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Cook Amongst Yourselves

Matthew Murray listens to the DRG recordings of Boy George's Taboo and Barbara Cook's Broadway logo
Now that DRG's cast recording of Taboo has finally arrived, those who saw the show during its 100-performance run will be able to relive its strongest asset -- the Boy George score -- and those who didn't get to see it will be able to experience the show's music and lyrics much as those in the Plymouth Theatre did. Of the many mistakes made by the show's neophyte producer Rosie O'Donnell, not releasing the recording during the run was probably the most destructive. There will probably be years of debates about how the fortunes of the Broadway production might have been altered had this recording been available while it was still open.

Certainly, there are people who would have been attracted to the pop-infused score, which revisits the London club scene of the early 1980s, but theater fans would likely have been harder to convince. Also, the recording is good but not outstanding; it lacks much of the vibrant, throbbing energy that made most of the songs work on stage despite their general lack of theatricality. The recording as a whole feels a bit flat and lifeless. Most of its highlights are the same numbers that landed in the theater; Liz McCartney's powerfully sung, emotional "Talk Amongst Yourselves" and Raúl Esparza's searing "Petrified" are chief among them. The CD never gets better than when it lets these two genuine theater stars strut their stuff in the grandest possible way.

Otherwise, Euan Morton (portraying the young Boy George) does a nice job with his establishing solo, "Stranger in This World," and his numbers at the end of the first act, which include the Boy George staples "Do You Really Want to Hurt Me" and "Karma Chameleon." Sarah Uriarte Berry brings an attractive plaintiveness to "Il Adore" and Cary Shields's "I See Through You" is also quite affecting. Boy George, in the role of Leigh Bowery, doesn't come across as well here as he did on stage; his stilted, mechanical performance lacks the liveliness that most of the other performers have in spades. He does well enough in the first act quartet "Love Is a Question Mark," which he sings with Shields, Esparza, and Berry, but his other tracks are skippable.

Steve Margoshes' orchestrations, Jason Howland's musical direction, and John McDaniel's arrangements keep the score in tip-top shape throughout. Their work and the playing of the nine-piece band (featuring Howland) is responsible for most of the joys of Taboo ons stage and on disc. This recording isn't all it should or could have been, but most fans of the show and/or its one-of-a-kind composer will probably have few complaints about it.


It's difficult to imagine anyone finding much fault with DRG's live recording of Barbara Cook's Broadway, an essential preservation of the shimmering star's recent concert of the same title that's set to return to Lincoln Center for another run beginning on June 2.

The CD is 77 minutes in length and the 20 exceptional tracks contained here make it a musical theater master class of the most invigorating kind. From Cook's cleverly comic opener ("I Wonder What the King is Doing Tonight? from Camelot," which was perfect when sung on the set of the Lincoln Center production of King Lear at the Vivian Beaumont Theater) to the heartbreaking encore rendition of "The Party's Over" from Bells Are Ringing, this recording captures superb performances of songs by Broadway's finest composers -- Rodgers and Hammerstein, Bock and Harnick, Stephen Sondheim, Jerry Herman, et al. Cook sings these songs so beautifully and interprets them so fully that it's almost as if they had never been sung before.

All of the CD's tracks are stand-outs but the special highlights include the aching "His Face," the smoky "The Gentleman is a Dope," the lively "It's Not Where You Start, It's Where You Finish" and "Look What Happened to Mabel." Cook offers an impossibly youthful rendition of "Mister Snow" (which suggests that she was quite likely the best-ever Carrie Pipperidge) and an elegant, four-song sequence from She Loves Me that includes "Tonight At Eight," "No More Candy," "A Trip to the Library," and "He Loves Me." Cook doesn't do much Sondheim but the obligatory "In Buddy's Eyes" is every bit as complex and gorgeous as it always is under her masterful care.

Pianist-musical director Wally Harper (Cook's longtime collaborator) and bassist Richard Sarpola provide excellent accompaniment but Cook's pure, perfect voice keeps her front and center. That's exactly where she belongs, whether on the New York stage or in your CD player.

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