Wednesday, October 23, 2013

MT Soundtracker: Day 23

Kismet (1953)

Original Broadway Cast Recording

Music: Alexander Borodin 
Musical adaptation and Lyrics: Robert Wright and George Forrest

Synopsis: Set in Baghdad in the times of The Arabian Nights, and based on a 1911 play by Edward Knoblock, the musical tells the story of Hajj the poet who starts off as a poor beggar but rapidly gains money and status while his daughter, Marsinah, catches the eye of the Caliph who wants to marry a foreign princess. 

It seems astonishing that Kismet and Gypsy, the show I dealt with in my previous post, should be from the same decade. Having listened to both recordings, it seems like the two shows could not be much more contrasting. Where big belters are required for Gypsy, I could imagine Julie Andrews being cast in Kismet. The musical has an operatic quality to it as the music has been adapted from the work of Romantic Russian composer Alexander Borodin. Particularly the song Stranger in Paradise draws strongly upon his work featuring some of the show's most well-known musical themes. Borodin's music is described as evocative and rich in its harmonies. Though the setting of the show might suggest so, the score is not reminiscent of traditional Middle-Eastern music. Listening to the soundtrack it does come across American. 
There are many big, operatic ensemble numbers and in order to comprehend everything that is sung, you almost wish for surtitles. However, the song Gesticulate for example features a more speechy quality. It was the score that made the Kismet successful with Stranger in Paradise and Baubles, Bangles and Beads even playing on the radio. 

The original Broadway production enjoyed a successful run and won the Tony for Best Musical. Kismet did even better in London when it opened in the West End in 1955. That same year, a film version of the musical was released. 

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

MT Soundtracker: Day 22

Gypsy: A Musical Fable (1959)

Original Broadway Cast Recording

Music: Jule Styne
Lyrics: Stephen Sondheim

Synopsis: Based loosely on the memoirs of the striptease artist, Gypsy Rose Lee, the musical focuses on her mother, Rose, who is trying to raise her two daughters into show business; one of them a talented extrovert and the other shy, always secondary to her sister.

Gypsy is one of only three musicals Stephen Sondheim has written lyrics but not the music for (the most famous one being West Side Story). I realised this was the third musical of my project composed by Jule Styne also (after Bells Are Ringing and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes). 
Two songs from Gypsy, Let Me Entertain You (which is a reoccurring musical theme in the show and is effectively used to enhance the sense of character development) and Together Wherever We Go were familiar to me from the pantomime I took part in in January. They are catchy tunes as well as Some People. Rose's Turn is also a famous track. Because of the show business centered plot line, many of the songs are "big" and one can imagine them as stereotypical stagey numbers. The main part of Rose in particular is highly demanding due to the heavily belt-orientated songs. Like the two other Jule Styne musicals I have already explored, this one also contains some great female solos. 

Since the original Broadway production, there have been four revivals of Gypsy on Broadway alone. The part of Rose has been played by several notable actresses; this particular recording features Ethel Merman in the role. In the original West End production in 1973, Rose was played by Angela Lansbury and she won a Tony for her portrayal. 
A successful film version of Gypsy was made in 1962 and another one, for television, was released in 1993.

Monday, October 21, 2013

MT Soundtracker: Day 21

Guys and Dolls (1950)

New Broadway Cast recording (1992)

Music & Lyrics: Frank Loesser

Synopsis: The musical is set among the world of the New York gangsters. Nathan Detroit, desperate for money, bets Sky Masterson that he can't get a Salvation Army girl, Sarah Brown, to go with him to Cuba while Nathan himself struggles in his long-term relationship to Adelaide who wants to get married. 

I found most of the soundtrack fairly unforgettable which I was surprised over knowing how well-known Guys and Dolls is. The score is true to its time in terms of style and reminded me of Kiss Me, Kate
My favourite song of the soundtrack by far was the love duet, I've Never Been in Love Before. I knew I had heard this song before but I had been unaware of its musical of origin. In fact, there were a few songs I recognised such as Luck Be a Lady and Sit Down, You're Rocking the Boat. Adelaide's Lament is the infamous one which apparently you should never sing in an audition as trying to sound like you have a cold is rarely useful. 

The original Broadway production which opened in 1950, did brilliantly well and won five Tony Awards including Best Musical. The first West End production opened in 1953. Guys and Dolls has since been revived several times in various formats, particularly in New York. Presumably due to the variety of characters and the many ensemble opportunities, the musical has become popular among schools and amateur groups.
A UK revival is being planned for the 2014 season at the Chichester Festival Theatre, which I will fairly certainly go and see. I get the impression from the number of professionals productions that have taken place that Guys and Dolls is one of those classic shows every musical theatre enthusiast should have seen at least once. 

