Sound Advice by Joseph Molnar

The Sound of Music

Although it has been said many times, it is certainly true that most people know The Sound of Music backwards, forwards and inside out. One of the all-time box office champs at the movies, it is most surprising to hear that this new recording by RCA Victor is of the first Broadway revival since its premiere in 1959.

Mary Martin created the role of "Maria" for that Broadway premiere. But that is how it should be since she brought the idea to Rodgers and Hammerstein in the first place. She, unfortunately, did not get the chance to preserve the role on celluloid. Instead, that honor went to Julie Andrews, and it is Andrews' portrayal that most people know. With that said, not surprisingly, the changes made for the film are used here.

This new revival uses "Something Good" instead of "Ordinary Couple" and adds "I Have Confidence." Instead of having Maria sing "My Favorite Things" with Mother Superior, she sings it with the children during the rainstorm, and "The Lonely Goatherd" is now sung during the concert sequence.

There are minor changes as well, such as key changes and song endings that were created to suit Ms. Andrews' higher pitched voice. Rebecca Luker handles these changes beautifully, and her effortless singing is a joy to hear. But, unfortunately, there isn't much character to her voice, as there was with Ms. Martin's and Ms. Andrews'. Her co-star exhibits more character in his few lines than she does in the entire recording. What a shame since this is one of the world's most popular musical scores, and it should have a stellar Maria at the center. While I have enjoyed Ms. Luker in a few of her Broadway appearances, such as The Phantom of the Opera and The Secret Garden, and on the Livent Show Boat recording, she seems to be a bit out of place here.

The biggest surprise to me was Patti Cohenour as the Mother Abbess. When I first heard she was cast, I thought she was totally wrong. I still feel that way. But she manages to put over "Climb Every Mountain" with great passion and gives a thrilling rendition of the song. In addition, the nuns' vocals are, pardon the pun, just heavenly.

Overall, a good recording, just not a spectacular or distinctive one. Any Sound of Music fan will want it for their collection.

Children of Eden

In the beginning there was a CD single, and that CD single was good. It was called "Stranger to the Rain", and it was sung by Frances Ruffelle. Then came the next single, "Children of Eden," sung by Shezwae Powell, who was joined by Frances Ruffelle (who, incidentally, did not sing the song in the show). It is the first act closing anthem, sung by Eve to her descendants. It too was good. Both songs came from Children of Eden, a musical based on the biblical stories of the creation of man and of Noah's Ark, emphasizing the parent-child relationships in each. Then came the full cast album of the original London cast, and it featured both of these numbers.

When Children of Eden first premiered in London in 1991, it was not a success, despite having a top notch creative team, Stephen Schwartz (music and lyrics) and John Caird (book). Because of its failure, the authors decided to take another look at the piece, and, as a result, it has undergone a number of revisions. The latest version opened at the Paper Mill Playhouse in New Jersey late last year, and RCA Victor recorded it. They have taken great care to record this score, as it is available as a 2 disc set (98 minutes) or a single disc of highlights (73 minutes). The original London cast recording runs over 78 minutes, so any fan will want the 2 CD set. For those that have the original London cast recording, the first major difference is that two different actors played the roles of Noah and Adam, and Mama Noah and Eve in the original production. For this new production, the corresponding roles are now played by the same actor/actress. Secondly, there are new orchestrations as well that give the piece more of a folk sound, whereas the original orchestrations had a bigger, more electronic sound to them. "Lost in the Wilderness" and "World Without You" are barely recognizable from the OLC. "Let There Be" has additional music and lyrics and "The Hardest Part of Love", which used to be a solo for Noah, is now a duet for Father and Noah. The song "Civilized Society" is cut entirely from the show and with good reason. I never thought it fit the story of Noah's Ark; the lyrics sounded as if they belonged in a show set in the 1990s. For the new recording, there is connective material that wasn't on the OLC and, of course, there are several new songs.

I have been a fan of Children of Eden since its release way back in April 1991, so it is burned into my brain from repeated listenings. As a result, it took me a while to get used to the new orchestrations, cast, and songs, but, once I got past that, I liked what I heard. The score is eclectic, containing many different types of music and having a feeling of innocence to it. While I like the new cast, the original is slightly better, especially since it featured such performers as Ken Page, Shezwae Powell, Martin Smith and Frances Ruffelle. They are replaced on the new recording by William Solo, Stephanie Mills, Adrian Zmed and Kelli Rabke, who more than hold their own. The only actor from the new disc to surpass the original is Stephanie Mills, who gives the disc a bit of star power. It is certainly a joy to hear her return to musical theater, performing her first role in over 20 years. Mills is certainly one of the main reasons to buy this disc - she absolutely blew me away on her big solos, "Spark of Creation", "Children of Eden" and "Ain't It Good."

