Sound Advice by Joseph Molnar HomePastAbout
Jesus, Pajamas and NYC


Producer and owner of JAY records, John Yap, has embarked on a very ambitious project. It is his intention to record many of Broadway's classic musicals as they were originally written. That means using the complete original score, book and orchestrations as the authors had intended. Today, when a musical is revived there are always some adjustments made, mostly in the orchestrations, sometimes in the score, and almost always in the book. Sometimes even a character is given a song they didn't have the first time around, as was the case with Damn Yankees. When it came time to record the original cast albums of these classic scores, many cuts were made to fit the playing time of an LP. This resulted in many reprises, secondary songs and dance music going unrecorded. Many of these cuts were also made so that they sounded more like "songs" and less like scenes from a show. This made the recordings more accessible to people who had not seen the show. It was thought that no one wanted to hear the dialogue and so the songs were altered. While this is still in practice today, there is much more space on a compact disc, so more of the score is now included when a new musical is recorded. In addition, original cast recordings recorded prior to 1983 were not recorded in digital sound, so now they can be heard as if it were being performed live with crystal clear sound. It is a pleasure to have these new recordings to hear these wonderful scores as audiences first heard them many, many years ago.

Only the finest performers have been assembled for these recordings. Where he can, he has cast actors who have previously played these roles on stage and that is part of the joy of these recordings. It adds a feeling of authenticity. You don't get the feeling you are listening to people who have just learned the score for the first time, but that they have had time to settle into their character giving it the feel of a real cast recording. But there are times when this wasn't possible and he cast actors for their vocal and acting ability. In most cases you wouldn't see these actors playing these roles on stage because they do not "look" the part, but can act and sing it.

There has been a big debate going on on the Internet about which is better, original cast recordings or studio casts. Convincing arguments were heard from both sides, but I feel that any musical role is open for new interpretations. Certainly it can be argued that certain roles were written with specific performers in mind, such as Ethel Merman as Mama Rose in Gypsy and Mary Martin as Maria von Trapp in The Sound of Music to name two. It has also been argued that the original stars of these musicals are the only ones who are appropriate for these roles and that no studio performer could ever even come close. The original stars were part of the creation of the musical and had more at stake and put their all into their performances and have "lived" with these characters for a long time. While that is true, it is unfair to today's performers who are just as dedicated to their craft and give their performances careful thought before recording. It is also nice to have today's performers record some of the Broadway's classic scores because if someone recognizes a name on the CD, they might buy it. For example, Barry Bostwick and Judy Kaye appear on JAY's Annie Get Your Gun. Now, fans of either Spin City or Ragtime who might not know who Ethel Merman, the original Annie, was might purchase it. So it lets a whole new generation experience Broadway the way it used to be. So with that said, without further ado, I give you my reviews of three new complete recordings of some of Broadway's most popular scores.

Jesus Christ Superstar Of all the scores recorded by JAY, the most likely for a recording would be Jesus Christ Superstar. There have been at least 4 complete recordings of the score previously, the original concept, the movie soundtrack, the 20th anniversary recording and the recent London cast. There have been many other recordings of this score, at least 6 others that I know of, but everytime it has been recorded, it has been with new orchestrations or songs had been cut. So this is the first all digital recording using the original orchestrations. It is the "newest" score recorded in this series, most of the others were written prior to 1970. Without a doubt, Jesus Christ Superstar is one of the world's greatest rock musicals. Andrew Lloyd Webber has written one of his finest scores ever in Jesus Christ Superstar and features some of Tim Rice's best lyrics ever; so a new recording is always welcome. It provided a contemporary spin on the true story of Jesus' final 7 days on Earth and is still refreshing to listen to today. Playing Jesus is Dave Willits who made his name in another Andrew Lloyd Webber spectacular, The Phantom of the Opera. He possesses a high tenor that is perfectly suited to the role and infuses it with passion. Clive Rowe provides a powerful portrayal in the role of his betrayer, Judas, and Issy van Randwyck gives a fine performance as prostitute Mary Magdelene. My one gripe with this recording is that the voices are a bit too up front in the mix and the instruments sound a bit too far off in the distance and sound a bit muddled. I believe it would have had a much more exciting sound if the orchestra had been placed closer to the microphones. I also wish "Could We Start Again Please?" had been put in its proper place and not as a bonus track. This recording follows the original concept recording, not the Broadway production for which "Could We Start Again Please?" was written. It is nice to hear trained theater voices singing this score instead of rock 'n' roll performers who sang on the original. While their voices were appropriate, this is still a musical theater score, regardless of the type of music employed.

