Sound Advice by Joseph Molnar HomePastAbout



Side Show Side Show, which opened to mostly positive reviews and has good word of mouth, has been limping along at the box office. So why hasn't it ignited at the box office? Is it just that people don't want to see a musical about Siamese twins? Does this now mean there are certain subjects that are taboo in musical theater? Side Show tells the tale of Daisy and Violet Hilton, Siamese twins and the men who help them become vaudeville stars. Not only did these men help them; they also fell in love with them.

Henry Krieger's score, which at times can be quite beautiful and emotional, seems to be stuck in the mid-80s. He has a knack for combining 60s and 70s pop styles with theater music. This was put to great use in the musicals Dreamgirls and The Tap Dance Kid. Both of those musicals took place in the present or recent past, so for these two shows this music was very appropriate. Side Show takes place in the 20s and 30s and the music seems out of place to me. I just don't buy Daisy and Violet as pop belters, they sound like two-thirds of the Dreamgirls. But all is not lost, he did write some very nice period pieces for the twins to sing and this is when I found the score sounded best. "When I'm By Your Side," "We Share Everything" and "One Plus One Equals Three" are just a few of the "performance" songs. Others, like "Who Will Love Me as I Am?", "Feelings You've Got to Hide" and "Leave Me Alone" are in the pop vein that I mentioned above and just seem plain awkward. The plus side is that they are beautiful tunes, nonetheless.

There a few genuine touching moments, such as "You Should Be Loved" Jake's confession of love for Violet. It is ironic that he loves her despite her deformity, yet she cannot love him because he is black. It is my favorite moment on the CD. "Say Goodbye to the Freak Show" is also one of those moments, when the twins must say goodbye to their friends, very touching. There are only two bad tunes, one of them, "Tunnel of Love," which grates on the nerves after repeated listenings, especially that electric guitar, which sounds very out of place. "Private Conversations" also seems to go on and on without end. It would have been much better had they trimmed it; it seems to stop the show cold, in a bad way, at least on the recording. There are some terrific performances to be found here. Alice Ripley, who I found wooden as Betty Shaffer, does a great job here as Violet. Emily Skinner, who I liked in A Christmas Carol and has a sweet voice, is the real surprise here, she proves she can belt with the best of them. Jeff McCarthy is more than adequate as the talent scout, Terry, and possesses a rich smooth Baritone. I must say Hugh Panaro is the most annoying singer on this CD. His voice is so high pitched that during his trio with the sisters, I can hardly tell the three of them apart. He sounds as if he hasn't made it out of puberty yet. The real find here is Norm Lewis as the twins' best friend, Jake. He infuses the role with great acting ability and a fabulous singing voice that is full of raw emotion.

So I have very mixed feelings about this recording. In general, I think, overall, it is a beautiful score, but awkward because of the time period and style of music used. It grows on you very slowly, but I don't think I will ever like it as much as his first two Broadway shows, because of its unevenness. I guess only time will tell if I am right.


The Last Session Next up is the musical, The Last Session, which, like Side Show, opened to mostly positive reviews and has gotten strong word of mouth. The Last Session is the semi-autobiographical story of a musician who is dying of AIDS and has gathered his friends together to make one last recording of songs to his life partner of 13 years. Following this session, he plans to commit suicide, unbeknownst to his friends.

The Last Session is sort of like Godspell meets Rent. I say this because Rent also deals with the issue of AIDS and uses rock and gospel music to tell its story. There are also many "story songs" in this show, such as "Friendly Fire" and "The Preacher and the Nurse" that recall the parable songs of Godspell. There is not one bad tune to be heard here. Each and every one is packed with gut wrenching truth and honesty that is truly touching. But that is not to say that they are perfect, upon first listen, a few of the numbers sound as if they are stumbling over themselves, but this feeling disappears after a couple of listens. While this may sound like a very depressing affair, it is not. There are a few comic numbers to relieve the tension, such as the previously mentioned "Friendly Fire" which tells us that doctors and their cures can kill the patient almost as quickly as the disease itself. "Save Me a Seat," "Going it Alone," and "Connected" are all beautiful ballads that touch the heart. "The Group" tells us how everyone has a unique experience while going through this terrible disease. These songs are presented in sparse arrangements with only a piano, keyboards and guitar for accompaniment. The liner notes say this CD was recorded live in a studio with very little post-production and it sounds like it, which adds greatly to the enjoyment. I have never known anyone with AIDS, but after listening to these songs, I feel like I have a pretty good idea I know what they are going through. The performers give their all and it is hard to single out just one, but Bob Stillman deserves singling out because he does a fantastic job in the lead role of Gideon. Not only does he sing and act, he also plays the keyboards on this recording.