Sunday, October 20, 2013

MT Soundtracker: Day 20

Whistle Down the Wind (1996)

Original Cast Recording (1998)

Music: Andrew Lloyd Webber
Lyrics: Jim Steinman

Synopsis: Based on the 1961 film of the same name, the musical is set in Louisiana in 1959. Swallow finds an unknown man hiding in the barn and believing him as he says he is Jesus Christ, she and the other children promise to keep his existence secret while the adults search for a murderer on the run.  

Like most Andrew Lloyd Webber scores, Whistle Down the Wind has one very distinct motif which keeps returning for continuity and coherence. Even though the musical was unfamiliar to me, I still knew that 'Whistle Down the Wind' tune. However, even for Lloyd Webber, this tune was recycled a lot and I was tired of it before I was even halfway through the soundtrack. 
Many of the songs are very melodic and are reminiscent of older musical theatre shows by the likes of Rodgers and Hammerstein. Like in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, children are an integral part of the show. A few of the songs are rock-influenced such as Cold and Tire Tracks and Broken Hearts
Interesting fact: No Matter What, sung by Boyzone on the concept album and later released by them as a single, was voted UK's single of the year in 1998 and it became the most successful single produced from a musical ever. 
Also A Kiss Is a Terrible Thing to Waste and When Children Rule the World became well-known tracks outside of the context of the show. 

Due to the negative reviews following its Washington D. C. premiere in 1996, the date set for a Broadway opening of Whistle Down the Wind was cancelled. A reworked version of the musical opened in the West End in 1998 and this production ran for over 1000 performances. It has since been revived in the West End and it has successfully toured both in the UK and the USA. 

Saturday, October 19, 2013

MT Soundtracker: Day 19

The Wiz (1974)

Original Cast Recording (1975)

Music & Lyrics: Charlie Smalls (others also contributed with additional music and lyrics)

Synopsis: The Wiz is a musical adaptation of Frank L. Baum's novel, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz: Dorothy ends up in the land of Oz after a tornado and embarks on a journey to see the Wizard in order to get back home. On the way she picks up the Scarecrow, the Tin Man and the Lion all of whom also want something from the Wizard. 


Whenever The Wizard of Oz is mentioned, most people think of the 1939 film starring Judy Garland. I think the association of the title to that film is even stronger than the association with the original novel. Therefore, it is easy to forget that the musical film is only one take on the classic children's book. The Wiz (full title: The Wiz: The Super Soul Musical "Wonderful Wizard of Oz") puts the story into an African American context and the score is, as the title suggests, based on soul music. Some of the songs can be directly paired up with numbers from the 1939 film version as there are no alterations in terms of the plot. For example Ease On Down the Road serves the same purpose as We're Off to See the Wizard as reprises take place throughout the journey to enhance continuity. Out of all the songs in the show, this song became the most well-known. The Scarecrow, the Tin Man and the Cowardly Lion each have their own song too (I Was Born on the Day Before Yesterday, Slide Some Oil to Me and I'm a Mean Ole Lion respectively) which are located in the same place in the story as in the above-mentioned film version 


The Wiz, when performed professionally, is usually performed with an all-black or mostly black cast. The original Broadway production in 1975 was significant for the African American culture as it was a big-budget production and allowed later the emerging of of other musicals in similar style such as Dreamgirls. The Broadway production ran for four years and received several Tony Awards. However, there has not been a production nearly as successful since.
A film version of the musical was released in 1978 starring singer Diana Ross as Dorothy. Michael Jackson played the Scarecrow. 

Friday, October 18, 2013

MT Soundtracker: Day 18

Bonnie and Clyde (2009)

Original Broadway Cast Recording (2012)

Music: Frank Wildhorn
Lyrics: Don Black

Synopsis: The musical is based on the lives of outlaws and lovers Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow who, in 1930's America, robbed stores and killed people while travelling around to avoid being caught.

This is the most recent musical of my project so far. I have much love for the completeness of musical theatre soundtracks nowadays due to the technological advances allowing more tracks to fit onto discs and this makes it possible to often piece together the story just by listening to the songs. 
It is a shame that the stage show of Bonnie and Clyde flopped as I enjoyed the soundtrack. It is not a box-standard Broadway musical score even though Wildhorn being the composer does not come as a surprise to someone who is familiar with his other work (e.g. Jekyll & Hyde, The Scarlet Pimpernel) . Broadway pop is variably mixed in with western (particularly You're Going Back to Jail), blues and gospel music (e.g. God's Arms Are Always Open). Despite the many different styles featured, the soundtrack comes together well as a whole. 
I spotted a great female duet, You Love Who You Love. How 'bout a Dance was a song I had heard out of context before and that is a lovely track for a female singer with a jazzy voice. There are also some great male solos. 

