Sound Advice by Joseph Molnar
Kander and Ebb

For this column, I will be taking a look at 3 new Kander and Ebb recordings. One, a complete recording of one of their classic scores, the other, a reissue of the original Australian production of their current Broadway hit and lastly, their most recent score to hit Broadway.

Cabaret, which is about to make a return to Broadway, has just been recorded complete and was released on 2 C.D.'s by TER records in England. This is part of TER records series of Master Works recordings. This series is preserving many of Broadway's classics scores as they were originally performed, complete with cut songs and original orchestrations and in full digital Dolby surround sound to top it off. Since most people know the story, I will spare you the details. I was never a big fan of this musical, actually I only know the film, which I like mostly for the performances of Liza Minnelli, Michael York and Joel Grey, so I am looking forward to seeing the current Broadway revival as soon as I can. I always found the story rather uninvolving, but I always admired the score, which is basically two-in-one. There were the songs that forwarded the story and the ones that commented on it.

The main reason to purchase this recording would be for its completeness. Never before have all of the songs written for Cabaret been available in one collection. This release contains the entire score, dance music and reprises included, plus the 3 songs written for the 1987 Broadway revival and the 4 tunes written for the film. But thankfully, that is not the only reason. There are the performers to recommend it as well. 4 of the performers have quite a history with this musical. First of all, there is the lyricist, Fred Ebb who gets to record the role of Herr Schultz. Judi Dench returns to Cabaret, but not in the role she created in the West End of Sally Bowles, but as Fraulein Schneider. Finally given the chance to preserve the role he portrayed in the 1987 Broadway revival of Clifford Bradshaw is Gregg Edelman. In the small role of Fraulein Kost, Caroline O'Connor returns to Carabet as well, having appeared in the 1986 London revival as a Kit Kat girl. Added to these terrific singer/actors are the talents of Maria Friedman, who I believe is the successor to the crown that Elaine Paige currently owns of Queen of the West End musical. She does a superb job in the role of Sally Bowles, although this role seems to have gotten the definitive reading from Liza Minnelli. Tony-award winning actor, Jonathan Pryce is also perfectly cast as the M.C. making this one of the best-sung recordings of Cabaret ever, not including the film soundtrack which jettisoned most of the "book" songs and retained the commentary ones. It is also nice to have some additional dialogue to set up some of the songs making this sound more like a cast recording than most studio cast recordings, which can sound cold and distant. RCA Victor will be releasing a highlights disc of this recording, so TER's complete recording cannot and will not be released in the U.S. I strongly suggest seeking out the complete recording. Let's also hope this doesn't mean there won't be a recording of the soon to open Broadway revival.

Chicago, the smart and witty musical by Kander and Ebb has just received its third recording to be issued on CD. Just about the time of the recent Broadway revival opening, Arista records remastered and re-released the original Broadway cast, which is a must have for any musical theater fan. About 4 months later, the current Broadway cast's recording was released by RCA Victor. Now, from Polydor, comes the original Australian cast recording, which premiered in Australia in 1981. April should see the 4th recording of Chicago from the current London cast, which will also be the first London cast recording ever since the original London cast was never recorded.

This recording features Nancye Hayes as Roxie Hart and Geraldine Turner as Velma Kelly. Ms. Turner is better known as a singer in her native Australia. Ms. Hayes also sings better than Gwen Verdon does, but then again, but Gwen's characterization is dead on and cannot be topped. So, like Cabaret this is one of the better-sung Chicago recordings. That is not to say that none of these people can act, in fact, most of them are perfect in their roles. Terence Donovan, father of teen idol Jason Donovan, as Billy Flynn, sounds like a cross between Jerry Orbach and James Naughton. Equally as good is George Spartels as Roxie's undistinguished husband, Amos. One of the best singer/actresses featured on this recording is Judi Connelli. With her deep alto, she is perfectly cast as the butch Matron Mama Morton who believes that one good turn deserves another. The track listing is the same as on the original Broadway cast recording with no additions, unlike the new Broadway cast recording, so there is little need for anyone to seek this recording out unless you are a huge Chicago fan. Even so, it is still nice to have an additional recording of one of Kander and Ebb's best scores. This recording had long been out of print... its nice to have it back once again.

Kander and Ebb's most recent Broadway arrival was last season's Steel Pier . Set in Atlantic City, circa 1933, at a time when Marathon dancing was the craze. It tells the story of a woman who wants out of the marathon dancing business to settle down and live a normal life in a normal home without running all the time from town to town. A recently killed pilot returns from the dead to help her achieve this goal. Now all of this may sound like it might make a wonderful musical comedy fantasy, but alas, it didn't. Instead it made for one of the most dull stage musicals Broadway has seen in a long time.

Prior to its first preview, Steel Pier was the favorite to win the best musical award at the 1997 Tony awards. But instead it closed 2 months after opening not winning a single Tony. Its failure may be due in part to the flimsy story line or Kander and Ebb's lightweight score that is so thin that it could blow away if you sneezed on it. But what was boring and bland on stage, comes across a little better on disc. While Steel Pier may not make for compelling listening like say, Titanic, it is at least pleasant to listen to. This is one of those recordings that deceives its listener into believing that it wasn't that bad after all, which is of course, untrue. While Kander and Ebb have constructed a professional sounding score, it has little spark to it or any dramatic pull. At least you get a feeling you are in Atlantic City 1933, unlike this season's Side Show, which is also set in the same time period but whose music sounds as if it were set in 1983 instead. There are several lovely tunes to be heard here, such as "Willing to Ride" which sets the scene for the rest of the musical very nicely, telling us exactly what the main character is after. It is also reminiscent of "Colored Lights" from Kander and Ebb's own, The Rink. "Second Chance," "Wet," and "First You Dream" are also some of the better numbers, but lack any sense of drama. It is also unfortunate that the secondary character of Shelby Stevens, played with great relish by Debra Monk, gets the best tunes in the show, "Everybody's Girl" and "Somebody Older." They are the only ones that even come close to vintage Kander and Ebb. So all of this makes the score sound very uneven and a chore to listen to at times. It is also a huge let down after their last 2 Tony award winning musicals, Chicago and Kiss of the Spider Woman. Both are superior and feature Kander and Ebb's best work ever, after Cabaret that is.

Despite all this, there is some excellent work from leading lady, Karen Ziemba, who I believe is one of musical theaters best triple threats, singer, actor and dancer. Gregory Harrison and Daniel McDonald also do some nice supporting work here. Kristen Chenoweth does a great job with her amusing song, "Two Little Words." Unfortunately, there is not too much to recommend this recording.

Soundbytes: News for cast recordings isn't good this week. Elektra Records has postponed the release of the 1982 original Broadway cast of The Pirates of Penzance from January 27th to February 24th. Columbia Broadway, who are reissuing several of their more popular titles, as reported in my last column, have bumped back these releases to sometime in May. No date has been set yet. On the Town has also been dropped from the first batch of reissues.

On the plus side, Varese Sarabande will be reissuing several of the Fox soundtracks with the first release, There's No Business Like Show Business due out on February 24th. That date should also see the release of Judy Kaye's new solo disc, Songs From The Silver Screen.

That's all for this week. Join me in two weeks when I will be reviewing the original London cast of The Goodbye Girl, and the original Broadway cast recordings of The Scarlet Pimpernel and Jekyll and Hyde.

Till then, happy listening!

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