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Summertime...Took a little vacation! Three reviews coming soon! Amazing Grace, Hand to God and Mamma Mia!

I hope you'll come back for frequent visits, to see new reviews, to share opinions, to take a survey (or two), and to celebrate the shows and show people that have made the TheatreScene!

Jeff

Friday, December 3, 2010

And the Grammy Goes to...

The Grammy Award nominations were announced a couple of days ago, and as usual the big pop music nominees grabbed the headlines (you go, Eminem!).  But my favorite category went by without so much as a notice beyond the theatre websites.  No biggie! We all know a good thing when we hear it, right?

 
The good news is (at least in my opinion) that the Best Musical Show Album category has zero filler this year and it represents the fair spectrum of musicals that have played Broadway in the last year.  But I'm not sure who votes for the winners.  Is it people that are part of that category?  Is it the entire voting population? Have the voters seen the productions, too and does that influence the voting?  And do they vote on just the recording -quality of sound, music and lyrics - or the whole package - the CD booklet, the entire production of the album?  (If you know the facts, please feel free to share with me and I'll post it!)

 
In the interest of full disclosure, I own only three of the five cast recordings nominated, and I have actually seen four of the five productions.  So the opinions I offer here are somewhat incomplete, and for that I apologize.

 
Here are the nominees, in alphabetical order, and my thoughts:


 
Green Day's American Idiot

 
The link to my CD review is HERE.

 
My thoughts:
  • The album plays as well, if not better than the actual show.  Free of all the visual clutter, the CD allows you to really listen to the lyrics and the music.  Tom Kitt's orchestrations are superb and really add to the music without making any of them sound like typical show tunes.
  • If it matters, the the CD itself is wonderfully produced with great pictures, and a booklet that includes liner notes and full lyrics.
  • Depending on who votes, the fact that this was once a rock album (or two) could be a plus if everyone votes, or a minus if the stuffy old school theatre folk only vote.  If that is the case, the nomination is the award.
  • Unless musicians who know what they are hearing vote, Kitt's masterful contribution will again go unnoticed, much like his snub at the Tonys.

 
Personally, it is my favorite of the cast recordings nominated this year.

 


Fela!

 
I do not have the CD, nor have I seen the show.  But based upon what I know...

 
My thoughts:
  • The producers of the show, namely Will Smith and "Jay-Z" are popular and well-regarded in the music business, a real plus here.
  • The show itself got nearly unanimous raves.
  • Its political underpinnings could be a plus or a minus, again depending upon who votes.
  • On the down side, the style of music, minus the staging visuals may have very limited appeal.
  • And I certainly hope that when recorded, the cast sounded better than any of the live on TV performances I've seen.

 
Ultimately, the recording may lose out, due to its narrow appeal, despite its acclaim and musical producers.  Or it could win just because of those very things!

 

A Little Night Music -The New Broadway Cast Recording

 
The link to my CD review is HERE.

 
My thoughts:
  • Amongst theatre goers, feelings about this production are sharply divided, which might come into play depending on who votes.
  • A Sondheim score is pretty much a given in terms of quality, so that isn't an issue, especially with a known score like this one.
  • What might play against it is that the score is already beloved in its original cast version with a very full orchestra.  Despite what you think of the smaller orchestration (I like it), and no matter what you thought of it as played live in the theatre, purists and musicians alike may shy away from the less is more approach.
  • What it does have going for it is its completeness, including superbly acted short scenes from Angela Lansbury and company.  It makes the whole thing more understandable, especially if you haven't seen the show.

 
I love the recording.  But I don't think it is "showy" enough.

 

Promises, Promises - The New Broadway Cast Recording

 
The link to my CD review is HERE.

 
My thoughts:
I personally love this recording, but I see more "against" it than "for" it.
"For" it: 
  • The performances are uniformly good, and fairly jump out of the speakers.
  • The orchestrations and pit voices are crystal clear and sound great.
  • Kristin Chenoweth is in terrific voice here, and Lord knows the girl is popular in any medium.  And Sean Hayes also sounds great, which might surprise people who know him only from Will and Grace.
  • The production values of the CD and booklet are top rate, if that counts at all.
"Against" it:
  • The original cast recording is a classic, and that production is still remembered fondly.
  • This version suffers in comparison because, while it replicates (very well) the distinctive "Bacharach-David" sound, the fact that it is so crystal clear might actually work against it.
  • If the voters follow theater, they might be influenced by the controversy surrounding Ms. Chenoweth's performance, though the recording by itself offers a wonderful characterization and superb readings of the songs, including "I Say a Little Prayer" and "A House is Not a Home."  Their addition to the score could be a plus or minus.

 
I have never taken this out of my CD player since I got it - that is how much I love it.  But I'm thinking its chances are 50-50.

 

Sondheim on Sondheim

 
I saw this production, but I do not have the CD yet.  I can, however, offer this:

 
My thoughts:
  • As always, depending upon who votes, the styling of the songs, most of which veer far from their original interpretations, may be a plus for musicians who can appreciate the styling, the re-arrangements and out-of-context nature of the selections.  For purists who like their Sondheim shot straight, this could be a turn-off.
  • If seeing the show plays into it at all, this show had the shortest run.
  • The singers - particularly Vanessa Williams and Barbara Cook are well-known and loved by the music community, Broadway and otherwise, which is a definite plus.
  • Not having heard it, but knowing that some of the Sondheim narration is included.  How it plays on the CD, I can't say, but if they've worked it into the CD as well as they did the show, it is a definite plus.
  • And whether this should influence votes or not, Sondheim is a master, and he has been the focus of dozens of tributes, etc., to the extent that the public at large knows who he is and that he has hit an age milestone.
  • Will the fact that two of the five recordings have all to do with Stephen help or hurt?  Will it split the vote and open the door for one of the other three nominees.

 
I have no idea how this will play out.  But I can say that -even without hearing two of them - the quality of the selections this year is very high.  It may be cliche, but cliches all have a grain of truth to them:  all of these choices are winners!  And think about the shows with CDs that did NOT get nominated...

 
Comments?  Leave one here, email me at jkstheatrescene@yahoo.com or Tweet me!
Jeff
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