After two smaller productions in the USA, Bonnie and Clyde went to Broadway but closed after only a month and a half after a generally negative reception from the critics and tickets sales being worse than expected even though the audiences seemed to like the show. This might end up being one of those shows that will get rediscovered in 10 or 20 years time and successfully revived. 

Thursday, October 17, 2013

MT Soundtracker: Day 17

Mack & Mabel (1974)

Original London Cast Recording (1995)

Music & Lyrics: Jerry Herman

Synopsis: Set in Brooklyn in 1911 as a flashback, Mack Sennett was a silent movie director who spotted the talent of Mabel, a delicatessen worker, and made her a film star. Although Mabel falls for Mack, she wants to act in serious films instead of just doing the comedies Mack wants to direct so she meets with another director, William Desmond Taylor, who is attracted to her and is prepared to give her a role in a drama. 

What I found the most intriguing about this soundtrack was the fact that Mabel's character development is perfectly discernible even just hearing the recording. Without giving the whole plot away, Mabel starts in a very girly, energetic voice (Look What Happened to Mabel) and this contrasts with the maturity she has developed and reaches towards the end of the show (Time Heals Everything). I was astonished by the excellent communication of the recording in this respect.
Although Mack and Mabel is set in the early 20th century, it is obvious from the soundtrack that the musical is from  a much later decade. The orchestrations are more modern and when a track such as Tap Your Troubles Away comes on, however customary tap was to a certain era in musical theatre, it feels out of place here. However, the audible jazz influence traditionally associated with the earlier musicals has been incorporated with the newer Broadway sound. 

Although the original Broadway production received praise from the critics, it only ran for eight weeks and despite getting nominated for several Tony Awards, it won none. 
Interestingly, the musical became known to a large proportion of the British public in the 1980's as a British team won the World Figure Skating Championships in ice dance and they used the overture of Mack and Mabel as their music. As a result, the high demand resulted in the original cast recording being re-released in the UK. Still it took the musical another 10 years to actually open in the West End.  

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

MT Soundtracker: Day 16

Damn Yankees (1955)

Broadway Revival Cast Recording (1994)

Music: Richard Adler
Lyrics: Jerry Ross

Synopsis: Based on the German legend of Doctor Faustus, Joe Boyd is an estate agent who wants the baseball team he supports to win for once. Mr Applegate, who appears to be a salesman but is actually the Devil, offers Joe a deal: if Joe gives up his soul and leaves his wife, he can become a young, brilliant baseball player and join the baseball team to help them win. 

The 1994 Broadway revival of Damn Yankees had a revised story line and, understandably, orchestrations of songs were updated.  The interesting thing about this particular soundtrack is that it contains not only the songs but also small snippets of dialogue which give a more comprehensive account of the show. They have been slotted in between the songs as separate tracks so suppose someone only wanted to listen to the songs, the spoken sections would be easy to skip. 
This is one of the most energetic recordings I have come across during my project so far. It was the first one during which I actually thought 'this is musical theatre cheese'. 
Whatever Lola Wants (Lola Gets) is one of the track I had heard before. It is a seductive character song with a dance break. It starts of with a tango feel and moves towards a more rhythmic Spanish sound. The other track which knew possibly from dance class was Who's Got the Pain? which is quite catchy. In fact, not only do many of the tracks on the recording lend themselves to dance but they vary a fair amount in style promoting the inclusion of many different styles of dance. 

Damn Yankees did very well when it first opened on Broadway (featuring choreography by Bob Fosse). A short West End run took place the year after and a musical film was made in 1958. The musical has been since revived in both London and in New York.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

MT Soundtracker: Day 15

Kiss of the Spider Woman (1992)

Original Cast Recording

Music: John Kander
Lyrics: Fred Ebb

Synopsis: Luis Alberto Molina is a gay prisoner in Latin America who mostly lives in a dream world to get away from the life in prison. He is particularly drawn to the voice of seductive actress, Aurora, the 'Spider Woman'. Molina cares for his repeatedly tortured cell mate, Valentin, and Molina has to decide whether he is prepared to betray Valentin for the sake of seeing his sick mother. 

John Kander and Fred Ebb are best known for creating the scores for Cabaret and Chicago. Kiss of the Spider Woman is obviously a later piece of work and although I can see the resemblance in the music between this show and others composed by the duo that I know, it is a more modern sound. Not the pop sound which has become popular in this day and time mind you, but rather a modern musical theatre sound. In fact, the music reminds me of the work of Frank Wildhorn (e.g. Jekyll and Hyde, The Scarlet Pimpernel)I am personally very fond of his style and already the first few ominous phrases of the Prologue of The Kiss of the Spider Woman drew me in and made me want to listen to the rest of the recording. As a result of the show's setting, the rhythmic Latin American drive is the basis of several tracks. There are some great solos for males and for a low female voice in the show, e.g. Marta, She's a Woman, Kiss of the Spider Woman, Do Miracles (a duet but would work as a solo). Morphine Tango wins the prize for the eeriest track with its choral base.

