incredibly impressed with the changes made to the show after I saw the dreaded first preview. What did work that first preview was the music, which kept me interested. The recording paints a very good picture of the live show.
My second choice is Side Show. My only complaint is the amount of material left out.


From sparsons:
My best listening experience this year, cast album-wise, was definitely "Titanic." I had actually laughed at the ads in major publications when the show was first announced, but became intrigued by the show after hearing excerpts on "Rosie" and the Tonys.
As a composer/arranger/orchestrator, I appreciate the finely constructed score on an intellectual and emotional level. "Titanic" is a show that gets better with repeated hearings, as the listener discovers more musical/dramatic levels. Those who accuse the show's score of being "unhummable" are obviously expecting the typical "in your face" repetition of many scores. "Titanic" contains many beautiful, rich moments in place of boring pop ballads or "show tune" numbers. The music is certainly NOT "tuneless" (whatever that's supposed to mean,) and was quite thrilling when I saw the original cast perform the show live later on in the summer.
My worst CD experience of 1997 was "Jekyll and Hyde." A horrible travesty when I saw the tour, it is unfortunate that it has become worse. The score is an anemic collection of pop ballads in the worst "One Moment In Time" tradition. Instead of building dramatically, the songs build in the old "Manilow Modulation" method, with horribly inept lyrics to boot. Frank Wildhorn's rather arrogant claims to be "resurrecting" musical theatre in his pop-crossover style are quite premature. He has forgotten one rather vital element of theatre: all elements need to be focused on the dramatic structure, not superimposed onto it. The big "hit" songs are still in the show because they ARE the hit songs, not because they contribute to the show. Add to that a couple of big numbers for the should-be-minor character of Lucy (Linda Eder is a fine SINGER, not an actress,) and a weak leading man (sorry, but hair-flipping transformations do not make up for second-rate singing and overacting,) and you have a bad (however popular) show.


From dcdaigle:
Being from south Louisiana, I don't get the chance to see many large-scale musicals. But we do have the cast albums (Thank God!).
I have two favorites from this year. The first is "Songs from The Capeman." I was skeptical at first, (a musical with doo-wop about a murdering teenager???), but listening to it proves just how talented Paul Simon is. The songs are wonderful, and I hope it's a huge success. I plan to see it when I come to New York in the summer.
My other favorite recording (and I don't know if this counts, technically) is RAGTIME. As far as I'm concerned, it's one of the best new scores around, with some incredible performances. Thank God Audra McDonald is back on the stage!!! And Marin Mazzie, Brian Stokes Mitchell, and Peter Friedman are terrific. Also, Camille Saviola is a wonderful Emma Goldman. This show is #1 on my list of "must see" for my trip this summer.


From Steven Doggett:
For me it has to be The Lion King.
This fantastic recording seems to capture all the energy of the show & blends the original score & the tribal themes into a seamless one. It is certainly the CD that has been on my player the most just lately.
Passion OLC comes a close second though. Not only does it include enough of the libretto to understand the story it also captures the wonderful performances that Michael Ball & Maria Friedman gave nightly for six months.


From Laura J. Lisa:
There has to be two, due to their completely different musical genres--Titanic, and The Life. Titanic for it's wonderfully classic, big musical score, and The Life, although it doesn't quite measure up to the genius of it's leader, Rent, is the most original concept produced ever since.


From Jimmy Babcock:
I've heard them all and enjoyed them all. I would probably have to say the most surprising cast album of the year is that of STEEL PIER. I saw the musical on Broadway and overall was bored with it, however when I heard the cast album I found it to be so much more enjoyable.
I was also very pleased with THE LION KING. Even without being able to see the show, I felt like I was there in the auditorium of the New Amsterdam theatre. The new songs, especially, were very touching and heart-warming.


From Cheralittl:
I choose Jekyll and Hyde. The reason is simple, GOOSEBUMPS when listening to "This is the Moment."


From cheerios:
The best cast album of 1997 has to be SIDE SHOW. I saw the show during one of its final previews and was BLOWN AWAY. I EAGERLY awaited the release of the album. The songs are rich in melody, and although the lyrics are somewhat simple they're great. The best songs on the OCR are 'You should be loved,' 'Tunnel of Love,' 'Private conversation,' 'Come Look at the freaks,' and, of course, 'Who will love me as I am.' Never have I heard this many AMAZING songs in one show. The music in Side Show has to be the best of the year. Nothing can top it. I feel that it is the best musical I have seen on Broadway and it is the best cast album of the year.


From: mtormefn:
My selection, hands down, no holds barred....."CHICAGO"!!!!!!!! I feel that the revival has a flow and continuity that wasn't present before. From top to bottom, James, Joel, Bebe, Ann and Marcia make this show really click. However, my favorite number in the show? Ann and Bebe in "Nowadays". I am so glad to see Marcia Lewis in this cast. She's been a frequent regular, in past years, here at Sacramento's "Music Circus" summer series, and is loved and respected by many people here in the Capital City's theatre goers.
Thanks for the opportunity to cast my vote for the Best Cast Album of 1997.


From Nyhotsho:


From 7504:
The ONE missing CD in my collection has finally arrived! Will "Encores" pleeeeeeeeease produce this show!!!!!!!????!!!