While not a perfect show, many joys are to be had from Children of Eden, and I couldn't recommend it more. RCA Victor was probably wise to record this score, as I am sure many more regional theaters will attempt to mount this show, and this CD is a good representation of the score as it currently stands.

My Fair Lady

When Lerner and Loewe's My Fair Lady, based on the George Bernard Shaw play, Pygmalion, first opened on Broadway, it made a star out of Julie Andrews. Since then, it has had 2 major Broadway revivals, one with current Pimpernel star, Christine Andreas, and the most recent with High Society leading lady, Melissa Errico, both of whom were fine Elizas. The film version starred Audrey Hepburn, who was dubbed by the then- ubiquitous Marni Nixon. So it would seem that this show needs a strong leading lady. Even the bizarre 1987 London disc featured Dame Kiri Te Kanawa who was terribly miscast as the downtrodden flowergirl. Even though she couldn't keep her accent straight she does have a certain "star presence" that comes through on disc.

The latest recording of this timeless musical was recorded by JAY records, and it is the first complete recording ever. Unfortunately, this recording does not have a strong Eliza. Now don't get me wrong - Tinuke Olafimihan is by no means a disaster. She just doesn't have "star presence" like these other leading ladies do. She does act and sing the role appropriately, but her performance seems a bit restrained. One wishes that Melissa Errico had been used instead. She was the best thing in the odd 1993 production. Cast as Prof. Henry Higgins is Alec McCowen, and as Alfred Doolittle, Bob Hoskins. Both are distinguished actors and played these roles in Pygmalion at the Albery Theater in the West End in 1974; thus, they are perfectly suited to the characters and give life to this recording. Mr. McCowen sings his role more than any previously recorded Higgins and even gets to sing the cut song "Come to the Ball." There is more than the usual amount of dialogue included here, and it is never a chore to hear, as Mr. Lerner's witty and intelligent book is enjoyable as always. As usual, JAY records has done an exquisite job of recording this score, with perfect sound and crisp playing by the orchestra. If one is looking for a complete documentation of this classic score, then I recommend this CD highly. In fact, you will also get a few enjoyable performances from the cast. But if one wants all-round perfect performances, then I suggest the original Broadway cast recording.

Bugsy Malone

Bugsy Malone, the original cast recording of the National Youth Music Theater, is the latest release from JAY records. It is based on the Alan Parker film of the same name about gangsters played by children, with a musical score by pop songwriter Paul Williams. The original film starred Scott Baio and Jodi Foster. This cast is drawn from the West End production that ran at the Queen's Theater in November of 1997.

Bugsy Malone features a period score with a bit of a pop edge to it that is quite appealing. All the songs are attractive and are very hummable. This new recording features new orchestrations by John Pearson which sound more theatrical than the ones used for the film. The film's orchestrations seem a bit anemic by comparison. The new orchestrations are fuller and richer and add greatly to the enjoyment of this CD. In the film, Paul Williams sang a few of the songs, and adult performers were used to sing the rest of the score; it's nice to have actual young people singing this score.

The cast is made up of an extremely talented bunch of kids who make this score shine even more than it did in the film. Among the standouts on this disc is Shean Williams' rendition of "Tomorrow", though at times his vocals seem a bit muffled. Alex Lee offers an amusing rendition of "Show Business", and Sheridan Smith and Leanne Connelly are simply enticing as Tallulah and Blousey Brown, respectively. In fact, for young actors, they are amazingly professional sounding in all the numbers on this disc and should be applauded for their efforts. I am always amazed when a young performer can sound just as polished as an adult performer, and none of these actors disappoint. Just like their My Fair Lady disc, the sound on this well-recorded disc is impeccable. Unfortunately, there is no synopsis to tell you how the songs fit in the story, so you have to watch the film to find out.

I recommend this disc for its many excellent performances and pleasant score, but at 45 minutes, it seems to go by very quickly.

Soundbytes: RCA Victor has once again delayed the release of the new Cabaret cast album. Once scheduled for release on May 19th, then pushed back to June 16th, the official date is now June 30th. Also on their schedule is the original London cast of Chicago due on July 28th.

With High Society taking a critical beating, it looks as if it will be the first musical to hit Broadway in over 5 years not to be recorded.

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