Editor's Note: All reviews this month are by Jay Gardner
2018 London Cast Recording
Arts Music Inc.
Released February 1, 2019
The revival of Stephen Sondheim and George Furth’s musical Company, currently playing in London’s West End, has been radically reimagined by director Marianne Elliott (Tony wins for the direction of Warhorse and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time). The entire show has undergone a gender reversal. The story now centers around a woman named Bobbi, her married friends and her indifference toward love and marriage.
In the age of #metoo it makes a lot of sense. Why does a woman have to be married? Why can’t a woman be independent? Why can’t a woman take care of herself? Why can’t a woman be sexually liberated?
The concept goes well beyond the central character. For example, the objects of Bobbi’s keep-them-at-arms-length affection are now three men named Andy, PJ and Theo. They sing “You Could Drive A Person Crazy” with minor changes made in the lyrics by Sondheim himself. Theo now sings about the energy of New York City in “Another Hundred People.” Bobbi’s well-meaning “girlfriends” try to set her up on a date in “Have I Got A Guy for You.” Amy is now Jamie, who experiences cold feet just minutes before marrying his long-time partner Paul in “Not Getting Married Today.” (One of the best line revisions occurs here: “Bless This Day, Pinnacle of joy, Boy unites with boy.”)
Other changes serve to update the show and gently wipe away the1970’s Love, American Style vibe. In “Another Hundred People,” Theo sings “Look, I’ll text you in the morning or I’ll call you and explain” and the orchestrations by David Cullen trade the disco keyboard licks for the wonderful surprise of some fabulously contemporary techno music late in the second act with draws us into a night club circa 2018.
Rosalie Craig leads a very capable cast. Her Bobbi is contemporary, savvy, self-sufficient, fiercely guarded and beautifully sung. She is joined by two-time Tony winner Patti LuPone as Joanne.
The current London run is scheduled to close March 30 but talks of a Broadway transfer are already in the works no doubt with Miss Craig and Ms. LuPone in attendance. The changes and reversals seem to make so much sense, one wonders if this version will eventually become definitive. Time will tell.
Songs for a New World
2018 Encores! Off-Center
Released January 25, 2019
Songs for A New World, described by its composer/lyricist Jason Robert Brown as a theater piece-cum-musical revue-cum-theatrical song cycle, features a score infused with an exuberant, youthful energy. Equal parts pop, rock, jazz and gospel, the seemingly unconnected songs examine life, love and the choices people make when faced with the decision to either take a stand or retreat. Originally produced for a scant three-and-a-half-week run in 1995 by the WPA Theater, the show was included in last year’s Encores! Off Center season, a spin-off of New York City Center’s phenomenally successful, Tony-winning, Encores! Broadway series.
The vocalists on the resulting cast album are good if a bit uneven. The demanding score requires a cast with major musical theater chops. They must be masterful storytellers, flawless vocalists and have stamina to spare.
Shoshana Bean, (Broadway’s Wicked, Jerry Mitchell’s Peep Show - Las Vegas) has been given ample opportunity to flex her considerable actor muscles. In “Just One Step” she portrays a hysterical Upper West Side socialite. In “Stars and the Moon” she contemplates her life choices and the devastating consequences. “Surabaya-Santa” is a hilarious send up of Lotte Lenya and Marlene Dietrich in which a furious Mrs. Claus berates her husband for being more interested in his elves and reindeer than in her. “The Flagmaker, 1775” is about moving forward in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds. In each song she demonstrates her considerable vocal range and deep understanding of the material.
Mykal Kilgore (Motown the Musical, Hair, The Wiz Live) does the heavy lifting in some of the most demanding songs in the score. He sores effortlessly over the high-flying acrobatics in “On the Deck of a Spanish Ship, 1492” and “King of the World.”
Colin Donnell made his name in the most recent Broadway revival of Anything Goes and followed that with the honky-tonk, blues-inflected musical Violet. And while he fits the musical style of both of those shows to a T, he doesn’t quite fit the bill in a show dependent on a more contemporary pop sound. He also doesn’t seem to have the vocal heft necessary to put over some of the more demanding songs in the show such as “She Cries” and “I’d Give It All for You.”
Solea Pfeiffer, best known for playing Eliza Schuyler in the First National Tour of Hamilton, is the weak link in the cast. Her vocals never match the demands of the music which ends up being more of a distraction in “I’m Not Afraid of Anything” and “Christmas Lullaby,” two of the show’s best songs.
The orchestrations have been slightly expanded for this production with the addition of strings, which gives this dynamic score a beautiful lushness while retaining the edgy feel of a rock band. Music director Tom Murray is generally excellent, although the vocal harmonies could be tighter. Over all, the recording seems to lack the spark that could bump the performances up to the next level. I often lament that this kind of album would be more effective if it were recorded live. Yes, you would get the mistakes that invariably happen with a live performance, but you would also get the infectious energy that comes with a live audience.
Nitpicking aside, this is a strong recording of an important contemporary musical. Hats off to the folks at Ghostlight Records for documenting so many theatrical events that might otherwise go unrecognized.
» The Music Men now runs on the second Tuesday of the month on TheaterJones. See below for a list of previous installments
» Jay Gardner is an actor and singer working in musical theater, opera and cabaret. He also makes handmade pottery, which can be seen here.
» James McQuillen, an award-winning music director, teacher and pianist. He is currently working on his Master's in Arts Administration at American University in Washington, D.C.
- 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
- March: The Band's Visit, and revivals of Once On This Island and Working
- October: New recordings by Betty Buckley, Marissa Mulder, and Joe Iconis and George Salazar
- December: Jay Gardner's thoughts on solo recordings, and his favorite cast recording of 2018
- January: Reviews of solo albums from Heather Headley, Sutton Foster, and Melissa Errico; and a starry benefit album for families separated at the U.S./Mexico border