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Broadway Musical Soundtracks


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#1 Christian

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Posted 14 December 2005 - 01:53 PM

I’m on a Broadway kick.

Sarah and I have been season-ticket holders to a small theater troupe in Northern Virginia, whose stabs at staging “forgotten” musicals have resulted in more misses than hits. However, two in the past few years have led me to buy the cast recordings on CD: Alfred Uhry’s “The Robber Bridegroom”, which is, having heard it now a few times, doesn’t hold up so well, and Jerry Herman’s delightful “Dear World”.

On our recent cruise, Sarah and I participated in a “Broadway Sing-Along” at the Piano Bar one night, and it whetted my appetite for some musical soundtracks.

I was so moved by the Piano Bar rendition of “Send in the Clowns” that I decided I MUST first explore Stephen Sondheim, whose work is mostly unfamiliar to me. (It wasn’t until a week later that a co-worker reminded me that “Clowns” had been a big hit for Judy Collins. When I realized I’d heard that version before, and that it epitomized everything I hate about folk music from that era, I nearly renounced my expressed admiration for the song!).

So I picked up a Sondheim sampler CD, featuring tunes from several of his musicals, and two full Sondheim soundtracks: “A Little Night Music,” and “Into the Woods.”

Knowing a little bit about Sondheim’s importance to late 20th century theater, I’m reluctant to say that I found the music, overall, to be just … OK. It struck me that some theater composers might be best known for their music, while others might best be known for their lyrics. An obvious distinction, I know, but I mention it to say that I’m not sure HOW Sondheim is perceived. It seemed clear to me that Sondheim is about the WORDS more than he is about the MUSIC. In any case, that’s fine, because Broadway show tunes usually advance a plot, and words are essential to building the storyline, right? But I suspect that Sondheim might be a revered composer, not JUST a revered lyricist. Heck, for all I know he didn’t even write the lyrics to his songs. I really do need to read up on some basics, don’t I? Or, I can just toss out these observations and let the theater fans come to my aid.

Done with Sondheim for the moment, I popped in the soundtrack for “Wicked” this morning, not expecting much. But that first song is fabulous! I haven’t gotten beyond it yet, but I’m hoping it sustains that level of energy throughout.

Yesterday, the Post wrote a rave review about the supposedly final D.C. stop of “Les Miserables,” and of course I feel like I now MUST see it before it leaves. All without having heard a single song from that musical. I like the Hugo novel, of course, and I trust that all those people who’ve seen and loved the musical over the past 20-something years aren’t wrong. But I’ve reserved a copy of the soundtrack CD at the library, just in case.

Any other recommendations? What’s your favorite Broadway cast recording?

Edited by Christian, 14 December 2005 - 05:20 PM.


#2 Sara Zarr

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Posted 14 December 2005 - 01:58 PM

I know I'm stuck in the past, but I have special fondness for the ones I grew up listening to (on vinyl):

The Music Man
The Sound of Music
Annie
Oliver
A Chorus Line
Westside Story

#3 M. Dale Prins

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Posted 14 December 2005 - 03:25 PM

Sondheim is kinda-to-pretty awesome, but the "problem," as much as there is one, is that his songs generally only work within the context of the larger musical -- lyrically as well as musically. Put another way: There's very few Sondheim works you go home humming. (Biggest exception I can think of offhand, other than the one you mention: The opening song to "Sweeney Todd.")

“Les Miserables” is pretty much the opposite of Sondheim -- singable songs (and I mean that in the best possible way) that work better as individual works than as part of a cohesive whole. (Despite the parenthentical, that still comes across as harsher on "Les Mis" than I intended -- it's a fine musical, quite far better than the typical.)

"The Producers" sucks.

Dale

#4 Nick Alexander

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Posted 14 December 2005 - 04:18 PM

My fave three B'way soundtracks:

1) Les Miz (the best, bar none).
2) Chess (soundtrack great; wish the play was better)
3) The Secret Garden (a worthwhile find).

#5 Christian

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Posted 14 December 2005 - 05:18 PM

QUOTE

"The Producers" sucks.


I laughed and laughed and laughed -- at the new movie version of the musical! The songs were my favorite part. blush.gif


#6 Christian

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Posted 15 December 2005 - 05:44 PM

QUOTE(Christian @ Dec 14 2005, 01:53 PM) View Post

I popped in the soundtrack for “Wicked” this morning, not expecting much. But that first song is fabulous! I haven’t gotten beyond it yet, but I’m hoping it sustains that level of energy throughout.


