Back in 1975, both A Chorus Line and Chicago came to Broadway. After nearly 15 years on Broadway and 15 years away, A Chorus Line has just danced its way back and the new cast album is here. Chicago's revival celebrates its tenth anniversary and international success with a deluxe box set. A Chorus Line won nine Tony Awards whereas Chicago had to wait until its revival to win its six Tonys. And speaking of Tony, we also look at a new CD by singer Tony Andriacchi.
A CHORUS LINE
"Different is nice but it sure isn't pretty." So goes a lyric in the historic A Chorus Line. As a pure listening experience compared to the original cast album many of us happily burned into our brains, the new cast CD is "different" in some ways, but not radically. And yes, it's "nice" enough, and "pretty" here and there when it might have been stunning. There is much to enjoy and be entertained by and admire, while some of it feels too careful or calm ("nice") instead of vibrant and organic. But the cast has the unenviable task of competing with a legend.
The extended Montage, which begins with "Hello Twelve, Hello Thirteen, Hello Love" and returns to that melody, is recorded this time so one section blends into the next. This kaleidoscopic mass of memories has many fine slivers of acting moments and miniature solos. It's tracked in four sections, so you can jump to each part. One track is the solo "Nothing" where the orchestration strikes me as overly busy. The piece is sung by Natalie Cortez who sounds more brash and pouty, diminishing both the comedy and a listener's sympathy for the underdog. She's more vulnerable leading "What I Did for Love," where she begins in a sweet and restrained manner and then builds, though it could certainly use more nuance and shading. As others join in the song, it's earnest rather than nakedly passionate. The same can be said of Charlotte d'Amboise's solo, "The Music and the Mirror"; she sounds a bit harsh where pleading is what she's needing. She has power, but more determination than desperation, and the enunciation of crisp consonant sounds is labored and overdone. In the dialogue leading into it, she's very effective and natural and some of that sincerity extends into the first part of the number.
"Sing!" - that comic bit about the performer who can't - has some fresh phrasing and timing, with cute apoplectic apologies by Chryssie Whitehead and effectively clean contrasting vocals by Tony Yazbeck. Mara Davi does some lovely singing with real grace and heart in her sections of "At the Ballet" and "Mother." Especially pleasing throughout the album is Tuka Takara as Connie: her work rings true. In dialogue, Michael Berresse's tough taskmaster as choreographer Zach registers strongly, calling the shots.
What makes the CD most valuable is the extended versions of some group numbers, with sections of music and lyrics not contained on the first cast album or the soundtrack of the misguided film. (A CD reissue of the 1975 original cast album offered some extra material, and the film had a specially written, now banished song "Surprise.") There are also bits of dialogue that work well to emphasize aspects of some characters. An intended overture had been announced to be part of this album, but it's not here. Karaoke tracks for "What I Did For Love" and "One" are available exclusively in the iTunes downloadable version of the album (not separately). And what of "And"? This short song from the score, not previously preserved, was recorded but can at this writing only be acquired through the Rhapsody music service. The CD runs just under an hour, so there would have been room to simply include "And" and even the karaoke tracks, which makes the hide and seek game feel manipulative or at least frustrating. Perhaps cooler heads will prevail and they will be issued on an EP. The extra tracks were not made available to reviewers.
Although the mechanical precision that is appropriate to the big number "One" is sometimes present elsewhere, I embrace the broad-strokes excitement and energy of the cast and orchestra directed by Patrick Vaccariello. The booklet contains all of the late Edward Kleban's lyrics heard on the CD as well as the included dialogue, and there are brief excerpts from composer Marvin Hamlisch's journals recalling the making of the show and his one-paragraph reflection on the present.
I haven't seen the new production yet, but I'm curious to see if the performers make the show more their own since this recording was made on August 14th.
With its Fosse flair, mix of murder and music, and revolving door of celebrity cast replacements, the 1996 revival of the musical Chicago has been a strong presence on Broadway for almost ten years. It has also spawned multiple tours and productions around the world, including recent ones in Italy, Brazil and South Africa. The revival won six Tony Awards, and the film, which snagged the same number of Oscars, added to the stage show's visibility.
To mark the decade of success and casts, a box set has been issued with two CDs, a DVD with interview and performance clips, and a 5"x10" book with comments, facts, credits and a lot of full-page black and white photos. Many of the cast photos will be familiar as having appeared outside the theatres, in newspaper ads and on passing buses: decadence and danger implied in provocative poses, piercing stares plus skimpy, tight-fitting costumes. There are page-long appraisals and recollections from the show's composer John Kander, director Walter Bobbie, musical director Rob Fisher, star/choreographer Anne Reinking and producer Barry Weissler. All speak on the documentary DVD, as do producer Fran Weissler and Bebe Neuwirth (who originally starred as Velma and has returned to the current production as Roxie). The interviews have some repetition of points made in the written text, with much praise going to the late Bob Fosse. The commentaries are edited to jump back and forth from one person to the other, sometimes effectively giving different points of view on the same topic. Other times, it just seems random. Kander gets the most screen time, filmed in tight frame, and modestly but warmly sharing his tales. He talks about a major cut that was made, referring to the character of an agent and his big number. There's a bit of discussion about the reception of the original 1975 production and the smash reaction to the concert version at City Center's Encores! and its quick move to Broadway. Those who have followed the show will not find any major revelations, and there's no gossip or ill will whatsoever.
