Sound Advice by Joseph Molnar

After hearing about all the cuts and rewrites that the current Broadway production of Annie Get Your Gun had undergone, I wasn't prepared to like the new cast recording. I have to admit, when I first heard that Bernadette Peters was being considered for the lead, I wasn't thrilled. I thought she was too pretty, too sexy and just wrong for the role in general. How wrong I was!

Miss Peters, as it turns out, is the only reason to buy this new recording. Well, not really; there are also the timeless Irving Berlin songs. Bernadette Peters sparkles and shines on this CD like the star that she is. When she sings the line, "Yes, I shine like the morning sun," you truly believe she can. She couldn't be more perfect and has never sounded better. Her co-star, Tom Wopat is excellent as Frank Butler with a sturdy baritone voice and is a good match for Miss Peters.

Some of the changes that Annie Get Your Gun has undergone include removal of three songs: "Colonel Buffalo Bill," "I'm a Bad, Bad Man," and "I'm an Indian Too." They have reinstated two songs previously cut for the 1966 Lincoln Center revival. "Who Do You Love, I Hope" and "I'll Share it all With You" have been restored to the show, although I don't know why since apparently Mr. Berlin himself agreed to those cuts. However, they were wise to include the song Mr. Berlin wrote for that revival, "An Old Fashioned Wedding." What's left of the score has been rearranged slightly. Instead of opening with "Colonel Buffalo Bill," the show now opens with "There's No Business Like Show Business." These are the biggest changes although there is some minor shuffling of numbers later on in the show. In addition, there are new orchestrations and arrangements by Bruce Coughlin and John McDaniel which stick closely to the originals, keeping a 1950s feel to the score. While I enjoyed most of the new orchestrations and arrangements, I have a serious problem with "My Defenses are Down"; the new arrangement just doesn't work for me.

While not the best recording of Annie Get Your Gun, it certainly is one not to be overlooked. While I'd rather listen to either the 1966 Lincoln Center recording with Ethel Merman or the complete recording on JAY records with Judy Kaye, this is certainly a worthy alternative. It is beautifully produced with good sound and very little dialogue. While I'm one who likes a bit more dialogue to get one involved in the story, it is not a problem here. Irving Berlin's songs are timeless classics and there isn't a bum song in the bunch.

Perhaps now, due to this new recording, there will be legions of new Annie Get Your Gun fans. Bernadette Peters fans will certainly go crazy for this one though some Annie Get Your Gun purists might stay away. At any rate, this CD is sure to be a big seller.

The 1984 hit film, Footloose became a Broadway musical in the fall of 1998 and opened to unfavorable reviews. And as expected, you shouldn't expect much from its cast album either. This CD will appeal to those people who have seen the show and liked it. Most musical theater fans who collect any and all cast recordings will hate it.

Footloose, the movie, boasted a soundtrack that spawned no less than five hit singles. Four of those songs have been retained for the current stage production, and on this recording they sound like demo versions of the originals. I was a teenager when Footloose first appeared on the big screen 15 years ago, and I was a big fan of its soundtrack. I know most of those songs inside out and backwards. Well I can barely listen to what they have done to these songs. They have sanitized and reduced the orchestrations, taking out all of the grit, as if a high school band were putting on this show. Give me Rent over this CD any day, but that's unfair since Rent owes just as much to Rodgers & Hammerstein and Sondheim as it does to rock and roll music -- Footloose was always just a set of catchy pop rock tunes that complemented the slim story perfectly. As far as rock musicals go, Footloose has to be the worst one of the genre.

Throughout the CD there are several attempts to add actual theater songs, but these attempts throw the whole disc out of balance. There are a few pleasant songs, but none are outstanding. "On Any Sunday," "I Confess," and "Heaven Help Me" are the best of the new tunes. "On Any Sunday," is part of the intro along with the title song, "Footloose." The worst of the new songs is a rap number called, "Dancing is Not a Crime." Both Rent and Big: the Musical featured rap songs in their scores. Rent was most successful at utilizing this unique musical form. It had a character in it who was believable performing a rap tune and was written by a young composer who at least knew how to write such a tune. I think rap music should be banned from musical theater unless theater composers learn how to write it properly and find performers who don't sound ridiculous doing it.

