Every child looks in the mirror at least once and sees in his or her reflection a dashing hero, a beautiful femme fatale, or a black-clad villain. For all of us whimsical dreamers, Frank Wildhorn wrote his endlessly enchanting musical adventure The Scarlet Pimpernel. Following its third successive incarnation on Broadway, Atlantic Records has released a “special edition” (for lack of a better term) of the Original Broadway Cast album entitled The Scarlet Pimpernel: Encore .
As far as necessity goes, this disc amounts to little more than a wannabe “greatest hits” album. Four tracks from the updated 98/99 Broadway mounting (Ver 2.0 for those keeping tally) have been preserved, as well as two prior tracks from the earlier concept album; otherwise, the disc is identical to the OBC recording.
Rex Smith (‘Chauvelin’) is unfortunately not able to compare with Terrence Mann’s splendid performance on the former recording. Mann is still present in the “Falcon in the Dive (reprise)” and “The Riddle,” but his two “big” songs, “Falcon in the Dive” and “Where’s the Girl,” have been replaced by Smith’s own renditions. A former pop star, Smith does bring a youthful and vibrant sound to the character, but I personally find Mann’s mature, velvety baritone irresistible.
The role of Marguerite is sung twice on Encore by Rachel York in “I’ll Forget You” (replacing “Only Love”) and a reworked “Storybook.” The latter is now positioned as the opening number (a great intro to Marguerite’s character), and both are beautifully sung by Ms. York. Original star Christine Andreas is retained for “When I Look at You” and “The Riddle.” Undeniably the more 'French' of the two, Andreas gives a wonderful performance, just superior of York’s.
This recording is chiefly a small memento for anyone who caught the second version of Pimpernel, or perhaps for fans of one of the stars (and, thankfully, Douglas Sills' bravura performance has been left alone). Orchestrations of the new tracks do not mesh well with the more lush originals, and the older pop tracks tacked on to the end, Linda Eder’s “Only Love” and “You Are My Home” (with Peabo Bryson), are pure fluff. For a much better representation of the lovely Wildhorn/Nan Knighton score, the Original Broadway Cast album gives the best dash for your dollar.
I recently acquired the Original Cast recording of John Cameron Mitchell and Stephen Trask’s Off-Broadway smash Hedwig and the Angry Inch . The mock-concert musical, chronicling the sordid life of internationally ignored song stylist Hedwig Schmidt, has been tearing down the crowds at Off-Broadway’s Jane Street Theatre since Valentine’s Day 1998, and recently acquired Ally Sheedy as its resident transsexual rocker.
Through this rather off-the-wall piece, Trask and Mitchell clearly show that there is still plenty of room for highly successful productions of an original and avant-garde nature among the increasingly commercial world of theatre and performing arts and, yes, still plenty of people willing to risk producing such work.
Startlingly brilliant to say the least, Hedwig has redefined the rock genre of theatre, blowing away any notion that the comparatively tame Rent was the last of the breed. Its sense of inner beauty is a revelation in its own rite. Trask has created a sublime blend of several American musical styles, ranging from the twanging country “Sugar Daddy” to the hardcore “Angry Inch.” He even draws upon Plato’s Symposium as the model for Hedwig’s bittersweet explanation of the “Origin of Love.”
The deliciously dry and veracious lyrics are performed to perfection by the show’s star and co-creator, Broadway vet John Cameron Mitchell. Mitchell created the persona of Hedwig several years ago (based upon a childhood babysitter who moonlit as a prostitute) and has brought her to a glittering climax in his explosive performance. Miriam Shor is a worthy companion as Hedwig’s second banana, Yitzak.
Trask’s own band Cheater (a.k.a. ‘Angry Inch’) provides the background for Hedwig’s antics. Trask’s love of the project is evident in his excellent musical direction, and the resulting record is very possibly the best of the year.
-- Harper ;-)