Sound Advice by Joseph Molnar

Triumph of Love (JAY records) is the musical version of the play Le Triomphe de l'amour, by Marivaux, with music by Jeffrey Stock, lyrics by Susan Birkenhead and book by James Magruder. It's the story of Princess Leonide who tries to win the one she loves, and ends up conquering her enemies with the power of love. Despite a short run on Broadway last season, it seems to have developed a cult following - mostly due to the presence of Betty Buckley in the cast. Several critics had not-so-nice words for it when it opened on Broadway and the show closed after two and a half months. Nearly a year after opening on Broadway, Triumph of Love has finally had its cast album released, due to the efforts of producer John Yap.

The recording was made six months after the show's last performance, when everyone thought it would never see the (laser)light of day. I was lucky enough to attend one of the three recordings sessions that were held in NYC the weekend after the 1998 Tony Awards. Everyone seemed delighted to finally be recording this score and no one appeared happier than Betty Buckley. She seemed very dedicated to this show and its preservation on disc seemed to be the icing on the cake. I must admit to not being very impressed by what I heard in the studio that day, but I figured I would save my final opinion about it until the disc was released.

Triumph features a charming but uneven score with several pleasant tunes. I found it a bit odd that two musical numbers were included, since they were not written by Mr. Stock. "Mr. Right" and "Have a Little Faith" were written by Van Dyke Parks and Michael Kosarin, respectively, and sound out of place here. One other unnecessary number is "Henchmen are Forgotten." Outside of these incongruities, the score zips by quickly and is very enjoyable. As one would hope, Betty Buckley (as Hesione) is featured on 8 of the CDs 19 tracks: the musical's opening number "This Day of Days," "You May Call Me Phocion" with Susan Egan (Princess Leonide), "The Tree" with F. Murray Abraham (who portrays Miss Buckley's brother), and a few others. As a bonus, we are treated to a song that was cut from the musical during previews, "If I Cannot Love", sung by Miss Buckley.

As usual, Miss Buckley is in top form in each of her numbers and even manages to drown out, on occasion, a few of her co-stars. I found it humorous listening to F. Murray Abraham and Christopher Sieber trying to keep up with Miss Buckley in "Love Won't Take No For an Answer." At the end of the number you can barely hear Mr. Abraham and Mr. Sieber finish the song. Miss Buckley is the vocal equivalent of Godzilla coming to squash Tokyo, leaving no survivors, and it is because of her that one would want to purchase this CD. She is the driving force behind most of these songs.

I have always had trouble warming up to Susan Egan's often nasally singing and I still do, but she sings winningly and is perfectly cast as the Princess who tried to win Agis' love. F. Murray Abraham makes a valiant effort at singing and is quite good except when up against the titanic lungpower of Miss Buckley. He then sounds rather anemic. Christopher Sieber, Nancy Opel, Roger Bart and Kevin Chamberlin all add strong support to this cast.

Miss Birkenhead's lyrics are perfect and fit brilliantly with the music and Mr. Stock is a better composer than I had assumed he would be, given the scathing reviews his music received when the show opened on Broadway. Several of the tunes seem to be influenced by Sondheim, but in a good way, never sounding like rip-offs. This is an excellent cast album with little bits of carefully chosen dialogue and a terrific booklet with full color pictures and a complete set of lyrics. Any musical theater fan will want to have this in their collection.

The highly anticipated and long-delayed cast album of the off-Broadway musical, Violet has been released at last by Resmiranda records. Violet, based on "The Ugliest Pilgrim" by Doris Betts, got it start at Playwrights Horizon in the spring of 1997. It is the story of a disfigured young woman on a journey to a faith healer and takes place during 1964. The music was written by Jeanine Tesori who furnished music for Lincoln Center's recent production of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night (the Twelfth Night CD was also released on Resmiranda records). Brian Crawley supplied both lyrics and book for Violet.

Critically acclaimed when it opened off-Broadway, Violet didn't make the jump to Broadway. Judging from this CD, I can see why. Violet has an eclectic score ranging from gospel to country to rock 'n' roll. Although it has a far more even-sounding score than Triumph of Love, it seems never to end and gets too "heavy" at times. Overall, it is a very professional and pleasant sounding score with several rousing tunes like the opening scene "Water in the Well/Surprised/On My Way," "Let it Sing," "Lonely Stranger" and "Raise Me Up." Violet is given a lovely lullaby, "Lay Down Your Head." The CD ends with the beautiful "Bring Me to Light" that should go on to become a standard.

Lauren Ward, who didn't impress me in 1776, plays the title character here and does a fine job. She seems better suited to this material than that of 1776. Michael McElroy is memorable in the role of Flick, one of Violet's potential suitors. Michael Park, formerly of Smokey Joe's Café, currently starring in Little Me on Broadway and As the World Turns on TV, is Violet's other suitor. Robert Westenberg is barely recognizable as the Preacher and bus driver. It's too bad he has given up on Broadway, as he is terrific here. Also included in the cast are Cass Morgan, Paula Newsome, and Avis Graves.

While there is nothing wrong with this CD, it just isn't very memorable. Like Triumph, this CD is beautifully produced with a complete set of lyrics in the booklet so one can follow along, but unfortunately, no pictures. Fans of the show will be running to buy this CD while others might be a bit cautious.

