It's not just that the recording is good, although it is. What makes it so special is that it's complete. Charming and downright fun though the Off-Broadway cast album may be, it's never been ideal as a document of this popular show because it's missing a fair amount of material and it includes a version of one of the songs that has since been superseded.
The new recording has rectified almost all of these issues. Danny Troob's new orchestrations are different than the licensed versions and there are a number of small musical changes that have crept into the Broadway production; but considering that the biggest of these changes is the expansion of the title tune to match the version heard in the 1986 film, the detriment to the overall listening experience is practically non-existent. Just about everything else is here: a complete version of "Mushnik & Son," all of "Now (It's Just the Gas)," the creepy Act I finale, "The Meek Shall Inherit" in full, and the "Somewhere That's Green" reprise that occurs near the end of the second act. Even the score's most elusive offerings -- the W-SKID jingle and the frequently cut second act opener "Call back in the Morning" -- are present, complete with just enough dialogue to set up the story along the way.
All of the songs are delivered by cast members who have miraculously managed to erase from their recorded performances any hint that their work onstage is less than ideal. Hunter Foster as Seymour, the nebbishy botanist who becomes part of a bloodthirsty plant's plan for world conquest, brings a daffy, affable charm to Seymour and sings well. Rob Bartlett, as Seymour's boss (and father figure) Mr. Mushnik, brings a strong, Yiddish-tinged authority to his scenes and songs. DeQuina Moore, Trisha Jeffrey, and Carla J. Hargrove sound wonderful as the close-harmony-singing urchins who comment on the action and participate in it at every possible opportunity. Michael Leon-Wooley provides the voice of the sanguinary plant that Seymour names Audrey II (after the bedraggled woman he works with) with a threatening yet engaging energy.
Two of the performers are less than fully successful. Kerry Butler is excellent when singing the soft, wistful sentiments of "Somewhere That's Green" but, while hardly lacking in vocal power, she doesn't really connect with the big duet "Suddenly Seymour." (This cut is the only one in which Butler lets her vocal stylings overwhelm the material, and it's the recording's weakest moment.) Douglas Sills comes across better in several minor bits, particularly as three different characters in "The Meek Shall Inherit," than in his major role as Audrey's abusive boyfriend, Orin Scrivello, D.D.S. But his big number, "Dentist!," is fine.
The CD comes in one of those cardboard cases and includes an accordion-fold booklet with a history of the show, a synopsis, and six pages of color photos. (No lyrics, though.) There are five bonus tracks of early demos of songs from the show and one from the movie, performed by Menken, Ashman, and -- in one case -- the original production's Audrey II singer, Ron Taylor. But these are just icing on the cake; having a complete recording of this choice score is more than enough.
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