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Fresh voices in retro songs

“The Drowsy Chaperone”

Original Broadway cast

(Ghostlight Records)

* * * 1/2

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THEY just don’t write ‘em like this anymore.

Oh, wait a minute, they do, because “The Drowsy Chaperone,” the madcap 1920s tune-fest, exists within the context of “The Drowsy Chaperone,” the Canada-born musical that advanced from Los Angeles to New York and won this year’s Tony Award for best score.

The giddy songs by Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison emerge from an old cast album that a musical theater enthusiast (Bob Martin) wants to share with us. On disc as on the stage, he talks while the LP plays, detailing the plot and gossiping about the performers.

The CD’s packaging provides further faux context. The disc is painted to look like an LP, and the accompanying booklet is filled with mock vintage photos and advertisements. Mostly missing from the recording, though, are the blurted personal confessions that give the script, which Martin wrote with Don McKellar, such surprising poignancy.

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The voices brim with personality, especially when Sutton Foster, portraying a follies star/bride-to-be, shows off a sparkling soprano that gives the lie to her protestation that “I don’t wanna show off no more.”

The Broadway production contains a new duet for the forgetful wedding hostess (Georgia Engel) and her devoted butler (Edward Hibbert), replacing “I Remember Love,” heard in Los Angeles. The latter is included as a bonus, however, and the deliciously out-of-context “Message From a Nightingale” has been moved to the end of the disc and performed in its entirety.

-- Daryl H. Miller

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Lorca story has Spanish rhythm

“Bernarda Alba, a Musical

by Michael John LaChiusa”

Original Lincoln Center cast

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(Ghostlight Records)

* * *

LORCA lives, writes Leonard Cohen in his new book of poems, and so he does. Not only is Federico Garcia Lorca a central figure in the work of the Canadian singer-songwriter-poet-novelist and father of Lorca Cohen, but composers left and right have lately turned to the Spanish poet.

The recording of Osvaldo Golijov’s powerful Lorca opera, “Ainadamar,” has been recently released. In September, the Orange County Performing Arts Center opens its new concert hall with a song cycle to Lorca poems composed for Placido Domingo by William Bolcom. And Michael John LaChiusa’s operatic musical based on Lorca’s last play, “The House of Bernarda Alba,” opened at the Lincoln Center Theater in March for a limited run to mixed response.

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Curiously, LaChiusa’s inspiration is more Spanish music than Lorcan verse. The sordid story of a widow who confines her daughters and aging mother to the claustrophobic house to keep them safe from the world of men is served by surprisingly bright dance rhythms. Stomping feet, galloping horses and playful castanets and folk song pervade the score.

The cast is all women, with Phylicia Rashad as an unusually outgoing matriarch of five frisky daughters. LaChiusa’s lyrics are blunt to the point of flashy un-Lorcan vulgarity. Emotion is too easy wrought. But the music has ambition, captivating color (Michael Starobin did the striking orchestrations) and plenty of verve.

LaChiusa has a long way to go in efforts to remake Broadway to his demanding post-Sondheimian specifications, but he keeps trying. He should be encouraged.

-- Mark Swed

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New recording is deeper, broader

“Sunday in the Park

With George”

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2006 London cast

(PS Classics)

* * * 1/2

THIS 1984 musical paints with sound, re-creating Georges Seurat’s painstakingly dotted canvases in pulsing, quivering melodies. It seems fitting, then, that a fresh recording should capture new colors and textures.

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The album emerged from a London production that moved recently from the Menier Chocolate Factory arts complex to the West End. Presented on two discs, the recording is more complete than the original Broadway cast album, delivering more dialogue and longer sections of several musical scenes. What truly distinguishes the effort, though, is the depth of emotion each performer reveals in Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s meditation on the frustrations, sacrifices and hard-won triumphs of artistic life.

Daniel Evans’ baritone buzzes with intensity as Seurat plunges ever deeper into the world of his monumental painting “Sunday Afternoon on the Island of la Grande Jatte,” while Jenna Russell’s amber-hued soprano conveys the conflicted frustration and admiration of the artist’s model and girlfriend. The production uses reduced orchestrations for five players, expanded to eight for the recording. Spare yet precise, these pointillist daubs of piano, strings and woodwinds fill in the aural canvas.

Included as a bonus is “The One on the Left,” the original version of an encounter between figures in Seurat’s painting, shortened during the show’s development.

-- D.H.M.

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Playful pop with ‘80s flair

“The Wedding Singer”

Original Broadway cast

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(Sony BMG Masterworks Broadway)

* *

IT’S a good thing that CDs and DVDs come in different kinds of cases. Otherwise it might be hard to differentiate today’s cast albums from yesterday’s movies. “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.” “The Producers.” “Hairspray.” All those Disney animated films. And now, “The Wedding Singer.”

The 1998 Adam Sandler movie has been turned into a stage musical that combines a couple of Sandler-Tim Herlihy songs from the screen with new tunes by composer Matthew Sklar and lyricist Chad Beguelin.

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The score makes playful reference to pop music of the 1980s, the era in which the story is set. After a while, the album begins to sound like one of those “Pure ‘80s” compilations: Culture Club, Joan Jett, Van Halen, etc. But the songs are genuinely tuneful, and in the sunny “Someday” and bittersweet “If I Told You,” it has numbers that deftly convey the yearning and stopped-up emotions of its title character, a wannabe rocker turned wedding singer who’s been burned by love, and the woman who reaches his heart again.

Stephen Lynch has a sweet baritone that he shapes, at times, to sound remarkably like Sandler’s; Laura Benanti, in the Drew Barrymore role, possesses a perky soprano that lends her a girl-next-door quality. Listen to them fall in love in “Come Out of the Dumpster.” Where else are you going to find a song title like that?

D.H.M.

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Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor) to four stars (excellent).


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