The most old-fashioned musical comedy score of the year comes from two of the newer talents on the horizon, composer Jeanine Tesori (Violet) and lyricist Dick Scanlan. The nine brand new songs written by the team for their Broadway musical adaptation of the Julie Andrews film Thoroughly Modern Millie fit in so well with six borrowed tunes (culled from the movie and other places) that everything sounds as though it came from one source. All 16 songs plus a few reprises are on Millie's new cast recording, available as of June 11 on the RCA Victor label.
The recording starts off with an overture and, while it's nice to see that musical theater overtures have made a recent comeback, Millie's isn't particularly thrilling. But star Sutton Foster's opening number "Not for the Life of Me"/"Thoroughly Modern Millie" (the latter by Sammy Cahn and James Van Heusen), is infectious and sounds better and better the more you listen to it. Near the end of the album, Foster shines again in the 11 o'clock number "Gimme Gimme".
The show has plenty of good love songs. Millie's would-be beau Jimmy's jaunty "What Do I Need with Love?" (sung with gusto by Gavin Creel) is one of Tesori and Scanlan's best, and "I Turned the Corner" is a sweet duet for the pair. "Jimmy," by Jay Thompson and borrowed from the film, is a fine ballad for Foster. On the humorous side there is Victor Herbert and Rida Johnson Young's bombastic "Ah! Sweet Mystery of Life," which has some amusement value thanks to Marc Kudisch's brilliant performance as Millie's boss Trevor Graydon, though the number is much funnier in the theater. Herbert's "I'm Falling in Love with Someone" is also used to good effect.
Smooth and sultry Sheryl Lee Ralph, playing Millie's mentor Muzzy, is afforded two showcase numbers "Only in New York" and "As Long As I'm Here With You." The song that most people cite as their favorite in the score, "Forget About the Boy," is particularly notable for its tapping, but on the recording you'll find it's also a joy for its nice, big, melodic sound. And Kudisch's deft performance of "The Speed Test" is quite amazing.
A few songs are less than memorable. "How the Other Half Lives" is skippable, and though Harriet Harris is a riot in the show, even she can't do much with "They Don't Know" (though Scanlan gets points for rhyming "praise ya" with "Southeast Asia"). Harris's partners in crime, played by Ken Leung and Francis Jue, have some fun doing Al Jolson impressions in "Muquin," which is "Mammy" in their characters' native language. They give the same treatment to a reprise of "Not for the Life of Me." (Listen to this album and you'll find yourself singing along in Chinese in no time!)
The orchestrations by Doug Besterman and the late, great Ralph Burns are lively, brassy, and very '20s. David Chase's dance arrangements are fabulous. Given the excellent work of these gentlemen, the recording's inclusion of a couple of lengthy dance breaks, the wonderful three-and-and-a half-minute instrumental "Nutty Cracker Suite," and even the show's "Final Bows" music is well advised. Even those who were underwhelmed by Millie on the stage may appreciate this musical hommage to the energy and enthusiasm of New York City in the the 1920's. And, needless to say, people who did like the show will love the recording.
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