The musical got criticised for failing to do justice to the novel it is based on and for presenting the serious subject matters the musical deals with too lightly. However, although its West End run was not the longest, the Broadway production (1993, with Chita Rivera in the title role) was very successful and won several Tony Awards. 

Monday, October 14, 2013

MT Soundtracker: Day 14

Hot Mikado (1986)

Original Cast Recording

Music: Rob Bowman
Lyrics: David H. Bell

Synopsis: Based on one of Gilbert and Sullivan's most frequently performed operettas, The Mikado, Hot Mikado is set in Japan in the 1940's. Nanki-Poo, the son of the Mikado of Japan, arrives at the village of Titipu disguised as a musician looking for Yum-Yum, a girl he has fallen in love with, thinking that the man she was supposed to marry (Ko-Ko) is to be executed. Turns out Ko-Ko has been made the Lord High Executioner and that he is to soon marry Yum-Yum but because he was not executed, someone else must be.

Interestingly, Bowman has used a lot of Sullivan't original music but re-orchestrated it to comply with the popular styles of the 1940's. Many of the melodies remain the same. The score is heavily jazz-influenced in particular. Elements of blues and gospel for instance are also identifiable. 
The song Tit-Willow made me giggle mostly because of my immaturity but it is also a slightly peculiar song. I very much enjoyed the thick, juicy harmonies taking place in many of the songs. 

Hot Mikado was a new adaption of the well-known show created after the composer and lyricist realised there was very limited material available for the 1939 Broadway production of The Hot Mikado which also was an adaptation of The Mikado but it had an African-American emphasis.
Hot Mikado has up to this point never been on Broadway. It has, however, been performed in several venues in the USA and a short West End run took place in 1995.  

Sunday, October 13, 2013

MT Soundtracker: Day 13

The Light in the Piazza (2003)

Original Broadway Cast Recording (2005)

Music & Lyrics: Adam Guettel

Synopsis: It is the 1950's. Margaret Johnson and her emotionally unstable daughter, Clara, spend a summer in Italy. Clara falls in love with an Italian, Fabrizio. Margaret tries her best to stop the relationship but the young couple plan to marry regardless.  

Here we have another rather unique musical. Firstly, the score is very operatic (especially e.g. Clara's Interlude), in order to enhance the feel of a 1950's setting perhaps. It also contains long, instrumental sections (e.g. American Dancing has no vocals at all) It is quite rare to find a musical from the 21st century in this style. Secondly, it is the only bilingual Broadway musical that I have come across (if anyone knows any others, please let me know) with numerous characters being Italian.  
Overall I did not find the soundtrack particularly memorable. I think The Light in the Piazza might be one of those musicals that are best seen on stage partly because for anyone who does not speak Italian, the staging probably greatly helps in understanding the meaning of the songs in that language. 
However, particularly the title track as well as Love to Me are beautiful numbers, Hysteria grabs your attention because it lives up to its name. Octet partly follows in the footsteps of Hysteria.

The original Broadway production was received positively and it won several Tony awards. It has since been performed around the US as well as outside of it. The UK premiere took place in Leicester in 2009 but the show has so far not made the West End. 

Saturday, October 12, 2013

MT Soundtracker: Day 12

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (1962)

Original Broadway Cast Recording

Music & Lyrics: Stephen Sondheim

Synopsis: The musical is based on farces of the Roman playwright Plautus. Set in ancient Rome, the story focuses on the lives of three adjacent households. In order to free himself from slavery, Pseudolus promises his master, Hero, that he will help him get the girl next door he has fallen for. The musical has retained many characteristics of farce with mistaken identities, satire and puns. 

I thought it was about time to explore a new Stephen Sondheim. I'm sure I'm not the only one who on the first few listens was not too keen on the work of this legendary composer. His absolute focus on the lyrics to the extent that his melodies mimic the natural intonation of speech reduces the melodic aspect of the songs; an aspect which I generally demand from the music I listen to for pleasure. It is only when I got to singing Sondheim that it became clear how challenging some of his songs are to sing (and for the accompanist to play). I learned to appreciate Sondheim on a whole different level and he really is a genius. Having commented on the complexity of his music and his harmonies, however, I also have to point out that many of his scores are very similar to each other. That takes me to A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. The first song, Comedy Tonight, does not quite utilise enough atonality/wordiness (for me) to determine the show to be a Sondheim one - in fact, it resembles a stereotypical musical opening number to a great extent - but from then on, there is no doubt of who is behind the score. The next song, Love, I Hear, opens with speech-singing and the melody feels secondary to the lyrics. A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum was Sondheim's first major musical for which he wrote both the music and lyrics so compared to some of his later work (e.g. Into the Woods) where his unique writing is more refined, so this show is not quite as "weird" musically.