The are some competent performers on this disc, but that doesn't help to make the listening any easier. Dee Hoty has had much more favorable exposure in such shows as the recent recording of Follies and on the cast album of The Will Rodgers Follies. Here she isn't given great material. Stephen Lee Anderson, who plays the minister who banished dancing from the small town, sounds eerily like his predecessor, Martin Vidnovic, but isn't as good. Jeremy Kushnier and Jennifer Laura Thompson, I can only assume, must have better presence in the theater than they do on disc because they are barely memorable here. Stacey Francis who has the unenviable task of singing the Deniece Williams hit "Let's Here it for the Boy" seems more annoying than anything else. Miss Williams' possesses a sweet, light voice and Miss Francis, who tried to mimic her singing style, doesn't come across well.

I am sure there are people out there who will be big fans of this disc and it will probably sell well since the show itself seems to be a big hit. But if you want to spend your bucks wisely, I suggest picking up the newly remastered edition of the Footloose soundtrack which features more of the score than ever before. It now includes 3 of the 4 tunes heard in the movie that aren't written by Dean Pitchford plus a remix of "Dancing in the Sheets."

Once a year there is a show with music so fresh and exciting that its fans can hardly stand the wait for the release of its cast album. In the last three years there have been Rent (1996), Titanic (1997) and of course, Ragtime (1998). Unless a new musical opens on Broadway between now and December, for 1999, it is most certainly Parade.

While not a hit show like the previously mentioned musicals, Parade has developed a cult following, and the closing is still being mourned by its fans. With one listen of the CD it is easy to understand why. Another reason musical theater fans are also anxiously awaiting this CD is because Parade is the only completely new book musical to open on Broadway this season. But, what about Civil War and Footloose you ask? Well, Footloose is comprised mostly of songs from the movie, so that hardly makes it new and Civil War is bookless and is more of a cantata or concert than a musical. So that leaves Parade as the only new book musical this season.

For those who missed seeing Parade during its two month run, the setting is Atlanta, Georgia in the year 1913 and the story is that of Leo Frank, a Jew from New York, who is accused of murdering a young girl. He is eventually lynched for this crime. The music was written by Broadway newcomer, Jason Robert Brown, who, in this critic's opinion, has a very promising and bright future on Broadway. This is one of the most exciting and original scores heard on Broadway in this decade. To put it simply, the recording is brilliant from beginning to end and grows more impressive with each listen.

Mr. Brown's music has many layers and takes many listens to hear everything that is going on. This may explain why the show didn't continue beyond its scheduled run. Although I enjoyed the show very much when I saw it, I didn't get everything that was going on. However, that didn't stop me from getting emotionally involved with the story. Although there isn't a synopsis included with the CD and there is not much recorded dialogue, it is quite easy to follow the story and one can't help but get choked up several times. Unlike the current crop of pop musicals descending on Broadway, Jason Robert Brown's score owes more to Stephen Sondheim than Frank Wildhorn. The musical styles range from blues to marches to old-fashioned Broadway showstoppers. There are many standout numbers; among the highlights are the opening number "The Old Red Hills of Home," which took me a few listens to really appreciate, "How Can I Call This Home," "You Don't Know This Man," sung with great passion by Carolee Carmelllo, "Do it Alone," and "All the Wasted Time, " which is one of the most gorgeous pieces of music I have ever heard. Don Sebesky's orchestrations couldn't be more perfect. For the most part they are sparse and clean sounding without any excess. The only unfortunate thing about this recording is that it is only one disc and not two so that means material had to be cut. But it is a very full disc, clocking in at 79 minutes.

The performances on this recording are just about perfect in every way. Brent Carver as Leo Frank, the accused, makes you care about this man who has been railroaded. Carolee Carmello as his wife, Lucille, is the perfect Southern woman. Although she has appeared on a few off-Broadway cast recordings before, with this recording Miss Carmello can finally take her place along side Broadway's greatest divas such as Patti LuPone, Bernadette Peters and Betty Buckley. In fact, her voice has never been used to such great effect as it is here showing off a belt that is reminiscent of a young Betty Buckley. The rest of the cast is as flawless as the leads.

Fans of this show will be thrilled to have a recording at last and will play it endlessly, as I have. I am confident that this recording will bring in new fans as well. I couldn't recommend this disc more and anyone who cares about the future of the American musical will have to have it.

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