The latest musical to become a worldwide blockbuster wasn't written by Lord Andrew Lloyd-Webber or the team of Boublil and Schonberg. In fact, it isn't even British or new. It is the Tony award winning revival of Chicago, which has audiences on their feet night after night all over the globe, and has recently opened in Melbourne, packing 'em in down under. The London production of this musical opened approximately one year after the Broadway production and starred Ute Lemper as Velma Kelly and Ruthie Henshall as Roxie Hart. Due to contractual disputes, this production almost went unrecorded, but, thankfully, things were resolved. The cast headed into the studios at the end of March with producer Thomas Z. Shepard to record the show for RCA Victor. After the CD was released overseas in early June, it is now being released here in the U.S.
For those of you who have been living in a cave, Chicago is a musical about two murderesses and their desperate attempts to gain freedom by way of media attention. Most of my readers know that I liked the new Broadway cast, with the exception of Ann Reinking, whose bizarre interpretation of Roxie never really felt "right". I overlooked that and loved the recording nonetheless because of the other performances on the disc. I also loved that disc because it was the most complete recording of the score; that is, until now.
Mr. Shepard has managed to improve upon the new Broadway recording and give us even more. He has included part of the spoken dialogue between Mama and Velma, which breaks up "When You're Good to Mama" as performed in the show. Instead of the reprise of "I Can't Do it Alone", we have the finale of act one in which we hear of Roxie's alleged pregnancy. It is one of my favorite moments on this recording. I just love it when Velma says, "What the hell was that?" after Roxie faints. It is priceless. Mr. Shepard has also reinstated Roxie's soliloquy which precedes "Roxie" and was cut from the new Broadway cast recording. As a result, this recording has a richer theatrical sound, due to the expertise of Mr. Shepard.
Like that of Ann Reinking, Ruthie Henshall's portrayal of Roxie is not quite "right". From time to time, Henshall seems to play the role as a pre-pubescent teenager who is being naughty. She tends to get carried away during the soliloquy before "Roxie", squealing like a little girl instead of acting like an aging chorine. I can't understand why these two actresses chose to overact the role; perhaps they were directed to do so. On the plus side, Miss Henshall has a much stronger and more pleasant voice than Ann Reinking. Henshall occasionally shows some grit, which I never expected. I have never been a fan of hers, always thinking she had a voice with no depth or character to it at all.
Ute Lemper is the biggest surprise to me. I had always thought of Miss Lemper as a slinky, sexy chanteuse who only sang songs in German or English -not really a leading lady - but I was wrong. She is the main reason to buy this disc, as her performance is simply impeccable, surpassing even Bebe Neuwirth's. Since Miss Henshall and Miss Lemper both have lovely voices, I believe their rendition of "My Own Best Friend" is one of the best recordings of this song ever and is the highlight of the disc. While neither can replace Gwen Verdon or Chita Rivera from the original Broadway cast, both are an improvement to their counterparts on the new Broadway cast recording.
Meg Johnson as Mama Morton sounds like a cross between Marcia Lewis from the new Broadway cast and Judi Connelli from the original Australian cast; Nigel Plannenner, Henry Goodman, and C. Shirvell as Amos Hart, Billy Flynn and Mary Sunshine, respectively, are adequate in their roles.
There is no stopping this score from shining like a jewel, with has one show-stopping tune after another. Any new recording is welcome, but this one in particular is worth having for the terrific singing from Ruthie Henshall and Ute Lemper. With both actresses scheduled to reprise their performances on Broadway, it was very wise of RCA Victor to release this recording in the States.
First Night Records has promised the release of the London cast recording of Stepping Out for August 3rd. That date should also see the third single from Whistle Down the Wind, sung by the pop group "Boyzone", to be released by Really Useful Records. First Night will also be recording the London cast of Doctor Dolittle.
August 9th is the date for the release of the London cast recording of Saturday Night Fever from Polydor/U.K.
TVT has recorded Madison Square Garden's production of The Wizard of Oz, starring Eartha Kitt and Mickey Rooney, and it should be released shortly.
On September 8th, the soundtrack to Xanadu will be released domestically (at long last -- it has only been available as an import until now) from MCA. This soundtrack featured music from Olivia Newton-John and the pop group ELO, and it even featured Gene Kelly on one track.
Well, that's all for this week. Till next time, happy listening.