A Funny Thing... contains some brilliant lyrics and character songs (I'm Calm) and some remarkably catchy phrases. I was ended up singing "Everybody Ought to Have a Maid". I also particularly enjoyed Bring Me My Bride for its comic value. 
Most of the characters with solo songs in the musical are male but interestingly the main part of Pseudolus, though originally written as a male part, has been played by both men and women. 

Friday, October 11, 2013

MT Soundtracker: Day 11

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1949)

New York City Center Concert Recording (2012)

Music: Jule Styne
Lyrics: Leo Robin

Synopsis: It is the 1920s. Lorelei and her friend Dorothy board a ship from the USA to France. Lorelei is certain her boyfriend, Gus Esmond, wants to break up with her so the two women get acquainted with the wealthy men on the ship. Lorelei also gains possession of a tiara which two detectives start tracking down.  

I have admit that I chose this particular recording because one of my favourite Broadway actresses, Megan Hilty, sings the lead role of Lorelei Lee but the show itself is a classic too and so rather appropriate for this project. Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend is the most well-known song from this show and I was unaware for quite some time that the song originated from a musical. I found A Little Girl from Little Rock the most memorable track closely followed by Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend. The music is very jazzy and there are some great, belty female solos. This is a lovely recording to play as background music too, as on top of the vocal tracks and sections, there is a fair amount of fantastic instrumental content for the customary dance breaks. 

I suspect most people know Gentlemen Prefer Blondes from the 1954 film of the same name starring Marilyn Monroe. It did well for itself of Broadway in 1949 but did not last for very long in the West End in 1962. There have been a number of subsequent revivals, most notably a 1995 Broadway production. 

Thursday, October 10, 2013

MT Soundtracker: Day 10

Young Frankenstein (2007)

Original Broadway Cast Recording

Music & Lyrics: Mel Brooks

Synopsis: The musical is based on the 1974 film with the same name which parodies Mary Shelley's classic book Frankenstein. The story is set in Transylvania in the 1930's where Dr Victor Frankenstein has just died. To the disappointment of the villagers, Dr Frankenstein's grandson Frederick travels from New York for his grandfather's estate. Frederick is then encouraged to take over the family business and to build a monster of his own. 

The soundtrack reminded me a little of The Rocky Horror Show, especially songs such as Please Don't Touch Me but mixed in with something from The Producers in terms of its comic value. There are some brilliant exaggerated foreign accents going on but in general I found the recording a little bit samey all the way through. I could not pick out a song that I enjoyed more than the others. The Brain is quite an impressive one requiring excellent diction but I don't know whether I could describe that as my very favourite. The music is of the flashy Broadway style - you can imagine many of the songs being combined with big dance numbers. From the lyrics and the exaggerated expression of many songs, it is obvious the musical is a parody. One of the characters (Inga) even starts yodeling in the song Roll in the Hay.

I was astonished a musical as recent as this had gone completely unnoticed by me seeing as it involves Mel Brooks (I love The Producers), Sutton Foster who I think is a brilliant performer and Christopher Fitzgerald, a name I have been coming across frequently lately. then again, Young Frankenstein is not widely spread outside of the USA. The original Broadway production received mixed reviews even though the audience response was largely positive.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

MT Soundtracker: Day 9

They're Playing Our Song (1978)

Original Broadway Cast Recording

Music: Marvin Hamlisch
Lyrics: Carole Bayer Sager

Synopsis: The musical is based on the real-life relationship between the composer and the lyricist. Pop music composer Vernon Gersch meets with lyricist Sonia Walsk and although they are very different personalities, they decide to go ahead with a collaboration. They begin developing a closer relationship but Sonia's ex-boyfriend Leon starts causing trouble.

Marvin Hamlisch is most famous for writing the music for A Chorus Line. Listening to They're Playing Our Song, the fact that the two shows are by the same composer does not surprise me. Virtually all songs are male-female duets as They're Playing Our Song is effectively a two-man show. However, both characters have so-called Greek choruses off-stage. The sound is contemporary with pop and rock influences. 
They're Playing My Song was the only track I recognised as having heard before. I enjoyed Workin' It Out as a track. The lyrics of that worked brilliantly. When You're In My Arms is perhaps the catchiest song, it flowed beautifully and it had a lovely drive to it. It is a shame that I am slightly too young to sing anything from this show at the moment but I guess the time will come.

After a brief Los Angeles run, the show went to Broadway and ran for over 1000 performances. A year later it opened in the West End and it has since been revived in London and produced internationally. The original Broadway production was nominated for Tonys but failed to win any. 
Somehow I can't quite imagine They're Playing Our Song on Broadway stage due to the small cast. However, I am sure it works wonders in a small venue such as the Menier Chocolate Factory in London where it was revived in 2008. 

