Editor's note: Welcome to our column dedicated to reviews and discussions of theatrical recordings: original cast recordings, solo records by theater and cabaret greats and anything else we think fits. The Music Men is written by James McQuillen, a locally well-known music director and arranger, and Jay Gardner, an actor, vocalist and potter. Together, they run the Front Line Cabaret series. Gardner will perform his cabaret "Coward and Cole in Words and Music: The Songs of Noel Coward and Cole Porter" on April 20 in the Sammons Cabaret series at Sammons Center for the Arts.
This month, James and Jay have their second "Our Favorite Things" episode, in which they each muse on what they're listening to. Here, let's let Jay explain:
As we leave February behind and make our way into March, James and I find ourselves, yet again, reeling from a month without releases. Well, actually, there were only one or two releases. That being said, there are several new recordings coming out later in March so we have decided, instead, to bring you a second edition of Our Favorite Things. Next month we will have reviews of Dear Evan Hanson, Freaky Friday, Come From Away and new solo CDs from Amanda McBroom and Karen Mason.
Seeing as February was a slow month for new releases I thought I’d shine some light on my favorite theater-related podcasts:
Downstage Center is a podcast that is no longer being produced but ran from 2004 until 2013 (with a hiatus in 2008). It can still be heard on iTunes and is worth checking out. Produced by the American Theatre Wing and hosted by that organization’s former Executive Director Howard Sherman, Downstage Center featured weekly interviews with leading theater professionals appearing on Broadway during the eight year run of the podcast. Guests included Angela Lansbury, Bernadette Peters, Vanessa and Lynn Redgrave, Elaine Paige, Jerry Zaks, George C. Wolf and Charles Busch just to name a few. Downstage Center gave its audience a fascinating behind the scenes look at the careers of many Broadway legends. Unfortunately, when Howard Sherman stepped down from his position as Executive Director at the American Theater Wing the podcast stopped. The program was revived the following year for several episodes but has been inactive since 2013.
Theater People was the brainchild of mega theater fan Patrick Hinds. According to a profile in Backstage Magazine, Hinds created the podcast because there didn’t seem to be anything online featuring in depth interviews with professionals currently working on Broadway. Not being an actor himself, Hinds had to rely on contacting theater artists through Facebook, Instagram and friends of friends of friends.
Since he began in 2014, Hinds has scored interviews with Annaleigh Ashford, Michael Mayer, Tonya Pinkins, Jerry Mitchell, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Mary Testa, Martha Plimpton, Jeanine Tesori, Laura Benanti, Norm Lewis, producer Kevin McCollum and many, many others. Hinds’ greatest strength is his ability to put his subjects at ease. Each episode feels less like an interview and more like a relaxed conversation between friends. His chat with Her Royal Highness Elaine Paige comes to mind. Hinds also asks interesting, thought-provoking questions eliciting equally interesting, thought-provoking answers. It is well worth a listen!
Behind the Curtain: Broadways Living Legends is dedicated to preserving Broadway history as told by the theater professionals who lived it. In the 17 months that they have been producing this series, hosts Robert W. Schneider and Kevin David Thomas have interviewed such legends as Carol Lawrence, George S. Irving, Lee Roy Reams, Judy Kaye, Loni Ackerman, casting director Joanna Merlin, writers Lee Adams, Charles Strouse, Martin Charnin and Richard Maltby Jr., press agent Susan L. Schulman, Broadway producer Jack Viertel and theater historian Jennifer Ashley Tepper.
In addition to their in-depth interviews, hosts Schneider and Thomas also produce a weekly Our Favorite Things episode, inspiration for The Music Men’s Our Favorite Things, which features their latest obsessions, YouTube discoveries and guilty pleasures. Recent subjects have included Bea Arthur, the 1971 Tony Awards, The Mad Show, Charles Nelson Riley and the television special Carol Channing and Pearl Bailey: On Broadway.
What makes this podcast a joy to listen to is not just the go-deep interviews—Lee Roy Reems’ interview stretches to three one-hour episodes, Charles Strouse’s to two—but the passion, joy and excitement the hosts bring to every episode. Besides being working theater professionals, Schneider and Thomas are theater geeks of the first order and thank goodness they are! Their enthusiasm and wonder at every guest and every new, nerdy discovery is infectious. They bring a wonderful sense of humor and fun to this podcast.
The Ensemblist takes a different tack by focusing exclusively on all things behind the scenes. Hosted by Broadway professionals Anika Graff Lanzarone and Mo Brady, this podcast explores the day to day life of ensemble actors and what happens in the various backstage departments that keep a Broadway show up and running. Subjects include understudying, what is a dance captain, kids on Broadway, what is a dresser, working in regional theater, secondary careers, life on tour and on and on. In 2016, The Ensemblist dedicated one episode each to the eight Broadway musicals that have won the Pulitzer Prize by interviewing ensemblists who have appeared in those shows either on Broadway or on tour.
The Producer's Perspective was created in early 2015 by Broadway producer Ken Davenport and is based on his blog of the same title. This podcast focuses on the business side of Broadway featuring interviews with Broadway producers, directors, designers and writers. Its viewpoint is unique in that it opens a window into the world of producing that few actors and even fewer audience members ever see. Episodes feature interviews with Bernie Telsey, Kurt Deutsch, Theresa Rebeck, John Rando, Spencer Liff, David Henry Hwang, Ted Chapin, James Lapine, Kate Shindle, Lonny Price, Bartlett Sher and many others.
