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4 from Varese Sarabande-Musicals on Film

This week I am taking a look at 4 new releases by Varese Sarabande. All 4 of these CDs have one thing in common: they feature music from musicals on film, either television or the silver screen.

Cinderella Songs from the Classic Fairy Tale Cinderella: Songs from the Classic Fairy Tale compiles songs from seven different versions of Cinderella that have been presented either on stage or screen. Of course, two of the most famous musical Cinderellas, Rodgers and Hammerstein's and Walt Disney's, are represented here. Most of the tunes come from the Rodgers and Hammerstein version, starting with Crista Moore, who played the title role in the New York City Opera version a few years back. Miss Moore offers a delightful rendition of "In My Own Little Corner". Christiane Noll turns in a thrilling version of "Impossible", also from the Rodgers and Hammerstein version, which is paired perfectly with "Suddenly It Happens", from a British version called The Slipper and the Rose. This cut is the highlight of the disc.

From the most famous version, Walt Disney's, comes "A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes", sung by Stacy Sullivan, as well as the "hidden" bonus track of "Bibbidi-Bobbidi Boo", sung by Michelle Nicastro, performed in the style of the Andrews Sisters. Pamela Winslow, one of Broadway's Cinderellas, from Stephen Sondheim's Into the Woods, gets to preserve her rendition of "On the Palace Steps". The rest of the songs are song by Varese regulars Jason Graae, Guy Haines, Susan Egan, Kristine Fraelich, Jonathan Freeman, Liz Larsen, and Alex Oury along with some newcomers, Farah Alvin, Jennifer Piech and Stacy Sullivan. These songs are arranged on the disc in the order that they might appear in a story, so they have a progression that makes for interesting listening. Also included are three themes from Prokofiev's Cinderella, which was written for the ballet. This CD is a companion to 1996's, The Musical Adventures of Peter Pan, so anyone who liked that recording will most certainly want to seek out this one.

Prime Time Musicals Varese Sarabande, a label that had become famous for its "concept" compilation albums, has produced one of its most interesting to date. First there were the popular "Lost in Boston" and "Unsung Musical" series, but now comes what is hopefully the first in a series as well, Prime Time Musicals.

There was a time when TV audiences could sit in their living rooms and watch original musicals written and performed by Broadway's top talent. A few of the famous composers one could hear were Cole Porter, Richard Rodgers, Jule Styne, Burton Lane, and Jerry Bock. Those days seem to be over. Only recently did we have a glimpse into "what once was", with the television production of Jerry Herman's Mrs. Santa Claus. There have been recent TV versions of two classic Broadway show, Gypsy and Bye Bye Birdie, but I'm writing of only "original" musicals. Since these shows were presented for one time only, most of their songs seemed lost forever; that is, until now. Producer Bruce Kimmel has compiled an interesting collection of tunes from various TV musicals. Two of the most famous, Stephen Sondheim's Evening Primrose and R&H's Cinderella are not present on this disc because they were recorded on previous discs (see above for Cinderella and my first column for the review of Sondheim at the Movies).

There is a smorgasbord of tunes here from many different musicals. Gregory Jbara serves up a devilish "Come to the Supermarket" from Porter's Aladdin. "One Starry Night", from Jack and the Beanstalk, is dreamily sung by Crista Moore. Christiane Noll, now in Jekyll and Hyde and a recent addition to the Varese roster, is once again the highlight of the disc. She sings a powerful rendition of "Who Needs to Dream", from Barry Manilow's Copacabana, which eventually made the jump from the boob-tube to the West End in 1994. Also included is the Frank Sinatra standard, "Love and Marriage", which was once again popularized by the sitcom Married with Children. Originally written for Thornton Wilder's Our Town, it is paired here with "Getting Married" from Styne, Comden and Green's I'm Getting Married. Here, it is ironically sung by two people who have made their names on TV sitcoms, Charles (Murphy Brown) Kimbrough and Beth (Alice) Howland. Husband and wife, Sal Viviano and Liz Larsen are appropriately paired on "You're so Right for Me", from Satin and Spurs.