I highly recommend this CD for any musical theater fan. It is a must have. Upon first listen, one or two songs grab you, but after a few more listens, they all do!


1776 1776, when it first opened on Broadway in 1969, was the sleeper hit of the season going on to win the Tony award that year for best musical, beating out the big hit of the season, Hair. Not only that, it featured no less than three performers who went on to greater fame on the small screen. They were William Daniels, Ken Howard, and of course, Betty Buckley. So it is ironic, that now that 1776 has made its return to Broadway, it now features an actor who made a name for himself on TV and is now making his return to Broadway in his first starring role in a musical.

1776, obviously, is the story of how the Declaration of Independence came to be. Upon first listen, this score may strike the listener as odd. Many of its songs sound like fragments, rather than whole songs. I feel that is the beauty of this score because its music blends so well with its book. That was one of the problems with the orignal Broadway cast recording. Many of the songs were just recorded as songs and most of Peter Stone's witty and intelligent book were cut and there is little left to tell the listener what the songs are about. Thankfully, producer Robert Sher has restored most of that dialogue for the new Broadway cast CD. More lead-in dialogue and dialogue heard in the middle of songs, such as in "He Plays the Violin" has been added to make this a far more theatrical recording of the score than ever before. After one has become accustomed to the score, one finds it to be a very rich and exciting score that one appreciates after repeated listens. The performances here, for the most part, either equal or surpass the originals. Brent Spiner certainly has a stronger voice than William Daniels as does Paul Michael Valley, than Ken Howard. Only poor Lauren Ward has the unenviable task of following in Betty Buckley's footsteps as Martha Jefferson, something I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy. Nonetheless she does an adequate job of putting her song across, sounding much better on the disc than she did in the theater. There are new, reduced orchestrations on this recording that were heard in the Roundabout theater. They are very similar to the originals, but they sometimes sound a bit anemic in comparison. The tempos to some of the songs also seem a bit quicker on the original cast recording, which I missed, but quickly dismissed. There is also an extra song that wasn't recorded the first time around, "Compliments," that is sung by Abigail Adams toward the end of the second act. It is a nice addition to this recording as are the many reprises that were missing on the original.

This is a very satisfying recording of a musical that is too often over- looked which is now getting its due in the classy revival that is now running on Broadway. Musicals are more than just music and part of the enjoyment of this recording is not only the music but also the additional dialogue that has been added.

Soundbytes:

Linda Eder, the Dance Diva?!?! Yes folks, you heard right, Linda Eder has just released her first dance remix. Atlantic Records has just released a CD-5 maxi-single of Frank Wildhorn's "Something to Believe In" which first appeared on Linda's CD It's Time a year ago. It has been given a house-style remix courtesy of Lenny Bertoldo and DJ "Stew" Pirrone for X-Mix Productions. I must say this was not one of my favorite tunes on her CD, but now I love it with its infectious dance beat. She sounds less like Barbara Streisand here and more like a young Laura Branigan in her "Gloria" days.

A truly unique find this week is a CD called Hi-NRG Classics, which is a two CD set of high energy dance classics. I say it is unique because it features no less than two dance versions of Broadway's greatest hits, "I Am What I Am" by Gloria Gaynor and "Memory" by Menage. It is nice to have these two re-released since they have been so long out of print.

Jane Eyre, the Broadway bound musical, whose original cast recording was supposed to be released by Broadway Angel the second week in December, has been delayed. Apparently, plans have been put on hold while Jane Eyre looks for a Broadway home. If you go to their website, there is a petition to sign to get the CD released here. I urge anyone who is interested in musical theater to go and sign it since it is a beautiful piece of musical theater.

The Capeman will be recorded by Dreamworks records, which also recorded the cast album for Rent last year. It is unclear at this point in time if it will be a two CD set or one.

The Scarlet Pimpernel's original Broadway cast recording is scheduled to be released on February 3. February should also see the release of the video soundtrack to Cats and the London cast recording of The Goodbye Girl.

RCA Victor has announced plans to record the recent cast of the Paper Mill Playhouse's production of Stephen Schwartz' Children of Eden. Both a one CD and two CD set have been announced.

Original cast records have also promised the release of The Human Comedy any day now.

Due on January 20 is the original Broadway cast recording of The Pirates of Penzance which featured Rex Smith, Linda Ronstadt, Kevin Kline and Estelle Parsons in the lead roles.

Looking forward, JAY/TER records producer, John Yap, has just announced that he has finished a complete recording of The Most Happy Fella. It will feature every note and all the dialogue as well as cut songs. He also says that he got permission from the Frank Loesser estate to record all of his works complete.

That is it for the new cast albums for this season so far. Join me in a couple of days for my special Christmas column in which I will be reviewing 2 children's CD's. Till then, happy listening!



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