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

MT Soundtracker: Day 8

Annie Get Your Gun (1946)

Original Broadway Cast Recording

Music & Lyrics: Irving Berlin

Synopsis: The musical is based on the life of American sharpshooter Annie Oakley. Annie falls in love with Frank Butler who visits her home town with Buffalo Bill's Wild West show and bets that he can beat anyone in a shooting match. The last opponent he expected was a 15 year-old girl. 

Tomorrow's soundtrack won't be from the 1940's - promise! I quite enjoyed this soundtrack. Annie Get Your Gun was one of those musicals I did not know I knew. I thought I only knew one song from it (Anything You Can Do) but also I Got Lost in His Arms, I Got the Sun in the Morning and There's No Business Like Show Business were familiar to me. Annie (sung by Ethel Merman on this recording) has a good few solo songs on this recording but, like most cast recordings from that time, this one is not complete but contains a selection. Jazz and country influences are detectable in the music. My favourite song on the recording was I Got the Sun in the Morning. However, one cannot ignore the comic brilliance of Anything You Can Do.

Annie Get Your Gun did well both on Broadway and in the West End where it transferred a year after first opening on Broadway. There have been several revivals the most famous one being perhaps the 1999 Broadway revival with Bernadette Peters in the title role, which won two Tony awards. A film version of the musical was made in 1950.
Finally, Annie Get Your Gun is not a sequel to the musical Annie. I feel really silly now for ever thinking that was the case but I'm sure that there is someone else out there who has been under the same misconception...

Monday, October 7, 2013

MT Soundtracker: Day 7

Brigadoon (1947)

London Cast Recording (1988)

Music: Frederick Loewe
Lyrics: Alan Jay Lerner

Synopsis: Tommy and Jeff ,two Americans, get lost in the Scottish Highlands and end up in a town named Brigadoon which, curiously, is not marked on their map. They find out that Brigadoon only appears for one day every 100 years and that its inhabitants are not allowed to leave the town or else it will disappear forever. The two men are invited for a meal at the MacLaren household and one of the daughters falls in love with Tommy. Tommy, however, is already engaged to a girl back in New York...

The reason for listening to the 1988 revival recording instead of the original Broadway one was quality of the audio. Deciphering the lyrics from the old soundtrack proved a little challenging. 
Some of the Scottish accents going on were quite... well, shall we say, approximate. From time to time understanding the meaning of songs was difficult but that was partly due to dialectal words I did not understand. 
The actual music is heavily influenced by traditional Scottish music. The song I enjoyed the most was Love of My Life for the energetic delivery. I guess the fact it is a character song made it a little bit better articulated and the lyrics were easier to understand but there was something about the way it was sung that made it pleasant to listen to as well. I am a fan of witty lyrics too (some of you may have gathered that by now) and the number of innuendos in that song made me chuckle. There are some songs in the show that have become famous in their own right such as Almost Like Being in Love.
Brigadoon was Lerner and Loewe's first truly successful musical. They took their inspiration from the recent success of Rodgers and Hammerstein's work and to someone who is not a musical theatre person, Brigadoon probably doesn't sound too different from the work of R&H. 

The original production of Brigadoon did well on Broadway and there have been several subsequent revivals. The musical made it to the West End two years after the first Broadway opening. There is also a film version available, released in 1954. 

Sunday, October 6, 2013

MT Soundtracker: Day 6

You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown (1967)

New Broadway Cast Recording (1999)

Music & Lyrics: Clark Gesner

Synopsis: Based on Charles M. Schultz's comic, Peanuts, Charlie Brown is trying to discover what it means to be a 'good man' and how he can achieve it. The musical gives snapshots into the lives of the different characters. 

The most well-known song from the show (the one that perhaps works best on its own, i.e. outside of the context of the show) is probably My New Philosophy. It's a great character song with witty lyrics and Kristin Chenoweth who sings it on the soundtrack has a very unique voice. This song was added in for the Broadway revival as the character Sally Brown replaced the character of Patty. The soundtrack is full of sweet, childish exploration of big questions in life. The songs also reveal a lot about the characters: with as few as six characters, it is possible to explore them in depth. There is a whole song (The Book Report) dedicated to Peter Rabbit and his resemblance to Robin Hood - just to put that out there as I found it rather entertaining. In addition, I enjoyed the way Glee Club Rehearsal was constructed with a repeated chorus under the speech-sung solos. 

I had absolutely no idea that You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown was as old as from the 60's. I had only been aware of the 1999 revival which resulted in Kristin Chenoweth's (Sally Brown) Tony win. The musical was first produced off-Broadway, it went to the West End the year after and it made its Broadway debut in 1971. 