Following the talk, there is high-quality footage from international productions. Using a segment of each of three songs, "All That Jazz," "All I Care About" and "Roxie," the many bits are edited together so the cast and language changes every couple of lines, but the music keeps flowing.
One of the CDs is simply the 1996 revival cast album in full. Many of the show's devotees will have picked this up over the last decade for the sharply entertaining and polished performances of Reinking, Neuwirth, James Naughton, Joel Grey and Marcia Lewis.
The other CD includes two cuts from the first cast album with Jerry Orbach and ensemble ("Razzle Dazzle"), and Gwen Verdon and Chita Rivera's duet "Nowadays." Liza Minnelli, who briefly subbed as Roxie, is represented by her serious-minded "My Own Best Friend," originally issued as a 45 rpm single record and previously issued on Liza compilation CDs. 1998 London cast star Ute Lemper leads "All That Jazz" from that cast album and the song is also heard in German, both full-throated, bold presentations. The other foreign language track is a high-energy medley in Spanish by Bianca Marroquin with Rob Fisher providing piano accompaniment. Four newly recorded tracks are mostly for curious celebrity value, more about personality than muscular musical values. Melanie Griffith plays up the girlish flirty factor on "Me and My Baby." Brooke Shields carefully finds her way around "Roxie" with a couple of rough spots vocally but some charm and goodwill. Lynda Carter puts forth a slightly tepid but game "When You're Good to Mama." John O'Hurley's "All I Care About" can be described similarly. The CD also boasts two 1975 demos by the show's writers, John Kander and the late Fred Ebb with two of his lost lyrics. The bouncy and quick-paced "Loopin' the Loop" remained in the show instrumentally; "Ten Percent" was the song for the agent in which he unashamedly sings of his greed and smarmy reputation. The much-missed, talented Mr. Ebb is irrepressibly enthusiastic in his performance and Mr. Kander brings joy as well (he's on piano, as you'd assume). The CDs are not in individual sleeves.
The official anniversary is November 14 and a concert will be part of the celebration. Expect hooplah.
UNDER THE RADAR
And while we're on the subject of Chicago, here's a singer based in that city. He's made a splash in Chicago, and is starting to get better known elsewhere, too. This CD should do the trick at long last.
From Chicago comes Tony Andriacchi, a compelling and sincere vocalist who can also stir things up with a lively uptempo turn. This is his second album. The first, Old Friends, was a piano-and-voice collection of tender ballads. Long-lined, sincere love songs are, I think, his strong suit as he has a soothing, romantic sound that can be almost hypnotic. His pure and high tones are attractive, but he has vocal power to call on when melody and emotion build. Thus, a medley of two unabashedly sentimental and love-drenched journeys by Michel Legrand with lyrics by Marilyn and Alan Bergman is glorious. It's a combination of the hopeful invitation to long-lasting love, "What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life?," and the mourning of its loss, "Once You've Been in Love," that works well. Tony's velvety legato glide through "Maybe September" (a Percy Faith/ Jay Livingston/ Ray Evans song from the film The Oscar) is likewise dreamy with a sense of melancholia he can inhabit especially well.
It's movie songs Tony favors here, with some pop items, but there's one tune that began on Broadway in 1938, a lively spin through Cole Porter's "At Long Last Love." It opens the album, prefaced intriguingly by a bit of "As Long As I'm Singing," sung beautifully a capella. This Bobby Darin memento bookends the CD, as a swingin' uptempo version presents the full song at long last, at the end. Tony powerfully holds the note on the word "song" for an eyebrow-raising impressively long time at the end of two of the choruses. That adds to the joy, as does the opportunity to actually use the instruments mentioned in the lyric in the orchestration. Only "Nice To Be Around" doesn't win me over, as I think its lyric is better suited to a slower, more heartfelt treatment.
The moods, both reflective and lighthearted, are greatly enhanced by a full orchestra, including a large string section. Carey Deadman is the versatile arranger, orchestrator and producer (he also plays flugelhorn solos and is one of five trumpet players - this is a major and lush production). The singer is credited as having come up with the musical concepts and as executive producer.
I look forward to hearing Tony in person for the first time on Tuesday when he sings a couple of songs in the New York Cabaret Convention at Lincoln Center's Rose Theater. Then he goes back to Chicago (the city, not the musical) for another appearance, according to his website. www.tonyasings.com. Impressive work!
... Until the next fair hearing ...