The Band's Visit
Original Broadway Cast Recording
Released Feb. 7, 2018
Musical theater is a reflection of society. It holds up a mirror and lets us see the positive and the negative in ourselves. In 1943, Oklahoma was a beacon of hope and promise in the dark days of World War II. In 1957, West Side Story warned us of the consequences of racially motivated gang wars. Hair, a groundbreaking show from 1967, looked forward to a new world order that was based solely on peace and love. Now David Yazbek (music and lyrics) and Itamar Moses (book) have brought us The Band’s Visit.
This intriguing musical began life off-Broadway at the Atlantic Theater Company. Adapted from the 2007 film of the same name, this musical, set in modern-day Israel, is the story of the Alexandria Ceremonial Police Orchestra who are traveling from Egypt to Israel in order to give a concert at the Arab Cultural Center. It is soon discovered that, as a result of a misunderstanding at the bus station, they have traveled to the wrong city and must stay overnight in the remote village of Bet Hatikvah instead of the more culturally significant Petah Tikvah.
One can’t emphasize enough the significance of this musical at this time in our nation’s history. When our country seems to be so deeply divided and the divide only seems to be getting deeper, we are presented with a new musical that is an exploration of commonality and connection.
Yazbek has reflected this commonality in a score that is a synthesis of Egyptian folk, klezmer, American jazz, and here and there, a bit of traditional musical theater. A deeply mystical vibe pulses through the score which embodies the exotic sounds of the middle east. In addition to more traditional reed and string instruments, piano and drums, Orchestrator Jamshied Sharifi has also included the oud, the darbouka and the riq, giving Yazbek’s score an ethnically rooted sound.
In addition, there is also a lot of humor. Etai Beson sings “Papi Hears the Ocean” in which he lamented the fact that he doesn’t know how to talk to women. Katrina Lenk gives a career-making performance as Dina, proprietress of the only cafe in Bet Hatikvah. Tony Shaloub is Tewfiq, the conductor of the police band and Adam Kantor plays the Telephone Guy, who fiercely guards the one pay phone in town in the hope that the girl he loves will call. He sings “Answer Me,” perhaps the most elegiac song in the entire show.
No matter where we are from, no matter our race, no matter our profession, we are all human beings and we are all trying to relate to one another. The Band’s Visit is a beautiful piece of theater that reminds us of our connection and our humanity.
— Jay Gardner
Once On This Island
New Broadway Cast Recording
Released Feb. 23, 2018
Back in May of 1990, a little 90-minute jewel of a show opened at Playwrights Horizons, was massively successful, and transferred to Broadway in October of that year. Written by the relatively new writing team of Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty, the show received eight Tony nominations that season and made a star of its leading lady, LaChanze, who played the central role of Ti Moune. The show, of course, is Once On This Island. The beautiful revival currently playing at Circle in the Square received very good reviews, and now has a cast recording.
When listening to a recording of a revival, it’s incredibly difficultly to not (even subconsciously) compare and contrast it with the original recording. I will never forget the first time I heard LaChance sing “Waiting For Life” — one of the most exciting recorded performances I can think of. Kecia Lewis-Evans’s “Mama Will Provide” resides very close to the top of that list for me as well.
With a new orchestration by the original orchestrator Michael Starobin, AnnMarie Milazzo and John Bertles, the revival recording is different enough to be interesting to those who love the original, and compelling enough to engage you if you don’t know the show at all. Ahrens and Flaherty’s score gives nods to vaguely “Caribbean” musical styles, all the while remaining firmly rooted in their own musical and lyrical vocabulary. This new recording presents the score and new orchestrations beautifully, even if the bass is sometimes a little “present” in the mix.
The singing is top notch. Lea Salonga as Erzulie, the Goddess of Love, gives “The Human Heart” all the beauty and, well, love anyone could ask for. Alex Newell (yes — from Glee) plays Asaka, the Mother of the Earth, and his “Mama Will Provide” is joyful and rousing. Isaac Powell as Daniel sings a beautiful “Some Girls,” and Kenita R. Miller and Phillip Boykin (total luxury casting in very much a supporting role) are glorious in “One Small Girl,” one of the best songs in the score.
Hailey Kilgore, having made her Broadway debut at the age of 18, is lovely as Ti Moune. She brings an innocence and simplicity to the role that is charming and then devastating. Her “Waiting For Life” doesn’t quite have the power and excitement of LaChanze’s on the original, but you hear the truth in the voice of a young woman waiting for life and waking up to the possibilities the world has to offer. One also must remember that LaChanze was ten years older than Ms. Kilgore when she played TiMoune in the original production.