I have to admit, when the idea of another Favorite Things column came up I wasn’t sure what I’d write about. I asked myself what I’d been listening to and realized it was a lot of podcasts which isn’t a bad thing. These podcasts are a wonderful, educational resource for those of us working in the theater. My thanks to those tireless individuals who have created them and keep them going.
— Jay Gardner
After seeing the recent Lincoln Center revival of The King and I, I was struck by Ruthie Ann Miles’ performance as Lady Thiang. She was glorious in the role, totally deserving of the Tony award she won for it. But I knew her name was familiar to me somehow. Then I remembered…
I’d heard something about a show that had been produced at the Public Theater a couple of years earlier about Imelda Marcos and I somehow connected her name with it. I went to my friend Google, and I realized why: she was Imelda Marcos in the Imelda Marcos musical!
Here Lies Love was written by David Byrne and Fatboy Slim and tells the story of Imelda Marcos—her rise from young girl to the most powerful woman in the Philippines and a cultural icon. Interwoven into her story is the turbulent history of the Philippines in the late 20th century, her brief relationship as a young woman with politician and activist Ninoy Aquino (who would later inspire the overthrow of Ferdinand Marcos’s presidency) and her troubled relationship with her former nanny Estrella Cumpas.
David Byrne’s idea to tell this story through dance, disco, and art rock is genius. Imelda famously loved clubs and could often be found in the company of Andy Warhol at Studio 54. The music in the show is catchy, fun and totally dance-worthy, but also very moving.
Two separate recordings of the material exist. First, there was a concept album featuring pop and rock stars (Florence Welch, Cyndi Lauper, Tori Amos, St. Vincent, Natalie Merchant and others). But my favorite thing this month is the cast recording of the Public Theater production featuring Ruthie Ann Miles as Imelda, Jose Llana as Ferdinand Marcos, Conrad Ricamora as Ninoy Aquino and Melody Butiu as Estrella Cumpas, released on Nonesuch Records.
There are 26 songs, but some of my favorites are:
- “Here Lies Love,” catchy, clever establishing song for the leading lady. Terrific singing by Ruthie Ann Miles
- “Child of the Philippines” - Ninoy Aquino sets the stage for what would become the People Power Revolution. Conrad Ricamora is just great in this song and in his other big song, “The Fabulous One,” a hip-hop-tinged condemnation of Imelda’s indulgent lifestyle.
- “A Perfect Hand,” Ferdinand Marcos’s personal and political manifesto. Jose Llana kills it.
- “When She Passed By,” Estrella Cumpas’s disillusionment with Imelda begins to crystallize. Melody Butiu’s singing is just SO GOOD and the song itself is killer.
- “Star and Slave,” Imelda’s meditation on Ferdinand’s infidelity in contrast to her expanding relationship with the public. If you make them love you, what do you do to keep them loving you? Terrific writing, singing and acting.
- “Order 1081,” Ferdinand Marcos imposed martial law for eight years after a communist insurgency. Haunting and resonant.
- “Seven Years,” Imelda visits Ninoy in prison. (Look up Ninoy Aquino on Wikipedia. His is a fascinating and tragic story, and a major piece of the story — a trip to Dallas for heart surgery at Baylor Hospital in May of 1980!)
- “God Draws Straight,” the DJ of the show shares the stories of the people in the People Power Revolution which ousted Marcos from power—people simultaneously creating a revolution and observing the revolution they’re creating. The lyrics in this song are drawn from interviews with people who were participants in the PPP. “Timely” barely begins to describe it…
Give the recordings a listen and see what you think.
— James McQuillen
» The Music Men runs on the first Wednesday of the month on TheaterJones. See below for a list of previous installments
» James McQuillen is an award-winning music director, teacher and pianist. He produces Front Line Cabaret with Gardner, and is teaching this fall at Binghampton University in Binghampton, New York.
» Jay Gardner is an actor and singer working in musical theater and cabaret. He is currently taking time out of his schedule to start a business selling his handmade pottery, which can be seen here.
- February: The Broadway revival of The Color Purple, the Encores! Off-Center revival of William Finn's A New Brain, Alan Cumming Sings Sappy Songs: Life from the Cafe Carlyle, and an album of Lea DeLaria singing David Bowie songs.
- March: New York City Center Encores! staging of Lady, Be Good; the 2015 Broadway revival of Fiddler on the Roof; the Public Theater's 2015 premiere of John Michael LaChiusa's First Daughter Suite; and the latest from British cabaret great Barb Jungr.
- July: Cast recordings of Bright Star, the revival of She Loves Me, Cheyenne Jackson's solo album Renaissance, and Benjamin Scheuer's Songs from the Lion.
- August: James and Jay discuss some of their favorite things, including the cast recording they each first fell in love with.
- September: James and Jay discuss the year of Hamilton
- October: Reviews of new albums by Kristin Chenoweth, Jay Armstrong Johnson, Diana Sheehan and cast recordings of Disaster! and The Robber Bridegroom.
- December: New releases from Carmen Cusack, Leslie Odom Jr., Charles Busch, Barb Jungr and John McDaniel, and Adam Pascal and Anthony Rapp.
- February: The Falsettos revival, and Brad Simmons sings Simon and Garfunkel