Noteworthy new Broadway albums
Original cast recordings from this season's hit musicals range from the traditional ("Curtains") to the revolutionary ("Spring Awakenings") to the fluffy ("Legally Blonde").
– Original Cast Album (Decca Broadway): Winner of this year's Tony award for Best New Musical, "Spring Awakening" is being hailed as a watershed event on Broadway. To these ears, the score is not an artistic triumph, though it is a big deal that Broadway is witnessing a rock musical written by a bona-fide, indie-rock songwriter. Duncan Sheik's songs aren't poetry, but his rants and ballads work better on CD than they do on stage. In the theater, "Spring Awakening" has trouble balancing the music and drama (it's based on an 1891 German symbolist play). On disc, instead of pretending that Sheik's modern-sounding songs (which require a Parental Advisory sticker) are sung by repressed, 19th-century schoolboys, "Spring Awakening" can be heard simply as an angst-filled, energetic, indie-rock concept album. Grade: B
– Original Cast Album (Broadway Angel): Listening to this disc, you might think "Curtains" was nominated for the Best New Musical Tony in 1967 – but no, this Kander & Ebb ("Cabaret," "Chicago") murder-mystery musical is not a revival. It made its Broadway debut earlier this year. Lyricist Fred Ebb died before completion, so Rupert Holmes ("The Mystery of Edwin Drood") helped composer John Kander finish the job. David Hyde Pierce won the show's lone Tony – for Best Actor in a Musical – and his deadpan shtick is as charming on disc as it is on stage. If the "Spring Awakening" CD is the future of Broadway, this Curtains album represents a final bow for the old-school showtunes of last century. Grade: B
– Original Cast Album (Ghostlight Records): Here's a musical version of the 2001 Reese Witherspoon movie that features songs as bright and bubble-gummy as its lead's hot-pink wardrobe. The first track is titled "Omigod you guys!" and it sets the tone for Nell Benjamin and Laurence O'Keefe's pep-rally melodies and overheard-at-the-mall lyrics. The real surprise here is that like Elle Woods (the show's plucky heroine), the disc is more substantial than one would expect. The tunes are catchier than many screen-to-stage adaptations, and the songs actually tell a story (admittedly, a fluffy one) instead of halting the action. None of the voices are particularly memorable, but they all acquit themselves well in this bright, often witty, pop confection. Grade: B -
– 2006 Broadway Revival Cast Album (Nonesuch): This revival of Steven Sondheim's groundbreaking 1970 musical comedy earned raves – and this year's Best Revival Tony award – largely because of director John Doyle's inventive staging, which did away with an orchestra and had the singers play the instruments themselves. Impressive on stage, it has less of an effect on record. The piano-heavy orchestrations often sound like a regional playhouse revue and the singing pales in comparison to the 1970 Original Broadway Cast album (still available on a Sony CD). What redeems the disc is the show's finale: "Being Alive." Here, Doyle's concept translates musically, and Raúl Esparza (who's also excellent on his other solo track, "Marry Me a Little") gives clarity to a number that, like the show, is famously difficult to pull off. Grade: B