Saturday, October 5, 2013

MT Soundtracker: Day 5

Bells Are Ringing (1956)

Original Broadway Cast Recording

Music: Jule Styne
Lyrics: Betty Comden and Adolph Green 

Ella works for her cousin, Susan, who runs 'Susanswerphone'. Ella is responsible for taking messages for other people over the phone at the time when voice mail had not yet been invented. She gets increasingly involved in the lives of the people she takes messages from and ends up falling in love with one of these men she has never met. 

The reason I came across this musical was my singing teacher suggesting I should learn A Perfect Relationship as it might be a good rep song for me. Even though it never made my rep folder, I quite liked the song. After listening to the whole recording, it is still the best song in my opinion even though I also liked Just in Time. Overall I don't quite know what to think of the score. I think this might be one of those you would need to see on stage in order to understand it fully; the soundtrack just did not come across as very accessible to me. The overture is the longest track in the show lasting for closer to six than five minutes. Mu-Cha-Cha is a very random-sounding track out of context. It almost made me laugh for that reason. Appropriately to the era, the singing follows the legit code of conduct with a jazzy feel. There is also a remarkable amount of speech-singing going on. 

Productions Incidentally, yesterday's post having been about the Charlie Chaplin musical, Chaplin's son, Sydney Chaplin starred in the original production of Bells Are Ringing. Another interesting fact: Bob Fosse is credited as one of the choreographers for Bells Are Ringing (Jerome Robbins, the director, being the other). Even though the musical did well on Broadway reaching almost 1000 performances (achievement even more remarkable at that time than it would be today), it seems to be unknown to most. There have not been many professional revivals. The most notable of those is the 2001 Broadway revival. 

Friday, October 4, 2013

MT Soundtracker: Day 4

Chaplin the Musical original Broadway cast album

Chaplin the Musical (2006)

Original Broadway Cast Recording

Music and lyrics: Christopher Curtis

Plot outline:The musical tells the story of the iconic Charlie Chaplin, focusing on his path to stardom from London concert halls to Hollywood. 

I really liked this soundtrack overall and I will definitely keep coming back to it. Already the first song, Look at All the People, made me want to listen to the rest of the recording. There are a number of catchy tunes such as Watcha Gonna Do?. The music in style is a mixture between that in a modern Broadway musical and something you might find in a Charlie Chaplin film. The current Broadway sound is more dominant - even listening to the songs not knowing the year of production, it is obvious this is a new musical.
All the songs are well worth listening to but I would like to bring attention to the gorgeous What Only Love Can See, which Charlie's wife Oona first sings solo but the reprise is a duet between the couple. It has pleasant, fairytale-like melody patterns and it fits the voice of Erin Mackey, who sings the part of Oona, brilliantly. 

The show had its Broadway debut in 2012 but it was short-lived and it did not gain much critical acclaim. I would imagine making a musical out of Charlie Chaplin's colourful life to be a huge challenge. I salute anyone who has managed to cram his achievements into 2,5 hours. 

Thursday, October 3, 2013

MT Soundtracker: Day 3

Once Upon A Mattress (1959)

Original Broadway Cast Recording

Music: Mary Rodgers
Lyrics: Marshall Barer

Plot summary: The musical is based on Hans Christian Andersen's fairytale The Princess and the Pea, I'm sure you are all familiar with it. Princess Winnifred has to complete tasks to win Prince Dauntless to herself and convince his strict mother, Queen Aggravan, that she is a true princess (King Sextimus is kinder but he can't speak because he is under a curse). The story line is the same as in the fairytale with an additional slightly surreal comic element to it. 

Once Upon A Mattress is classified as a musical comedy and most of the music is, accordingly, very upbeat. The soundtrack as a whole sounds like it's aimed at children with its simple word choices and clear articulation. This makes it quite accessible but I do have to put down a giant cheese alert even on a musical theatre junkie scale. The songs are not quite as exaggerated as in for example Spamalot and most certainly not as witty but some of the lyrics made me laugh. I particularly enjoyed Song of Love (there's me bobbing along to "Iiii'm in love with a girl named Fred etc."). Shy is a brilliantly juxtaposed track with the character belting out to everyone about how she is shy. Happily Ever After sung by Princess Winnifred is quite a nice character song for a mezzo-soprano but I did not feel enough connection with the track to actually consider taking it up as a rep song.  

Once Upon A Mattress started its run off-Broadway in 1959, went to Broadway briefly and then embarked on a US tour in 1960, the same year the musical opened in the West End. There was a subsequent Broadway revival in 1996 (of which there also is a cast recording; Sarah Jessica Parker played Princess Winnifred) and there have been a few television adaptations with the first one in 1964 which was broadcast live. The show most often crops up as a school or amateur group production. 

