For this column I will be taking a look at three classic American musicals from three different countries, all three revived on Broadway in the last three years. They are Candide (U.K.), The Sound of Music (Australia) and Kiss Me, Kate (USA - Broadway).
Leonard Bernstein's Candide has an interesting history. It is, perhaps, the only flop musical to be revived on Broadway and go on to become a hit. It was then revived yet again, but this second time it flopped. Thankfully we have recordings from all three productions because each production featured different songs and interpretations. For most people the original cast recording will always be the definitive version. For me there will almost never be a definitive Candide recording as the original cuts almost half the score. Leonard Bernstein attempted a definitive recording in 1990 but wasn't too successful. He conducted the recording himself and most of the tempos seem too slow though there are some good performances from Jerry Hadley, June Anderson and Adolph Green. In addition to these four recordings there are the two opera versions from the NYCO and the Scottish Opera. So do we need yet another recording? Probably not, but each recording has had something that the others hadn't so if one is to own every song written for Candide then one must own all the recordings.
This recording of Candide comes from the April, 1999 production by the Royal National Theater in the U.K. It is perhaps the most unique recording of Candide ever, featuring brand new scaled-back orchestrations by Bruce Coughlin. So just how are these new orchestrations? Well, for the most part they are very enjoyable and one can barely tell the difference. The only piece of music that really suffers is the famous overture, which seems forever linked with its original orchestration. Mr. Coughlin's new, scaled back orchestrations stick very closely to the original orchestrations. I suspect these new orchestrations were commissioned because this production used a smaller orchestra than normal.
There are some terrific performances to be heard on this recording. To my ear, Alex Kelly who plays Cunegonde, resembles a young Barbara Cook. Her "Glitter and Be Gay" would rank just behind Barbara Cook's as the best on record. Unfortunately her co-star, Daniel Evans doesn't sing as well as previous Candides, but otherwise is perfectly cast in the role. Simon Russell Beale is one of the best Pangloss' on record - at least he can sing the role, unlike Adolph Green and Jim Dale on previous recordings. Candide was always a light-hearted operetta spoof and never has that come across more clearly than on this recording. The show is well cast and while all are fine singers none come close to the singers on the opera recordings (and that is a good thing). This recording sounds less stuffy than the others with the exception of the 1997 Broadway revival recording, which used comedic actors who weren't great singers. Overall a very enjoyable and highly listenable recording.
As Mary Martin once said, "I am sure there isn't anyone on the planet who doesn't know the story of The Sound of Music. So that means most people know this score by heart and Julie Andrews is forever Maria in everyone's minds. But before there was Julie Andrews, there was Mary Martin who performed the role on Broadway. So it is strange to realize that The Sound of Music had never received a Broadway revival until 1998. Due to the popularity of the film it goes without saying that the revival used some of the changes that were made for the film. Two of those changes were adding two new songs and making Maria more of a true soprano. For the revival "Something Good" replaced "An Ordinary Couple" and Maria gets to sing "I Have Confidence."
For the Broadway revival Rebecca Luker was cast as Maria. Though lacking the warmth that Mary Martin embodied so well on the original Broadway cast recording, Luker was able to sing as high as Julie Andrews. For this new Australian cast recording based on the recent revival, Australian TV star Lisa McCune was cast. She strikes a good balance - she can sing as high as Julie Andrews and has more warmth than Rebecca Luker though not as much as Mary Martin. Cast opposite her is John Waters who has more experience in musical theater than Michael Siberry (original cast member) and it shows - he is a better singer. Though I enjoyed Patti Cohenour's OBC rendition of "Climb Every Mountain" very much, she was miscast, much too young for the role being almost the same age as Miss Luker. Eilene Hannan gets to sing that standard here and does a great job.
This CD was recorded live and that adds to the enjoyment. There is a feeling that you are hearing a real performance - and you are. Because this show was recorded live, it's very slightly flawed and as a result Lisa McCune's singing isn't as perfect as it would have been if they had recorded in a studio. The Sound of Music is currently touring Australia and I, for one, am glad for that. I loved the production when I saw it on Broadway and I am thrilled that audiences around the world are getting a chance to see it. The Australian cast recording of The Sound of Music is available from Greg's Music World.
Kiss Me, Kate has been long overdue for a Broadway revival, much like Annie Get Your Gun from last season. The Kiss Me, Kate revival is the much more successful production of the two, because the director didn't force an unnecessary concept on it.
A problem with Annie is the new orchestrations written for it. (It has become common practice that all revivals get new orchestrations. Why? "If it ain't broke, don't fix it!" is my motto.) Usually new orchestrations are not as good as the originals, as in Annie's case, but Kate seems to be an exception. I think Don Sebesky has done an excellent job of outfitting Kate with new orchestrations. They are fresh and yet very period sounding. They make the score sparkle and fizz like never before.
For the most part this new recording is very enjoyable, at least after the dreary opening. I don't know what the director was thinking when he cut the overture. It has also become a common practice of late to cut the overture and it's not one that I approve of; in fact I mourn the loss of the overture, but that's another story. The show starts out with a stark stage, and the cast members slowly start to sing an almost dirge-like "Another Openin', Another Show." This isn't helped by the fact that Adriane Lenox sings most of the number and her vocals don't have enough punch in them to get the number going. Thankfully it picks up from there with Amy Spanger's "Why Can't You Behave?" While she might not have the throaty vocals of a singer like Lisa Kirk, the original Lois Lane, she does a fine job nonetheless.
Marin Mazzie, to my mind, might not have been the ideal choice to play Lily, but she does an exceptional job of proving me wrong – she couldn't be more perfect. Same goes for Brian Stokes Mitchell. Ever since seeing The Scarlet Pimpernel over two years ago, I have longed to see Douglas Sills assume the role of Fred, but as a second choice Mr. Mitchell, like Miss Mazzie, does a smashing job. Both are oozing with self-confidence which is appropriate for both roles. Michael Berresse is delightful as Bill Calhoun and makes the only weak song in the score, "Bianca," bearable, which is saying a lot.
I have always been a big fan of Kate, believing its score is one of the best ever written for the Broadway stage. I do, however, have one bone to pick with Mr. Porter - how is it that Kate knows who Lassie is? I am sure there wasn't TV in Shakespeare's day. But other than that the score is nearly perfect and just about every song has become a standard. DRG has done a great job of preserving this cast and they have packed the booklet with wonderful full color pictures from the production. Though there are about six other CDs of Kate available, I would recommend this above all others, with the single exception of the original Broadway cast.
'Til next time, happy listening! Next up - Harper reviews Swing!.