It had a couple of clunkers right after that first number, but I enjoyed it thereafter. It's not a landmark, not great, but it's kind of fun. And I just discovered it's now being staged at the Kennedy Center, a few miles from where I live. Has anyone here seen it?

#7 M. Dale Prins

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Posted 15 December 2005 - 09:36 PM

Elaborating on my "Producers" statement: I saw the musical on Broadway, starting Matthew Broderick-wannabe and Nathan Lane-clone. (If I closed my eyes, I would swear it was actually Lane -- he was that spot-on, vocally.) Aside from the dancing grandmas, I hated hated hated the first act; in fact, it may have been the worst first act of a musical I've ever seen. Blase music, no jokes that dealt with anything other than hyperhomosexuality and hyperheterosexuality, disappointing set pieces (dancing grandmas still, of course, excepted), etc. The second act was much better ("the musical so far" was very funny, and everyone loves "Springtime for Hitler"), but not exactly what I'd call good, per se.

But then again, I think the original movie sucks, too.

Dale

#8 Thom

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Posted 15 December 2005 - 10:20 PM

Fiddler on the Roof is a favorite of mine and I would definitely second The Music Man, The Sound of Music and Westside Story.

#9 Rich Kennedy

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Posted 16 December 2005 - 08:43 AM

Fiddler has always had a taste of a Jewish Sunday School object lesson story for me that I have not been able to get past.

Guys and Dolls

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#10 Jason Bortz

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Posted 16 December 2005 - 03:46 PM

There are three versions of my favorite, Chess.

The original London version is, IMO, vastly superior to the other two. Without the PC Americanization of the second version, or the 'spruced up/trimmed down' butchery of the third. Seriously, the 2nd and 3rd versions took a brilliant musical and utterly destroyed it. Nick, which version of the play have you seen/heard?

The second fave musical soundtrack is the Aussie version of Jesus Christ Superstar. It kicks serious booty.

My third is Aida. Unfortunately, the touring company we saw was actually better than the cast recording, but I still appreciate it.

I like select songs from several others, but there are very few musicals that I really like from beginning to end. I like a few songs from Rent, a few from Wicked...if you haven't heard "Defying Gravity," you've missed out.

Edited by Jason Bortz, 16 December 2005 - 03:47 PM.


#11 Nick Alexander

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Posted 16 December 2005 - 04:31 PM

QUOTE(Jason Bortz @ Dec 16 2005, 05:46 PM) View Post

There are three versions of my favorite, Chess.

The original London version is, IMO, vastly superior to the other two. Without the PC Americanization of the second version, or the 'spruced up/trimmed down' butchery of the third. Seriously, the 2nd and 3rd versions took a brilliant musical and utterly destroyed it. Nick, which version of the play have you seen/heard?
I own the London version of the soundtrack, but I was one of the few fortunate souls to catch the opening night-previews of _Chess_ in New York, (my family had vacationed in London without me, and saw it before it crossed the pond...raved about it, worked hard to get these tix, and was ultimately disappointed: they had traded the then-landmark now-passe multiple-TVs sets as background (with videocameras held by actors showing different angles of what we were seeing at that moment)... and traded that for very dull, very complicated grey triangular backdrops that shifted around for every change of scenery. The show clocked in at over the three-hour mark, so apparently they cut one song out after I saw it:_The Arbiter_. That song was awesome, but it wasn't necessary to the basic drama, which is why it got cut.

Honestly, _Chess_ is a fantastic musical, but it's also of its time. Cold War dramas have lost their breath since the collapse of the Berlin Wall. Me, I love fusing of diverse musical styles, which is what _Chess_ had in spades: all of which made perfect narrative and musical sense for the spectacle.

My fave songs: _One Night In Bangkock_ (of course... but it must be the complete version with that exceptional prelude in the beginning), _What I Want to Be_, and _Pity the Child_. Man, what a great soundtrack.

BTW, Matthew Broderick was in the audience that evening, in the balcony.

#12 Christian

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Posted 16 December 2005 - 04:36 PM

QUOTE(Jason Bortz @ Dec 16 2005, 03:46 PM) View Post

I like select songs from several others, but there are very few musicals that I really like from beginning to end. I like a few songs from Rent, a few from Wicked...if you haven't heard "Defying Gravity," you've missed out.