(If anyone's wondering about the sources, I'm using good old Wikipedia most of the time :P)

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

MT Soundtracker: Day 2

Aida (2000)

Original Broadway Soundtrack

Music: Elton John
Lyrics: Tim Rice

Plot summary: Elton John and Tim Rice's Aida is based on the opera of the same name by Giuseppe Verdi. Aida is taken to Egypt as a slave and Radames, who is next in line to become Pharaoh, falls in love with her not knowing she is actually a princess in her native land. However, it has already been arranged that Radamnes is to marry Amneris and Radamnes's father Chief Minister Zoser, does not approve of Radamnes's feelings for Aida.

In auditions you always tend to get someone singing Aida. The musical does have some great (albeit over-done) songs for a mezzo/belter and I guess the reason why I have brushed past this musical every other time is because I know there isn't anything there for my voice range. However, listening to the whole thing, I found myself really enjoying the soundtrack as a whole and it's definitely staying as a playlist on my Spotify.
I found out that Disney originally intended to make an animated film out of Aida as The Lion King had been such a success and this is why there are certain similarities between the scores of these two titles. Aida, like The Lion King, contains a mixture of music of different styles and from different cultures. You get the reggae, the Motown sound as well as the Egyptian feel (would've been a bit strange if that had been missing, right?). As a whole, the score has a popular music feel to it. Since I have not seen the show on stage, I am not in the position to comment on how the Ancient Egypt mixes with this music but judging by the popularity of the show both professionally and on the amateur stage, at least something must have gone right. 
Out of the songs I particularly enjoyed Enchantment Passing Through and Written in the Stars. They both are lovely duets between Aida and Radames. The album contains a fair few duets as there are only the two principal roles and two supporting main roles with all other parts being cameo ones. A number of the songs on this soundtrack were already released on the concept album of Aida in 1999, sung by accomplished artists such as Sting, Spice Girls and Heather Headley who ended up playing Aida in the original Broadway production. Written in the Stars was sung by Elton John and LeAnn Rimes on the concept album and it shot up to the top of the charts. 

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

MT Soundtracker: Day 1

Let's get started. If you missed the post introducing the project, you can view it here.

Cover of Show Boat recording conducted by John McGlinn
EMI Studio cast album cover (1988)
You can just about make out the names of the cast members!

Show Boat (1927)

EMI Studio cast album (1988)

Note: This recording was the first to feature the original Broadway orchestrations and vocal arrangements. No original Broadway cast recording exists.
Music: Jerome Kern
Lyrics: Oscar Hammerstein II

Plot summary: Magnolia, the daughter of show boat Cotton Blossom's captain, falls in love with Gaylord Ravenal, a young man with a gambling addiction. They get married and have a daughter but Ravenal keeps gambling and eventually deserts his wife and child. Magnolia takes up a singing job to earn a living and eventually ends up back on the show boat. 

I realised Show Boat was not the easiest musical I could have chosen for this because there have been several recordings over the years and the songs vary between different versions. Luckily I found this 1988 recording which is musically a replication of the original Broadway version. The earliest existing recording of Show Boat is the original London cast recording from 1928. However, the quality of the audio on that is fairly poor not to mention that it does not contain as many songs as this original Broadway replica.
Show Boat was a fascinating listen in my opinion because, and I apologise for being young and ignorant, I did not expect the music to sound so similar to the legit musical theatre sound I learned to know (for those who don't know me, I quite like the operatic sort of musical theatre sound). One thinks Rodgers and Hammerstein have originated it all but listening to this I realised that is absolutely not the case. Jerome Kern was a great figure in shaping musical theatre and popular music having written hundreds of songs but he is, sadly, fairly unknown to my generation and out of the shows he took part in creating, Show Boat is really the only one that still gets revived regularly. There's also Roberta which at least I have heard of. 
I don't know tons of technical music terminology so apologies to anyone who's looking something technically articulate for this section. However, I can say the music reminded me of a more serious version of something by Rodgers and Hammerstein. Something in between their work and Rodgers and Hart maybe. 

Famous songs: Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man, Bill, Ol' Man River; I also recognised Goodbye, My Lady Love
Goodbye, My Lady Love was my favourite track. It was the catchy one I ended up singing to myself after I had finished listening to the soundtrack. 
Note: Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man is on several 'songs overdone at auditions' lists so I wouldn't recommend picking that up as a primary repertoire song if you want to be on the safe side.

Historical context
Show Boat is historically a highly significant musical. It was one of the first musical theatre shows to involve character development and the use of song and dance to carry the plot forward (a convention now synonymous with musical theatre). Many people still consider Rodgers and Hammerstein's Oklahoma! to be the first to include this where, in fact, it had already been experimented with almost two decades earlier. Another factor which made Show Boat so revolutionary was the use of African-American actors and the way in which the musical boldly dealt with serious and current issues such as racism. The portrayal of racial stereotypes of the time and particularly the fact that a white man had written lyrics which imitated the African-American speech caused, and still continues to cause, uproar among the public and Show Boat remains a controversial piece of theatre.