The Pajama Game The Pajama Game is the nearly forgotten musical by Jerry Adler and Jerry Ross, the creators of Damn Yankees. It features the hit songs "Hey There," "Steam Heat" and "Hernando's Hideaway." This musical would be a good prospect for City Center's Encore series of concerts dedicated to "lost musicals" because the story is rather dated and probably wouldn't play well in a full-scale revival. It tells the story of the factory workers of Sleep Tite Pajama Factory who belong to a union and want a 7 1/2-cent raise. One of the union reps falls in love with the new boss which causes complications. Thanks to JAY records, it is preserved completely on 2 CDs. Included on this CD for the first time is the "I'll Never Be Jealous Again" ballet along with various other reprises, the finales of act one and two and the exit music. In the leading role of the union rep Babe is Judy Kaye, currently starring in Ragtime. Ms. Kaye is a much more accomplished singer than Janis Paige, the original Babe, who sometimes sang a bit flat. Opposite her is Ron Raines as Sid, who sings powerfully as always and gives John Raitt a run for his money. Cast in the roles of the comedic love couple are Kim Criswell and Avery Saltzman who sing their roles better than their predecessors, Carol Haney and Eddie Foy, Jr., who were character actors rather than singers. Ms. Kaye and Mr. Saltzman have previously played their roles on stage in the NYCO production in 1989, as well as Brookes Almy as Mabel and David Green as the union Prez, so this is a partial cast recording. It is quite thrilling to hear this score in digital stereo sound, the score simply jumps to life. John Owen Edwards conducts it with gusto and the playing by the National Symphony Orchestra is brisk. There are only 3 other recordings, the original Broadway cast, the original London cast and the movie soundtrack and the latter 2 are hard to find, so it is great to have a new recording of this terrific score.

On the Town On the Town takes place in NYC and tells the story of 3 sailors on 24 hour leave and the women they fall in love with during their excursion. In 1944 when On the Town, by Leonard Bernstein, Betty Comden and Adolph Green, first opened it was a critical success. This was without the benefit of a cast recording. Since this was the time when cast albums were in their infancy, the show went unrecorded. It wasn't until 1960 that producer, Goddard Lieberson, assembled 4 of the original Broadway cast members together to make an album. Of course the usual cuts were made and the entire score was not recorded. Since it featured only a few cast members it was not a "real" cast recording, not to mention the fact that they were now 16 years older. At the time it opened on Broadway, there was a studio set of 6 songs issued by Decca featuring Betty Comden, Adolph Green, Nancy Walker and Mary Martin. Then there is the 1949 film which truncated the score. A few years back, Deutsche Grammophon issued a studio recording with opera and theater stars, but for some odd reason, the overture was cut. Despite a few odd casting choices, it was enjoyable. JAY's studio recording is a much better cast using mostly theater voices. Louise Gold is a riot as a chanteuse who sings a depressing song in the night club scene where Gabey's pals are trying to cheer him up. Kim Criswell adds sex appeal and a brassy voice to the role of Hildy that is quite appealing making hers the best Hildy on disc. Judy Kaye, as always, is a joy to listen to and is worth buying the CD for. Gregg Edelman (of 1776), Tim Flavin and Ethan Freeman play Chip, Ozzie and Gabey, the 3 sailors on leave and, like Ms. Kaye, are older than their characters and will probably never play these roles on stage. But despite that, they all sound youthful, unlike thier counterparts on the Deutsche Grammophon recording. I believe it would have been better to have up-and-coming talent, like the original cast, tackle these tunes. After all, this score is a celebration of NYC and youth. While the songs themselves have become theater standards, it is the dance music that drives this show. Bernstein's eclectic dance music is exciting, wild, energetic and somewhat harsh, just like New York City itself and it is great to have a new recording that finally preserves all the dance music in all its glory.

That's all for this week. Join me in two weeks when I will be reviewing 3 more CDs from JAY, Annie Get Your Gun, South Pacific and The King and I. I had the pleasure of sitting in on one of JAY's recording sessions for the upcoming release of their complete recording of The Most Happy Fella starring Louis Quilico, Emily Loesser, Karen Ziemba, Don Stephenson and Richard Muenz. In a few weeks, I will be offering an exclusive look at what went on behind the scenes at this recording session.



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