Past Reviews

Sound Advice Reviews

London shows ... Not the "greatest hits"


Stage Door Records

The theatre aficionado of eternal optimistic stripes likes to delve into what others would dismiss as the deserved discards of shows with short runs and hope to find buried treasure. Perhaps hope can reignite with each track on a compilation album like Lost West End where a listener is exposed to just one selection per musical. Can't we all think of some scores we consider weak, but acknowledge as having one or two quite worthy numbers? This is a collection for the curious theatre fan. Beginning with shows of the 1970s and going up to last year's rewrite of Gone with the Wind, the collection has 21 tracks.

Of course, show tunes (as they used to be more regularly called in times before most of these mostly earnest pieces were created) aren't meant to stand alone. It's rather pointless and irresponsible to consider single songs and how they are performed out of context if one doesn't know the whole score and the song's function within the piece. So much depends on that, for both appreciation and pure enjoyment from an isolated track. What we have here comes from sources ranging from fully produced cast albums, studio casts, demo/previously recordings, and EP samplers.

Although most of the musicals here are low-profile ones, I didn't quite go in blind, as I own several of the full cast albums tracks are drawn from, and having reviewed a few for this column in my decade of writing for it. These include Tess of the D'Urbervilles, The Far Pavilions, Behind the Iron Mask, and Beautiful and Damned, none of which were big favorites of mine, though some of their better tracks and better voices are chosen as representatives here. And we can all glean some slight sense of the whole from the terse but helpful one-paragraph synopses of each in the accompanying booklet. Many are based on source material we know, not virgin musicalizations/dramatizations (there's Robin Hood again bursting into proud song as Robin Prince of Sherwood and Mutiny on the Bounty sailing onto the stage with that familiar tradition for musicals of shortening the title and adding an exclamation point for perceived excitement—so it becomes Mutiny!). And there are folks we know from the arts, with a couple of shows represented that look at the lives of painters—Toulouse Lautrec, Leonardo da Vinci—and we get the famed writers Ernest Hemingway and Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald as subjects in bio-musicals. That's not to say that you'd necessarily be able to recognize any of them from these one-song-each samples without knowing the show titles or having read the liner notes. (Only Gone with the Wind is represented by a title song, but it's a worthy one in Margaret Martin's hand and Janene Lovullo's noble vocalizing from a 2014 studio recording of the retooled score of a 2008-debuted show.)

Not many of the selections whet my appetite for hearing all of the score. But I found frequent enough diversion while not being consistently entertained or fully engaged. Too many numbers are weighed down by what seems like generic writing and characterizations that don't jump off the disc and grab us on their own. I had hoped Lost West End would have more of the fresh appeal of the similarly titled series from Original Cast Records, Lost Broadway and More, or the Lost in Boston series that had many delightful truly "lost" numbers cut from classic American shows by the cream of the crop writers. There's no comparison. We get some things that sound too derivative or bland.

But some are worth the wait. The track I am most drawn to is "She Lives with Me" from Leonardo: A Portrait of Love (Tommy & Greg Moeller, Russell Dunlop, Duke Minks) about the painter's connection to his Mona Lisa model. Simon Burke's performance as the painter is vivid, his intensity of thought and feeling comes through boldly, and the song features some of the more memorable music and quite articulate lyric, in which he describes the lady with the metaphor of her being "the strong knot in the lace." What crisp and economical use of language! And the actor's bravura big finish feels justified through character, not just to have a big ending for applause or grandstanding. It's the iconic singer Charles Aznavour who composed the music with Dee Shipman as lyricist for Lautrec, the prostitutes the man often painted presenting their bold and sassy opinions in a colorfully performed "The Souvenirs of Second Best" with Mary Carewe and company neatly handling the attitude-heavy, jaded point of view.

Graham Bickley and Summer Rognlie are fine in Maddie's "Don't Look Back," a song quite notable among this collection as being a piece that works as plot. That is, some action is actually happening; in fact, there's more than one event, plus commentary. Most of the album's other pieces seem to be presentations of feelings without much change in those feelings by the final chord. I also very much admire the solid craftsmanship in Peter Pinne and Don Battye's appealing "I Never Told Him I Love Him," sung with passion and control by Simone Dee. It's from Prisoner Cell Block D, based on a cult TV series. And Mutiny!'s "I'll Go No More A-Roving" is attractive with its folk-like echoes and clean lines and clarion sound. David Essex sings it with the company (he stars as Fletcher Christian, wrote the music, and co-wrote lyrics with Richard Crane).

The show with the shortest title got its closing notice in the shortest amount of time: at dress rehearsal. The play was called I and changed its title, when revamped, to Y. Clearly it's a case in point to believe in things being better the second time around, as the retooled version ran for over a year. It's thus represented by two numbers, being sort of an exception to the one-per-show rule. Music is by Robert Purvis with lyrics by him and Paul Prescott. While neither selection is a knockout, Arturo Brachetti's "Illusions" is gracefully delivered. Too Close to the Sun's "Poor Little Silly Young Me" presents the likeable Tammy Joelle as Ernest Hemingway's secretary venting, with the lyric by Roberto Trippini and John Robinson (the latter also its composer) having the occasional ear-catching line, like the one describing New York City as a place where people who are lost, but never found. Likewise Lost West End brings us songs that are lost, but not always finding full servings of pleasure.

- Rob Lester

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