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The Broadway and cabaret scene.

Nine, The New Broadway Cast Recording, PS Classics PS-312

The Maury Yeston Songbook, PS Classics PS-310

Lauren Kennedy: Songs of Jason Robert Brown, PC3 Classics PS-309

First Lady Suite, A Musical by Michael John La Chiusa, PS Classics, PS-206

Amour, Broadway Premiere Recording, Sh-K-Boom Records 4003-2

Seeing the current Broadway revival of Nine (twice, so far) reminded me of how interesting and musically original I found the score when I first heard it in 1982. While "Nine" won the Tony Award that year for best Outstanding New Musical, its chief competitor, Dreamgirls, was thought to be more of a classic. The new Roundabout Theatre revival makes a strong argument for Nine, a wholly original show whose time may have come at last.

The 1982 cast featured chanteuse Karen Akers, the well-known Raul Julia, the voluptuous Anita Morris and a seductive Lillian Montevechi. The new ensemble features Antonio Banderas, Laura Benanti, Jane Krakowski, Chita Rivera, and Mary Stuart Masterson. Both recordings have their merits, although the recorded sound on the new PS Classic CD has greater presence than my old vinyl disk. Furthermore, the CD format allows for more material (79 minutes) than the original recording (even on the recently remastered CD). Its two main shortcomings are a smaller orchestra (about 15 musicians versus 35 on the original) which reduces colors offered in the orchestrations, and the absence of "The Germans at the Spa," a number which was cut from the revival. Neither Raul Julia nor Antonio Banderas are great singers (although Banderas is captivating on stage), so the basis for a preference has to lie elsewhere. As the film-makers wife, Mary Stuart Masterson is more convincing than Karen Akers, which came as a surprise to me. She is more forceful both on stage and on the recording in "Be on Your Own"--essentially where she tells her self-centered husband to get lost. It brings gender parity to a show that previously appealed disproportionately to male egos. And Jane Krakowsi's sexy "A Call from the Vatican" (a number that has to be seen to be believed) is better sung than Anita Morris's version, even though Jane will never look like Morris.

Perhaps anticipating the success of Nine, PS Classics released a collection of songs earlier this year by Maury Yeston, the composer of Nine. Many great theatre voices--including Betty Buckley, Christine Ebersole and Brent Barrett--contributed new recordings of selections from Yeston's other Broadway hits Grand Hotel and Titanic, as well as three new songs and other shows and song cycles that haven't been seen in New York.

Sutton Foster (now starring in Thoroughly Modern Millie on Broadway) is perfectly suited to cover "I Want to Go to Hollywood" from Grand Hotel, originally recorded by Jane Krakowski, who now excites in the revival of Nine. Ironically, this CD may have the best recording of "A Call from the Vatican" with Alice Ripley tearing it up. It's fun hearing two of Yeston's excellent songs from his Phantom, a musical version of the classic tale that couldn't compete commercially with the Andrew Lloyd Webber smash but did have its own national tour. A beautiful new song, "Now and Then," is sung by the performer who actually has the best voice in the Nine revival: Laura Benanti. Another beauty is "Is Someone Out There" delivered convincingly by Eden Espinosa. Like most of the other tracks on this compilation, accompaniments are these selections are limited to a piano. In that many of these songs will be new to casual listeners, this album will find its fans mostly from the ranks of frequent theatergoers.

Two other new PS Classics' releases are also tied to writers of theatre music. Lauren Kennedy brings a youthful, but rich voice to "Songs of Jason Robert Brown," which features his compositions from The Last 5 Years, Parade, and Songs for a New World. It's nice hearing Jason's work all together, but it's hard to top some of the original performers, most notably Sherie Rene Scott from the original recording of Brown's autobiographical The Last 5 Years. One exception is Lauren's warm, affecting rendition of "When you Come Home To Me," which benefits from a fuller accompaniment than most of the other selections. Also interesting is "Dreaming, Wide Awake," whose melody, however, bears more than a faint resemblance to "Meadowlark." As with other PS Classics releases, the sound is crisp and clear, and up close, although at 51 minutes, the value quotient comes up a little short.

The other wunderkind of today's musical theatre is Michael John La Chiusa, who's often fine work has unfortunately, not yet met with commercial theatre success. This latest recording is based on a 2002 production in Los Angeles, although the Off-Broadway show premiered at New York's Public Theatre in 1993. To describe the First Lady Suite as irreverent is hardly an understatement. Divided into three suites, the knowing lyrics cut to the quick in describing how First Ladies Jackie Kennedy, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Mamie Eisenhower endured their roles backing up their husbands. Mamie comes across most realistically as she sings: "never would change a thing" as she waits for days, months, and years, as her husband fights a war in Europe. This look at the underbelly of wifedom in the White House certainly preceded the Clinton years. It is bitter and biting, and both annoying and intriguing at the same time.

When Amour received five 2003 Tony nominations, including Best Original Score, it was a bit of a surprise considering that the musical ran for only two weeks on Broadway. But the thing that got it to Broadway is fully in evidence on the cast recording: the splendid melodies of Michel Legrand. While not on a scale, of course, with "The Windmills of Your Mind," or the score from The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, these 28 tracks include a delightful Overture scored for a vocal choir, the sweet "Other People's Stories" and "Somebody," and the witty "Whore's Lament." A nice bonus is Michel Legrand's encore performance of "An Ordinary Guy." At 74 minutes plus, the recording is more than complete --perhaps we didn't need it all. But this is an enjoyable musical theatre album, well sung, arranged, and recorded. --GW
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Publication:Sensible Sound
Date:Sep 1, 2003
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