So you're all hyped-up about Dreamgirls but you're nowhere near one of the three theaters in L.A., San Francisco, and New York where the film is currently being screened in $25-per-ticket, reserved seat engagements. Or maybe you just can't bring yourself to spend that much money on admission to a movie, even if the price includes a cool souvenir program. What to do while waiting for the film's wide release on Christmas Day? Please don't pick up a bootleg copy on the street, but please do buy the soundtrack recording in either the one-CD version or the deluxe two-disc edition.
Fans of the Broadway show will miss the song "Ain't No Party" and some of the other material that's not in the film, including all that spiffy sung dialogue (e.g., "Tell us Miss Jones, how does it feel to be the lead of a hot new group today?") Happily, the bulk of Henry Krieger and Tom Eyen's score for the stage musical made it into the flick and onto the soundtrack CD, and there are some excellent new songs written by Krieger with other lyricists. The fabulous arrangements are credited to 11 people (!!!) but they owe much to the uncredited Harold Wheeler, musical director/orchestrator of the Broadway production.
Though Beyoncé Knowles, Anika Noni Rose, Jamie Foxx, Eddie Murphy, and Keith Robinson all seize their opportunities to shine vocally, the highlight of the recording is Jennifer Hudson's searing rendition of "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going," Effie White's desperate cry from the heart. Listen to this track and you'll agree that the Dreamgirls film might well have been retitled A Star is Born, if we didn't already have three of those!
Spring Awakening, Duncan Sheik and Steven Sater's musical based on Frank Wedekind's extraordinary 1891 play about sexually blossoming adolescents and their repressive parents and teachers, is not flawless. Some of the show's structure is weak, especially in Act II, and the final scene is far less effective than Wedekind's simultaneously heartbreaking and cathartic original version. But the concept of 19th-century German youth singing rock music is so brilliant, and most of the score is so strong, that these issues are ultimately of little import.
Do whatever you can to get a ticket to see the show, but in the meantime, pick up Decca Broadway's cast recording. Jonathan Groff as Melchior, Lea Michele as Wendla, and John Gallagher, Jr. as Moritz lead a company of supremely talented young performers through the songs, which range from the yearning "The Word of Your Body" and "Touch Me" to the teen angst of "The Bitch of Living" and "Totally Fucked." All of the lyrics are included in the accompanying booklet, which also features arresting full-color photos by Joan Marcus, Doug Hamilton, and Monique Carboni.
The original Off-Broadway production of The Fantasticks had the longest run of any musical in world history, and the show is continually revived in regional and community theater, colleges, and high schools, yet there are few recordings of the full score. Maybe that's because the nearly perfect 1960 original cast album, starring Jerry Orbach, Rita Gardner, and Kenneth Nelson, is so hard to match.
Ghostlight's recording of the new Off-Broadway production (which is playing at the Snapple Theater Center) is commendable for the lovely singing of Sara Jean Ford as Luisa and the excellent character work of Leo Burmester and Martin Vidnovic as Hucklebee and Bellomy, not to mention the brief but delightful vocal appearances of co-author/director Tom Jones (a.k.a. Thomas Bruce) as the old actor Henry. Santino Fontana exhibits an impressive voice in the role of Matt, but some of his phrasing is rather odd. And Burke Moses' renditions of El Gallo's songs -- including the gorgeously bittersweet "Try to Remember" -- are marred by unfocused vibrato.
Though musical director/pianist Dorothy Martin and harpist Erin Hill play beautifully, I miss the bass, the drums, and the occasional cello line heard on the 1960 album. On the plus side, the new recording is far more comprehensive than the original; it includes quite a bit of sung dialogue in addition to the wonderful Tom Jones-Harvey Schmidt songs, and there's a bonus truck of the cut number "O Have You Ever Been to China?" as performed by Schmidt.
For those of us who can never get enough of Patti LuPone, there's some very good news: Six songs that were recorded by the diva for her recent Ghostlight album The Lady With the Torch but were left off the CD are now available from iTunes and other digial media. They can also be purchased as a disc titled ...Still Burning by visiting www.ghostlightrecords.com directly.
The songs in question are "Make It Another Old Fashioned Please," "C'est Magnifique," "I Love Paris," and "Find Me a Primitive Man" (all by Cole Porter), "Me and My Shadow" (by Dave Dreyer, Al Jolson, and Billy Rose), and "Frankie and Johnny" (by Fred Karger, Alex Gottlieb, and Ben Wiseman). As if that program weren't exciting enough, the collection has a bonus: the Hugh Martin-Ralph Blane classic "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" (from Meet Me in St. Louis), which was specially recorded by LuPone for the holidays. So hang a shining star upon the highest bough, then order these tracks post-haste.
If you haven't already heard, there's one small problem with Avenue Q: The Book. It sheds! This Hyperion publication is covered in orange "fur," and little clumps of it tend to come free when you're leafing through, so be prepared with a vacuum cleaner or one of those adhesive rollers that are normally used to remove lint. But don't let that stop you from buying the book; like the show itself, it's a total delight.
With text and interviews by Zachary Pincus-Roth, the handsome volume sports the entire script and all the lyrics of the Tony Award winning musical; production photos by Carol Rosegg and colorful, children's-book-style illustrations by S. Britt; fun "Games for Learning"; essays on "How to Make a Puppet Come to Life" and "How a Small Show Got Big"; a section on material that was cut from the show; and lots of other entertaining, informative content.
Also included are some adorable photos of Avenue Q creators Jeff Marx, Robert Lopez, and Jeff Whitty when they were little tykes. If you want to spend some quality time with these talented folks and their pals Princeton, Kate Monster, Rod, Nicky, et al., add this item to your shopping cart and proceed to checkout.