There's No Business Like Show Business The ever-enterprising Varese Sarabande has just begun re-issuing several of Twentieth Century Fox Studio's classic motion picture soundtracks. The first entry in this series is the soundtrack to There's No Business Like Show Business . The advent of videotape has made soundtracks practically obsolete because you can now buy the whole film to watch at home. Some people, however, like to listen to the music sans the visual and will always buy soundtracks.

There's No Business Like Show Business, which follows the story of a family in vaudeville, starred Ethel Merman and was one of her rare film appearances. It utilizes the Irving Berlin catalogue with a few additional songs written just for the film. The title song, of course, is taken from Berlin's most popular musical, Annie Get Your Gun, in which La Merman starred on Broadway. Since she was denied the opportunity to re-create the role on film, it is a joy to hear her sing this song in a film.

This is the first time the soundtrack has been issued in stereo and features the entire cast. Since Marilyn Monroe was under contract to RCA, her vocals weren't allowed to be used on the original release of the soundtrack, and Dolores Gray was used instead. This CD has been re-mixed and re-mastered from the original stereo film elements, and the sound is quite impressive. Some of the classic tunes on this soundtrack are "When the Midnight Train Leaves for Alabam'", "Alexander's Ragtime Band", "Heat Wave", "A Sailor's Not a Sailor ('til a Sailor's Been Tattooed)", and, of course, the title song. They are Performed as performance pieces as opposed to book songs, they do not further the story. All the numbers are heard complete for the first time, including some parts recorded for, but ultimately cut from, the film.

Miss Merman and Miss Monroe are supported by Mitzi Gaynor, Johnnie Ray, Dan Dailey, and Donald O'Connor, Merman's Call Me Madam co-star. There is a bonus track of Ethel Merman singing the title song sans orchestral accompaniment. You can hear the truly amazing force and resonance in her voice. She is the main reason for buying this disc - period.

Xena Warrior Princess While Xena: Warrior Princess-The Bitter Suite: A Musical Odyssey may not appeal to all musical theater fans, I have included it here because it features two Broadway performers. Those performers are former Grease! alumni, Susan Wood (the original Sandy, in the Broadway revival) and Xena herself, Lucy Lawless, who played Betty Rizzo a short time ago. Also featured is Varese Sarabande regular Michelle Nicastro, dubbing the role of Callisto, one of the most popular characters on the series.

This story-line revolved around Xena, her sidekick, Gabrielle, and their anger towards each other. Gabrielle's daughter was responsible for the death of Xena's son, and now Xena has vowed to avenge his death. They are transported to a magical place called Illusia, where the all the characters sing. It is here where they learn forgiveness. Joseph LoDuca, who is responsible for the music for the entire series, wrote the music for this episode. He has supplied a pop-opera-like score that never really lands; it contains forgettable music with average lyrics. One would assume this episode was written to highlight the vocal talents of Lucy Lawless, and that, of course, is the main reason to buy this disc. She has an impressive and powerful pop-opera belt and could easily fill in for any of the leading ladies currently on Broadway with no problem. Unfortunately, she is not given material that is worth hearing. Where her music should soar, it often falls flat, and that makes for tiring listening. Her one big number, "The Love of Your Life", comes close, but no cigar. There are big chorus numbers, a few solos for Calisto, Joxer, Ares (all recurring characters on the series), and a duet for Xena and Gabrielle, who is dubbed by Susan Wood. The rest of the disc is filled with instrumental tracks from the episode and contains some connective dialogue and sound effects.

Xena fans will want to snap this one up quickly, while others will want to stay away. Let's hope that next time they decide to do a musical, they hire a composer with more experience writing one.

Soundbytes:

Looks like the Paper Mill Playhouse's current production of Follies will be recorded after all. The cast is supposed to head into the studio with producer, Robert Sher, on June 1st or 2nd. It will be released by TVT records and will include any and all songs ever written for Follies.

Likewise, the cast of Triumph of Love, will be heading into the studio around the same time. JAY records owner and producer, John A. Yap, has said that the CD should be in the stores by October.

Although it will be released in the U.K. on June 8th, the original London cast recording of Chicago will be released in the U.S. by RCA Victor on July 28th.



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