Prior to having The Fix produced in London's West End by Cameron Mackintosh, composer Dana P. Rowe and lyricist, John Dempsey had an off-Broadway musical in a short run at the Variety Arts theater early in 1997. This musical, Zombie Prom , is a lighthearted spoof of 1950s sci-fi movies. Just picture Grease combined with Little Shop of Horrors with a bit of The Rocky Horror Show and Eating Raoul thrown in and you will get a picture of what I am talking about. Although the cast album was recorded during the run of the show, it wasn't released until now. Perhaps because of the success it had with The Fix, First Night records has decided to finally release the cast recording of this musical despite the fact that the show closed over a year and a half ago.

The basic premise of Zombie Prom is this - Jonny (a rebel without an "h") is very much in love with his girlfriend, Toffee (sweet girls must have sweet names), but Toffee's teachers and parents have decided she should no longer see Jonny because he is a bad seed. Jonny, feeling despondent, decides to kill himself by jumping into a nuclear plant. Presumed dead, his body is buried at sea. Since this is a horror musical, Jonny comes back from the dead to finish high school and go to the prom with his girlfriend.

While all of this might sound like a bit of nonsense, I found it to be a bit of fun. Having no particular fondness for The Fix last year, I wasn't prepared to like this score as much as I did. Mr. Rowe and Mr. Dempsey have fashioned a score very much in the style of Little Shop of Horrors and The Rocky Horror Show, a loving tribute to '50s music with a '90s touch and yet a style all its own. The score is comprised of rock and roll numbers and recitative that is in the pop-opera vein. The songs sometimes run seamlessly into one another, sometimes mixing with dialogue. The show starts with an elaborate opening, "Enrico Fermi High/Ain't No Goin' Back/Jonny Don't Go" that sets the mood of the show perfectly, letting the audience know they are in for a bit of light entertainment. There is just enough dialogue included so one can figure out what is happening as the story unfolds.

Thanks to Mr. Dempsey's incredibly witty and clever lyrics, the show keeps its light-hearted touch throughout, never posing to take itself seriously. Richard Roland and Jessica-Snow Wilson are perfectly cast as star-crossed lovers Jonny and Toffee. In the role of Miss Strict, the principal, Karen Murphy serves up a diva-like performance. Richard Muenz is cast as the reporter, Eddie Flagrante, who lets the world know that Enrico Fermi High has a zombie attending class there. While not a great musical, it is a lot of fun to listen to and I do recommend it.

Follies, the legendary musical by Stephen Sondheim, recently completed a run at the Paper Mill Playhouse in NJ. Rumors about a transfer to Broadway and a videotaping for PBS surrounded the production. While none of these things happened, we were lucky enough to get another recording out of it and, as it turns out, the most complete to date.

Follies tells the story of a reunion of the Weismann Follies girls for the last time -- the theater they used to play in is being torn down. Two couples, former Follies girls and their husbands, face up to the ghosts of their pasts so they may get on with their lives. The original Broadway cast recording is unbeatable when it comes to the performances of the four leads, but unfortunately, the score was eviscerated so it could fit on one LP.

In 1985 there was a concert to remedy the fact that there wasn't a complete recording. While most of the score was recorded at that time, not all of the performances were up to snuff. Barbara Cook was a bit too strong for Sally and Mandy Patinkin was over the top as Buddy, and too young.

Then along came the 1987 London premiere. James Goldman's libretto was rewritten and to accommodate these changes, Sondheim wrote five new songs: "The Road You Didn't Take" for Ben was replaced by "Country House," a duet for Ben and Phyllis; "The Story of Lucy and Jessie" became "Ah, But Underneath"; "Live, Laugh, Love" was substituted for "Make the Most of Your Music." There was also a new Act II opener called "Social Dancing" that was underscoring and dialogue and a new "Loveland" was written.

Since the Paper Mill Playhouse had such a stellar cast, TVT records decided to record it. This time, the entire score was recorded and then some; a decision was made to record the cut material as well. For the first time on one recording you get to hear all of Phyllis' Follies-sequence songs: "The Story of Lucy and Jessie" (my favorite), "Ah, But Underneath" and "Uptown/Downtown" (cut in Boston), all done to perfection by Dee Hoty. Donna McKechnie as Sally, and Laurence Guittard as Ben Stone perform "Pleasant Little Kingdom," "All Things Bright and Beautiful" and "Who Could Be Blue?/Little White House." Ann Miller (Carlotta) gets to sink her teeth into "Can That Boy Fox-Trot!" as well as the song that replaced it, "I'm Still Here." Tony Roberts (Buddy) sings "That Old Piano Roll", and Vahan Khanzadian and Peter Davenport perform "Bring on the Girls", the original show's opening number.

Returning to the roles they performed in the concert are Liliane Montevecchi as Solange, and Phyllis Newman as Stella, both having improved for this production. In the small role of Hattie is Kaye Ballard, who gets to sing "Broadway Baby" and it's a treat. All four leads do respectably well with the material, most notably Donna McKechnie who makes a touching Sally, and Laurence Guittard who sings flawlessly though lacking an edge. Tony Roberts is good, but not spectacular and Dee Hoty is convincing as Phyllis.

One wished they had included more dialogue. Most notably, Demitri Weismann's dialogue is missing after the overture and sorely missed. As conducted by the show's original orchestrator, Jonathan Tunick, one can now hear every little detail in the orchestrations.

For any Follies fan This new CD is a must have. While none can replace the original Broadway cast recording, it is a nice supplement and highly recommended.

That's all for this week. Joining me next time when I will be taking a look at the next installments in the Columbia Broadway Masterworks series.

'Til then, happy listening!

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