From Glen Kreiner:
When I first heard of a musical based on the fabled Titanic story, I was a bit skeptical. Then I saw the glorious opening clip on this year's Tony Awards, and became intrigued. So I bought the CD. I was instantly carried away to another time and place, and felt as if I came to know some of the ill-fated passengers aboard. The sweeping melodies, the dramatic score, the rich orchestrations... they all worked so well together. And upon hearing "We'll Meet Tomorrow," when the men sing to their departing wives, I quite literally cried. I felt what it might be like to be losing your spouse, never knowing if you'd meet again. I can't remember the last time I was so completely moved by a CD. I'm still listening to "Titanic" quite often, now months after I bought it. And that's the true test of a great CD!
(P.S., though I'm a Jekyll & Hyde fan, the concept CD with Anthony Warlow remains far superior to this B'way cast recording, with the notable exception of the delightful Christianne Noll.)


From fred.weterick:
Assuming that the best score in eons ("Ragtime") was probably released in late 1996, then my pick for best 1997 cast album release is no contest. The score of the long neglected reissue of "The Golden Apple" is as fresh, inventive, and brilliant as it was when I first saw it all too long ago. There is more joy and imagination at work here than in all of the other 1997 releases combined (with the exception of "The Lion King," which would be my choice among new musicals). The reissue of "Destry Rides Again," arguably Harold Rome's best score, also beats out the current crop. Even "Steel Pier" has a better score than the new musicals that have outlived it.
Am I the only one who gets restless wading through 70-odd minutes of a cast album waiting for the few isolated high spots in most recent musicals? When I worked as a theatre press agent in New York, I used to get upset when the LP limited show recordings to 50 odd minutes. Of course, that was when we had Cole Porter, Rodgers and Hammerstein, Irving Berlin, Lerner and Loewe, Frank Loesser and many others who knew how to write melodic music and intelligent lyrics. Now that the CD offers up to 75 minutes, there seems little worth the extra time.
If "Titanic," "Jekyll and Hyde," "The Life," and "The Scarlet Pimpernel" had opened during musical theatre's golden age, would any of them have lasted even as long as the undeservedly short run achieved by "The Golden Apple"? Thank God for revivals! And how about a concert version of "The Golden Apple"? Then we could perhaps get a complete recording of a score that truly deserves the full treatment.


From MRubens889:
The best cast album of 1997 and I have them all has to be "Titanic." It chokes me up every time I listen to it. The music is beautiful and the story is very informative beside a great narration of the times.


From Stephen Baum:
Definitely Titanic. The show sucked, but the cast album is one of the best produced albums I've heard.


From Galka, Christopher S.
While I must admit I have not heard the new "Lion King" cast nor the score to "side Show" as yet (I'm hoping my wife buys them for Christmas), I did get the chance to see all the new musicals that opened last spring in time for the 1997 Tonys. We were in Manhattan on our honeymoon, and two of our big shows planned were "Titanic" and "J&H". While it was not as good as on tour in 1995-96, "J&H" was our sentimental favorite (several of our wedding songs were from it), and "Titanic" was absolutely boring (we saw previews--they must have done a major overhaul to win 5 Tonys or Rosie O'Donnell holds more power with the voting committee than is publicly known). Same foe "SteelPier", although the leads were terrific. "Chicago" was done absolutely beautifully, but our biggest surprise was "The Life", which we caught in previews for 1/2 price. What an amazingly entertaining show!
We have since bought all the cast albums,and I must say the two that most recall the energy and craftsmanship of the show were "The Life" and "Chicago," which I think came out very early this year. No other original cast recording could capture the brilliance of Bebe, the showstopping excellence of Joel Grey, or the suavity of James Naughton (whom, I believe, really should NOT have won the Tony for his smaller lead performance--Bob Cuccioli manifested evil and good at least five times per week, and did so brilliantly, which does come out very well on the recording). This is definitely Kander & Ebb's most powerful and memorable score. This record may have been from last year--I can't remember, but its good enough to make it on the list twice.
Having said all that, my absolute favorite recording this year was "The Life," based almost solely on the number of times we've played it since we got it last June. The sneering, snide-yet-charming Jojo of Sam Harris and the darkly funny, touching Sonja of Lilias White are only two of the treasures on this album. The engineering and sound are beautiful, and everyone (cast and engineers) worked to make this the album that most recalls the show--we can still see Queen and Sonja clutching each other during their goodbye in "My Friend". It's Cy Coleman's best score in years. Also, many felt Pam Isaacs was grating or irritating throughout the show. I say they need to give her another chance. Her voice has an ethereal, 1970's R&B quality that demands additional hearings. She is just heartbreaking on "He's No Good" and "I'm leaving you" and she deserves all she can get from this brilliant performance. My wife wasn't crazy about her voice when she saw the performance (although she thought it was an excellent acting turn), but she has been swayed to the point of being bowled over by the power of Isaacs' singing on the record. The whole recording is just wonderful-funny, entertaining, filled with nuances and shadings (that can be picked out even if one hasn't seen the show) that give colorful character development, brilliant, and energizing. Those critics who would argue with this choice can do so. But "The Life" OCR captures the very essence of this wildly entertaining piece of theater. What more can we ask of our cast recordings?
I also want to point out that although we didn't really care for the show, the OCR of "Steel Pier" is really very fine. It contains much excellent singing and orchestrations, and is engineered beautifully. This is one that we are glad we saw when we had the chance, for the recording is so good that it's impossible not to let it grow on you. We highly recommend it---and it looks like it's getting hard to find.
Somy three picks for best OCR (in order) are: 1. The Life
2. Chicago
3. Steel Pier

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