Sound Advice by Joseph Molnar
A Few Turkeys from the U.K.

For my special Thanksgiving column, I will be taking a look at three recent cast albums from the U. K. None of the shows ran more than six months, which is why I titled my column "A Few Turkeys from the U.K." While not all of them can be considered turkeys, the first most definitely can. Always is a musical based on the true story of Edward and Wallis Windsor. Edward, who was next in line to be King of England, met and fell in love with Wallis Simpson. Though married at the time, she fell in love with Edward too. She divorced her husband, her second, so this did not make her a good candidate for a bride-to-be for the King. Edward was advised to give her up, but he was too much in love, so Edward decided to give up the throne and marry Wallis instead. Now all of this might sound like good musical material, but unfortunately, not a good musical was made of it. Written mostly by Australians, William May and Jason Sprague, Always met with some of the most scathing reviews ever and closed 2 months later.

The problem with Always is that it never seems to find it's own voice. This show gives new meaning to the word derivative. All the while I was listening to this disc, it brought to mind other musicals. In the song, "If Always Were a Place," Edward sings the line "I long to take you there" whose melody and lyric sounds like it was plucked right out of "Somewhere" from West Side Story. The Secret Garden comes to mind on the song "Hearts Have Their Reasons." And scattered throughout the score are hints of Aspects of Love. "Love's Carousel" reminded me of Nancy's pub song in Oliver!, "Oomp Pa Pa," though I have been told it sounds like it belongs in Jaques Brel. Then, there are the awkward lyrics, such as "in heaven bragging's allowed" from the song "Someone Special." In general though, it does not sound as bad as it might have been on stage.

There are fine performances from Jan Hartley as Wallis, though, judging from the cover, she was much too pretty to play her and Clive Carter as Edward who get most of the tunes. Playing Wallis' Aunt Bessie, Shani Wallis, most famous for playing Nancy in the film of Oliver!, gets to sing two songs. Though her voice is a bit huskier now that she is older, she still sings nicely. Most of the music is fairly pleasant, but not very original and they start to sound alike after awhile. So I cannot recommend that anyone buy this disc, unless you are a collector of such things as I am.

Next up is the musical, The Fix, which ran at the Donmer Warehouse from April to June 1997. Since it ran for two months, this is why it is included here. It can't really be considered a turkey. Though it did not transfer after it's limited run, it is being given another chance on this side of the pond next spring. The Fix is a political satire that deals with a mother, who with the help of her brother-in-law, will do anything to get her son into office after her husband dies in the arms of his mistress on the eve of his election to Presidency. I must confess I was anxiously waiting for this CD since American writers wrote it. Being that there are so few new musical composing teams nowadays, I was hoping for the best. But, unfortunately, I was disappointed. Like Always, it is lacking a distinctive voice of it's own. But, on the other hand, this show at least has variety in its music, mixing rock with gospel, country and other various styles. The score kind of sounds like Tommy meets Chicago. I liked a few of the tunes, mostly John Barrowman's, who is finally getting a chance to record a role he originated. Philip Quast, Kathryn Evans, Krysten Cummings, who also turn in good performances, help to make this whole thing more palatable. But, on the whole, I found very little to like on this CD. So, like Always, this will be an item only serious collectors of flop musicals will have to have. All may not be lost for this musical because, as already stated, it is getting a second chance in the states next Spring. Maybe, it will have an afterlife unlike most flops.

Last, but not least, is the London concert cast recording of Stephen Sondheim's Passion. While this show can hardly be classified as a turkey, since it is a multi-Tony award-winning musical, I felt I should include it here since it ran no more than six months in the U.K. Passion is the story of the ugly, unloved Fosca, who becomes obsessed with a handsome army Captain named Giorgio, who is having an affair with a married woman.

It was with great anticipation that I awaited this CD. I have loved this score since I first bought the Broadway cast album back in 1994. Sondheim's rhapsodic melodies seduces one from the second the show starts. One of my favorite things about this score is how Fosca ends up finishing the show by singing "Happiness," which is sung by Giorgio and Clara at the very beginning. Also, Fosca's music becomes less dissonant and turns lighter as the show progresses to show that she finally is loved and learns how to love. When I first listened to this new recording, I thought how could this cast ever replace the perfect Broadway cast? But surprise, surprise, they do. Maria Friedman turns in a performance to match Donna Murphy's. But they differ in that Maria sings more in a head voice, whereas Donna sang using chest tones. Michael Ball is a revelation on this CD. I have admired his work on Les Miserables and Aspects of Love, but he seems to have improved greatly since those days. He sings magnificently throughout the recording. He also gets to sing a passage that was sung by Jere Shea during previews on Broadway. Sondheim has restored a segment to the song "No One Has Ever Loved Me" that is now belted instead of sung more softly and Michael Ball takes full advantage of this. I think this is a big improvement over the original. So any real Sondheim fanatic will have to have this CD for this reason alone, not to mention the outstanding performances. There is also fine work from Helen Hobson as Clara, who sounds younger than Marin Mazzie, but is just as effective. I highly recommend this CD. It is definitely on my "top ten" list of this year's CD's.

Join me in a week when I will be reviewing the first major cast album from the new season, previewing an upcoming musical and a peek at one that has just recently opened. Till then, happy listening!

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