BMG/RCA's Original Broadway Cast Recording of THE FULL MONTY heads Michael Portantiere's list of CDs eminently suitable for holiday giving -- or receiving!
Six Guys Naked From the Waist Down (and Up)
Because BMG/RCA's brand new, original Broadway cast recording of The Full Monty doesn't convey the production's visual elements (!!), it enables the listener to fully appreciate how groundbreaking, skillful, and just plain enjoyable the music and lyrics of David Yazbek are. It's hard to remember the last time a musical so successfully used contemporary pop sounds as the means to a theatrical end. (I'm not counting Rent, which is more of a rock opera than a pop musical--and which, in any case, is in a class by itself.) Monty's melodies and rhythms are spikey, catchy, and refreshing. As for the lyrics, Yazbek manages to be incredibly witty without betraying the characters' working-class status. He's an absolute master when it comes to employing slightly off kilter rhymes to hilarious effect, as when one of the show's potential blue-collar strippers eggs on his reluctant buddy:
You're a man, and that's a bonus,
'Cause when you're swinging your cojones
You'll show 'em what testosterone is...
To which his housework-bound pal replies:
You got your dreams, you got your wishes,
And I don't want to sound malicious,
But you're a nut, and I got dishes.
Just as they are in the theater, the performances as recorded here are phenomenal--particularly those of Patrick Wilson, John Ellison Conlee, Jason Danieley, André De Shields, and Kathleen Freeman. Depending on whether you've already seen the show or not, this CD serves beautifully as either a souvenir of the production or a great teaser for it. (Click here to visit the website www.rcavictor.com)
The 1999 Broadway revisal of You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown had some wonderful things in it--e.g., the performances of Kristin Chenoweth and Roger Bart--which may be enjoyed on the BMG/RCA cast album of that production. But musical theater buffs won't want to pass up Decca Broadway's newly re-mastered CD of the original, 1967 Off-Broadway cast recording. Not only do you get to hear a young Gary Burghoff (later Radar O'Reilly on TV's M*A*S*H) as C.B., there's also the less famous but equally wonderful Bill Hinnant as Snoopy and Reva Rose as the definitive Lucy. Once heard, Rose's adorably childlike, appropriately pitch-approximate rendition of the "Schroeder" number (composer/lyricist Clark Gesner's takeoff on Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata") is not soon forgotten.
Also new from Decca in refurbished, repackaged form is the cast album of the epoch-making, 1954 Off-Broadway production of Kurt Weill's The Threepenny Opera, starring Lotte Lenya, Jo Sullivan, Beatrice Arthur, Charlotte Rae, et al. And, if you haven't already snapped it up, run right out and get Decca's sonically excellent re-mastering of the Applause cast album, starring Miss Lauren Bacall (a.k.a. Betty Joan Perske). It took years for this recording to be issued on CD--and, when you hear some of Betty's sustained high notes, you may understand why! Bacall has always been the first to denigrate her own singing voice; yet, truthfully, what she lacks in technical finesse is counterbalanced by tons of style and star quality. (Click here to visit the website www.deccabroadway.com)
Entering the Forbidden Zone
DRG's Forbidden Broadway: 20th Anniversary Edition has been available for several months, but should not be overlooked as a potential holiday stocking stuffer. It includes some of the most memorable F.B. numbers of the last two decades (e.g., Christine Pedi's send-up of Elaine Stritch doing "Zip" from Pal Joey, Toni DiBuono as a 30-year-old Orphan Annie singing "Tomorrow" with a cigarette dangling from her mouth), plus several tracks that were previously unreleased. One of my favorites is "I Sleep With Everyone," spoofmeister Gerard Alessandrini's takeoff on "Love Changes Everything" from Aspects of Love. You'll also get a big kick out of Susanne Blakeslee as Sarah Brightman singing "Time I Said Goodbye" (amen to that!) and Terri White as Jennifer Holliday screaming her way through "And I Am Telling You, I'm Not Singing" from Screamgirls--er, Dreamgirls. (Click here to visit the website www.drgrecords.com)
The new, musical theater-focused record label Fynsworth Alley started up in October with The Stephen Sondheim Album--a very good place to start, as Oscar Hammerstein II might have said. That compilation CD is more than worthwhile for such selections as Brent Barrett's "Make the Most of Your Music," Liz Callaway's "Everybody Says Don't," Lea DeLaria's "Broadway Baby," Dorothy Loudon's "I'm Still Here," and--yes!--Dame Edna's "Losing My Mind."
More recently, Fynsworth has released two terrific solo albums. Jason Graae's club act An Evening of Self-Indulgence was recorded live at the Cinegrill in L.A., and the resultant CD proves that live is the only way to record this irrepressible performer, whose recent run of this same show at Arci's Place in New York had critics throwing their hats into the air. Just as excellent, in its own way, is Emily Skinner's new solo studio album; the voice is wonderfully warm and malleable, the interpretations (of everything from "Lazy Afternoon" to "Lonely House" to "My Simple Christmas Wish") are spot-on, and the settings (orchestrations by David Siegel, conducted by Todd Ellison) couldn't be better. There are three duets with Skinner's Side Show sister, Alice Ripley: "You'll Never Get Away From Me"/"Together Wherever We Go" from Gypsy, "I Could Always Go for You" from Personals (hilarious, but for adults only), and "Ballyshannon" from James Joyce's The Dead. (The last-named selection may be considered a crumb thrown to those of us who regret that the entire score of that beautiful show, in which both Skinner and Ripley appeared in New York, was not recorded). The icing on the cake of the Skinner album is its bonus track, "Maid of the Mist," cut from The Full Monty but obviously written to be sung by the wife of the Jerry Lukowski character. Fascinating! (Click here to visit the website www.fynsworthalley.com)
Rat Pack Musicals
Released individually on LP during the vinyl era, these fabulous recordings of the scores of Finian's Rainbow, Kiss Me, Kate, South Pacific, and Guys and Dolls by members of the "Reprise Musical Repertory Theatre" have now been issued by Reprise in an essential, 4-CD boxed set, complete with a handsome boooklet featuring highly entertaining notes by TheaterMania contributor David Finkle. These are mid-'60s pop versions of the songs from these great shows--arranged by the likes of Nelson Riddle, Billy May, and Skip Martin, and sung by the likes of Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr., Rosemary Clooney, and Bing Crosby--yet most of the cuts have a real theatrical brio about them. Highlights include Frank, Bing, and Dean doing "The Oldest Established (Permanent Floating Crap Game in New York)," Sammy's "Too Darn Hot," Clooney's "How Are Things in Glocca Morra?" and the great Keely Smith's "A Wonderful Guy." Also: you haven't lived until you've heard Debbie Reynolds' rendition of "Adelaide's Lament."