Sound Advice by Joseph Molnar
A Comedy, Cave, and Bootleg

The Human Comedy is a unique musical. It opened on Broadway on April 5, 1984 and closed 13 performances later, but that is not what makes it unique. Its recording is what makes it unique. Not only is it now released more than 13 years after it closed on Broadway, it was recorded complete and is available on 2 compact discs. The Human Comedy is based on William Saroyen's novel about the Macauley family and how they deal with life and death on a day to day basis during World War II. The music is by Galt MacDermot (Hair) and the lyrics by Bill Dumaresq who have written one of the most interesting and original scores of the past 20 years. Mr. Dumaresq's lyrics are simple, yet perfectly suited to the story and lay on the music beautifully. But it is the music that makes this CD worth buying.

The Human Comedy seems to be a piece more suited to off-Broadway which would explain its failure on Broadway. Mr. MacDermot makes great use of a Greek chorus that might have seemed odd to Broadway audiences. It also opened in the middle of the British Mega-musical invasion which dominated Broadway with some of the most popular pop operas ever. All that and the fact that this score has such an unusual sound that is hard to describe may have attributed to its demise. Mr. MacDermot seems to have developed his own unique sound mixing country, swing and pop rock music into a modern pop opera that makes for riveting listening. Its score can rival any of the pop operas that opened during the 80s, yet it sounds nothing like them. I must admit I was first put off by this unusual sound which hits the listener right from the first note of the overture. But after I got to the 3rd song, I was hooked. I found that I liked this score much better than I did his score for Hair. It takes about two full listens to really appreciate the richness in his score. Not only are the songs themselves unusual, but the orchestrations themselves as well. He seems to use a lot of horns in his orchestrations, such as the trumpet and the saxophone that also make this score even more peculiar. His score also seems to have a certain rhythm to it that is quite catchy. He also exhibits a knack for writing recitative that is never boring or annoying and keeps the action moving along very nicely from song to song. This CD has a nice "performance" feel to it that sounds like it was recorded live, vocals and orchestra together, and not mixed later like most cast albums. It also sounds digitally recorded with a crisp sound to it, although the sound levels are a bit off in a few spots, but that doesn't hinder the enjoyment of the CD. I believe this is the perfect kind of show for City Center's Encores! series of musicals in concert to revive.

Among the notable performers on this CD are Rex Smith, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Anne Marie Bobby, Stephen Geoffreys and in the chorus, Donna Murphy. I must say I was most impressed by Josh Blake who plays the youngest Macauley, Ulysses. He has a powerhouse of a voice that is amazing for a young boy. Other featured performers, most of whom are unknown to me, are David Johnson, Bonnie Blake, and Debra Byrd who sings the lovely song, "Beautiful Music" that is the standout tune from the show. What a shame it has been buried for so long because this score is not to be missed by any musical theater fan.

Flashback discs.

Floyd Collins is the true story of a man who gets trapped in a cave while exploring the Sand Cave hoping to find a series of underground tunnels he believed linked all caves of the region. It was written by Adam Guettel (music and lyrics) and Tina Landau (book and additional lyrics). Adam Guettel is the son of composer, Mary Rodgers, whose father is Richard Rodgers. So that fact added to my disappointment of this score. I had expected a much more melodic score because his grandfather had written some of the most melodic and popular musicals to ever grace the Broadway stage. Not to mention his mother is no hack either, having written the tuneful, Once Upon a Mattress. Having listened to Floyd Collins many, many times now, I just don't know what to make of it. Mostly, I find it an uneven score that is at times brilliant musical theater and the rest of the time, second-rate Sondheim. His melodies seem to go astray from time to time and seem jarring. There is barely a memorable song among them. The one good thing I can say about this score is that it moves the story along and it fits the time period very well and sounds as if the characters would be singing this type of music, which is mostly country. One of the more brilliant numbers is the unusual opening sequence, "The Call" which has Floyd using the echoes of his voice to sound out the cave. It is quite interesting to listen to with the echoes reverberating throughout the cave to give some feeling of depth. But I have one small problem with it, it relies on studio mixing to get the echo effects and that means one must have an excellent sound system when reproducing this in the theater to achieve this effect. One other song that is a standout is "Is That remarkable?" in which the media reiterates what is going on to their respective newspapers. But there is little else to recommend this CD.

There are many fine performances to be found on this CD, so that makes it difficult to single out just one. Among the many talented performers are Jason Danieley (from Candide), Martin Moran and Brian d'Arcy James (from Titanic) and Christopher Innvar as Floyd Collins. So overall, I could not recommend this CD to anyone, unless they are a serious collector.

Living in the Bonus Round: an authorized bootleg is a sort of concept/demo album for the musical The Last Session. Steve Schalchlin, who wrote the music, sings and performs most of the material. He gets a little help from his friends, Charles Esten, Alan Satchwell and most notably from Ginger Freers who even offers an additional solo version of "Going it Alone" that sounds like it should be a pop hit on the radio. Most of the songs sound the same as on the cast recording, a few have lyric changes and some have a faster tempo. "Somebody's Friend" is radically different from the cast recording; it has been given a reggae beat that is quite appealing. There is an additional track that features a tune cut from The Last Session so that will make this a must have for any Last Session fan. That, plus the fact that they are sung by the composer. Very few composers can sing their songs better than anyone else can and Steve most certainly can. There are very few copies left, so I suggest you snap one up now before they are gone. They are available from, Steve's own website.

Soundbytes: The 1982 original Broadway cast recording of The Pirates of Penzance is due to be released on January 27th.

The Scarlet Pimpernel's original Broadway cast album is due from Atlantic records on February 3rd.

Also due on that date is the touring cast of Peter Pan with Cathy Rigby in the title role and Paul Schoeffler as Captain Hook.

Look for RCA Victor to release Ragtime's original Broadway cast recording on 2 CD's on April 7th. I believe this date to be very tentative right now though. RCA Victor will also be releasing a highlights version of the complete recording of Cabaret which is available now on 2 CD's from TER records in England. It stars Judi Dench, Jonathan Pryce, Gregg Edelman and Fred Ebb. I only hope this doesn't mean there won't be a new revival cast recording. They have also begun recording the recent cast of the Paper Mill Playhouse's production of Children of Eden, to be released on 2 CD's and a single CD of highlights in May.

Sony Classical/Legacy is also about to begin reissuing several of their titles that are still available on CD on the new label "Columbia Broadway." They are going to be cleaning up the sound by remastering them and adding extra tracks such as alternate takes and demos where available. They will also be extending songs that were cut for LP release such as A Chorus Line's "Hello Twelve" number. The first batch of titles to be reissued on March 31 are: A Chorus Line, Camelot, My Fair Lady - stereo London cast, Cabaret, Kiss Me, Kate, and On the Town.

Ryko disc is scheduled to release on CD this summer for the first time the following movie soundtracks: How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, Man of La Mancha, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, and Irma La Douce. It will be nice to have these long out of print soundtracks available again, whether they are good or bad. They are also promising to release on CD for the first time the original Broadway cast of Promises, Promises during the month of May.

Til' next time. Happy listening!

-- Joseph Molnar

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