Buy and enjoy this recording for the new orchestrations, beautiful singing, and an opportunity to hear a new vision for Ahrens and Flaherty’s beautiful score. If you don’t have the original 1990 recording, get it as well, then listen to the two back-to-back and see what you think.
— James McQuillen
Working: A Musical
Original London Cast Recording
Released March 2, 2018
“Everyone has a right to be heard and everyone has something important to say.” Author, actor, historian and broadcaster Studs Turkel spent the better part of his 96 years documenting and preserving American Oral History.
For 45 years, from 1952 to 1997, Turkel hosted a daily radio program for Chicago’s WFMT 98.7 in which he interviewed everyone from Martin Luther King Jr. and Bob Dylan to Dorothy Parker and Tennessee Williams. His first collection of oral histories, Division Street America, was published in 1967 followed by Hard Times: An Oral History of the Great Depression. He won the Pulitzer Prize in 1985 for “The Good War”: An Oral History of World War Two, and in 1997 was elected a member of The American Academy of Arts and Letters.
Working: People Talk about What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do is an exploration of what makes work meaningful for people in all walks of life. This non-fiction book was published in 1974 and later became the subject of a revue-style musical conceived by composer and lyricist Stephen Schwartz. The show featured songs by a number of well-known singer/songwriters including James Taylor, Craig Carnelia, Mary Rodgers, Micki Grant, and Susan Birkenhead. Its initial Broadway outing featured Patti LuPone, Joe Mantegna and Lynne Thigpen, among others, but closed after only 24 performances.
Despite its short Broadway run, Working: A Musical has enjoyed a healthy life in regional theaters, university drama programs and community theaters. In 2009 the show underwent several revisions, first by Schwartz and later by director Gordon Greenberg. This incarnation was presented in 2012 in Chicago. Forty years after its Broadway debut, Working: A Musical had its European premiere at London’s Southwark (pronounced suh-folk) Playhouse in the summer of 2017, from which this beautifully sung and music-directed original cast recording has come.
This new revision has thrown out a few songs and reordered others resulting in a well-paced, cohesive show both heartbreaking and celebratory. Hamilton composer Lin-Manuel Miranda has provided two new and well-crafted songs: “Delivery” and “A Very Good Day.” Superb performances are delivered by the entire cast.
Dean Chisnall delivers James Taylor’s “Brother Trucker” with cocky self-assurance. Krysten Cummings is heartbreaking in her interpretation of Craig Carnelia’s “Just a Housewife.” Gillian Bevan is all sass and personality in Stephen Schwartz’s “It’s an Art” and Krysten Cummings sets off some fireworks in Micki Grant’s “Cleanin’ Women.” The top-notch band and backup vocals are given expert music direction by Isaac McCullough.
At times the actors are a bit heavy-handed with the American regional accents and the acting may come off as a bit too melodramatic, which may have more to do with this being a live recording. That being said, this is a beautifully sung recording of a much improved show. It is highly recommended.
— Jay Gardner
» The Music Men runs on the first Wednesday of the month on TheaterJones. See below for a list of previous installments
» James McQuillen, an award-winning music director, teacher and pianist, is the Music Director for Casa Mañana in Fort Worth.
» Jay Gardner is an actor and singer working in musical theater, opera and cabaret. He also makes 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
- March: Jay reveals his favorite theater podcasts, and James crushes on the 2014 cast recording of Here Lies Love
- April: The OCRs for Dear Evan Hansen, Come From Away, Freaky Friday the Musical and recordings from Amanda McBroom and Karen Mason
- May: Betty Buckley's Story Songs, and ast recordings of Pretty Filthy and Jasper in Deadland
- June: Broadway cast recordings of The Great Comet, Hello, Dolly!, In Transit, Amelie, War Paint; and Dreamgirls in London
- July: The cast recordings of Broadway recordings: Bandstand, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Groundhog Day and Anastasia.
- August: Jay Gardner on his experience at the St. Louis Cabaret Conference
- September: No column
- October: The early Alan Menken/Howard Ashman musical adapted from Kurt Vonnegut's God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater; plus Orfeh and Andy Karl live at Feinstein's/54 Below, and Jessica Molaskey does Joni Mitchell songs
- November: Solo albums from Broadway vets Kyle Riabko and Mandy Gonzalez
- The Music Men recap their favorite listens of 2017
- January and February (no column)