It's been going through my head since I listened to it on the way to work this morning.

I'm trying not to push the soundtrack on my wife, who I'm sure would enjoy it, but is more likely to embrace it without my prodding.

I'm rather taken with the woman who sings most of the songs on "Wicked." I like her voice.

#13 Nick Alexander

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Posted 16 December 2005 - 04:52 PM

QUOTE(Christian @ Dec 16 2005, 06:36 PM) View Post

I'm rather taken with the woman who sings most of the songs on "Wicked." I like her voice.
Would that be Kristin Chenoweth? She has a CCM career, ya know... (and was the lead of some ill-fated ill-conceived NBC replacement sitcom about an Evangelical Christian living in the big city).


#14 M. Dale Prins

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Posted 16 December 2005 - 05:15 PM

...and currently has a pretty prominent role in "The West Wing." (And in the current set of "Old Navy" commercials.)

Dale

#15 Christian

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Posted 20 December 2005 - 10:25 AM

QUOTE(Nick Alexander @ Dec 16 2005, 04:52 PM) View Post

QUOTE(Christian @ Dec 16 2005, 06:36 PM) View Post

I'm rather taken with the woman who sings most of the songs on "Wicked." I like her voice.
Would that be Kristin Chenoweth? She has a CCM career, ya know... (and was the lead of some ill-fated ill-conceived NBC replacement sitcom about an Evangelical Christian living in the big city).


I’ve yet to figure out which of the two main female characters sing which songs. It’s obvious in some spots, but listening to it in the car, or in the background while I’m at home, I’m mainly enjoying the melodies and singing along here and there, without realizing which character is giving voice to each expression.

Favorites: “No One Mourns the Wicked,” “Popular,” “I’m Not That Girl,” “One Short Day,” “Defying Gravity,” “As Long as You’re Mine,” and “For Good.”

In other words, about half the album. smile.gif



#16 AtticScripts

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Posted 05 January 2006 - 02:36 PM

Sweeney Todd is by far my favorite. I'm not a huge lover of musicals, and at times, these songs make me forget they're singing. The idea of the songs belying the action, such as the Pretty Women duet over Sweeney's prep to slash the Judge's throat, make this one of the greats. Not While I'm Around is a beautiful ballad that isn't a standard 'boy wooing girl' song. The gallows humor of A Little Priest and great character setup of Worst Pies in London.



#17 Jason Bortz

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Posted 05 January 2006 - 02:52 PM

Idina Menzel plays Elphiba, the other lead in Wicked. She's also on the soundtrack/in the movie version of Rent as Maureen.

#18 Christian

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Posted 05 January 2006 - 03:04 PM

QUOTE(Jason Bortz @ Jan 5 2006, 02:52 PM) View Post

Idina Menzel plays Elphiba, the other lead in Wicked. She's also on the soundtrack/in the movie version of Rent as Maureen.


Thanks. It's her voice that I was drawn to, moreso than Chenowith's. I'll have to track down the Rent soundtrack.

#19 Jason Bortz

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Posted 05 January 2006 - 03:24 PM

Inre: Rent.

Though her song is quite entertaining, it really doesn't hold a candle to her work in Wicked. I'll put it on my website later so you can hear it--but NO DOWNLOADING! THAT'S ILLEGAL!


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#20 AnchorMan86

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Posted 06 February 2006 - 10:39 PM

No one's mentioned Phantom yet...

Despite being some of the best music ever written for the stage, Phantom suffers from a lack of a really good overall recording. The original, of course, features Sarah Brightman, who is almost too perfect to be good in the role. Sounds wierd, I know, but the musical perfection detracts from the emotion at certain points, especially "Point of No Return." Michael Crawford, quite simply, is the Phantom. 'nuff said. Steve Barton is a somewhat over-the-top Raoul, who is at times laughably overdramatic.

The movie soundtrack, despite its superior sound quality and better orchestration, features some abominably bad singing. Emmy Rossum's voice actually cracks during the third verse of "Think of Me" (listen closely to "...put you from my mind..."). Gerard Butler roars and sputters his way through the score embarrassingly. However, Patrick Wilson puts in a surprisingly good turn as Raoul, without too much drama.