Theatre CDs and DVDs

There has been a proliferation of new cast albums recently from London and New York. So i thought I would spend this week looking at some of them, they make Xmas gifts and from some of these releases will come local productions of these mix of new musicals and revivals, but firstly the concert of Les Miserables which will be released on DVD in November:

There has been a proliferation of new cast albums recently from London and New York. So i thought I would spend this week looking at some of them, they make Xmas gifts and from some of these releases will come local productions of these mix of new musicals and revivals, but firstly the concert of Les Miserables which will be released on DVD in November:

(The 25th Anniversary Concert to be released on DVD in November and just finishing a short cinema release, CD of the new touring cast now available on CD). I found seeing the Les Miz concert on the big screen this week a thrilling experience, it came complete with an intermission, runs for a full three hours with some spectacular added moments at the end of the concert. I am not sure how much this filming of the 25th Anniversary of this most classic of musicals will lose impact on DVD. On the big screen there are moments where you can almost feel you are in the concert yourself, though on a nice large TV screen with high definition it should retain a lot of its magic.

Generally the concert is superbly filmed, although there are a few glitches which I am guessing (and hoping) are fixed up for the DVD release (ie mics not working, some shakey and awkward camera work). Let’s get the one big negative out of the way first; you guessed it – pop singer Nick Jonas is vocally inadequate as Marius and he holds back some of the most thrilling moments of the show. It is a calculated casting move, which may have been less noticeable in the concert itself. But on the big screen (and I guess on DVD) he looks awkward, sounds vocally weak and far too young in the midst of these towering mature performances all around him. Everyone else is magnificent, especially opera superstar Alfie Boe who sings Valjean like you have never heard before, he is matched by the current Love Never Dies Phantom Ramin Karimloo as Enjolras, what a star this man is! Other outstanding performances include a stunning “star is born” in Samantha Barks as Eponine (she is currently playing the  role in the West End). Hauntingly beautiful with a voice to die for, she is arguably the best Eponine I have ever seen. Add great comic work from Nick Jones and Jenny Galloway as the Thernadiers, Norm Lewis (fresh from Sondheim on Sondheim) as Javert and Katie Hall as a very coquettish Cosette and a host of supporting players from so many productions over the years. The show’s emotional impact cannot be under estimated. I don’t want to spoil what happens at the end of the concert, but it’s mightily impressive and deeply moving (try and wait till you see the proper version of this rather than the inadequate bits on YouTube).

Also there is a new CD of the show now available, not of the concert (that will no doubt come later), but of the new revised version currently touring England and about to open in America. The recording is a live version from four separate performances and the energy and excitement of performance make up for some of the singers who are not of the extraordinary standard of some of the past recordings. But this version does have John Owen Jones as Valjean – one of the best vocal performances of the role I have seen and heard and the recording goes like a very fast train. It’s breathtaking, exciting to listen to, and highly recommended.

LA CAGE AUX FOLLES (New Broadway cast Recording). This is a show well overdue for a revival in Australia and this new Broadway recording is based on the recent London revival. This version is smaller and more intimate than the other versions we know. This recording gives listeners a lot of the dialogue from the show, something that has become a norm for most recent Broadway recordings. Sometimes the dialogue gets in the way of repeated listening, but its a solid recording with some nice new musical touches and a few extra lyrics. By listening to this recording, you could feel the whole affair is a little dated, but having seen this production in London, I can assure it’s fresh and edgy and remains a great classic piece of music theatre. Kelsey Grammar plays Georges here and Tony award winning Douglas Hodge gives a very different Albin to the one many may be used to hearing. Comes with a great photo heavy booklet. Worth buying.

SONDHEIM ON SONDHEIM (Broadway Cast). This revue was put together as part of Sondheim’s 80th birthday celebrations. I loved the show when I saw it on Broadway earlier this year and this recording captures many of the special moments. As with the show, the narrator is Sondheim himself, in the show he pops up on a  variety of screens, here he comes across as a droll and caring narrator. The cast is terrific especially Barbara Cook, Vanessa Williams, Norm Lewis and Euan Moreton. There is a new song written by Sondheim especially for the show, many numbers that were dropped from final shows (most enjoyable is the ‘Smile Girls’ number from Gypsy) and then to finish it all off, Barbara Cook with a definitive version of ‘Send in the Clowns’. This is a two disc set and I feel sure we shall see it in Australia in some form, with all the video additions which takes the show out of an average revue. Sondheim’s final comment on his mother which is gut wrenching in the show and leads into ‘Children Will Listen’ is missing from this recording (there is an edited version here), but if you have seen the show you will know why they don’t spoil his unedited comments and save them up for the theatre version. Most recommended.

LEGALLY BLONDE. (London Cast recording). This new recording by the London cast of this show is most enjoyable and gives a lot more to the listener than the original Broadway version, but lacks the sharpness of Laura Bell Bundy as Elle. Sheridan Smith is a most adequate Elle here, but there seems to be something missing. What is made up for here, is a lot of the show’s scenes and dialogue, the excitement (as with the “les Miz” recording) of it being recorded live in the theatre (complete with some delightful audience reactions). This is a lovely musical for a young theatre audience and taps right into the Hairspray/Glee/High School Musical crowd. Word is that we shall finally see the show in Australia soon  and in the meantime, this new recording will be a thrill for fans of this show.

This new Broadway musical fresh from a sell out season off Broadway has arrived on Broadway with a ready made cult audience and great critical response. The remarkable nature of this satirical look at President Andrew Jackson is hard to understand from this very short recording (only 28 minutes). The music is emo rock and if that doesn’t  appeal best to wait until you see the show. I have played the album several times and even though there are some witty and clever numbers, I find it hard to like. Best song is ‘Rock Star’ and Benjamin Walker, the star of the show, is by all accounts a major star and makes a powerful impact. I think I need to see the show before I can really recommend this CD.

All these CDs can be bought from various internet outlets and are easily available on line on the local Middle Eight Music site. Unfortunately it may take years for any of them to get a local release, judging by the slow and disinterested way local companies release cast albums these days. But who buys CDS at a music store these days??!!!

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