Reviews of the Broadway cast recordings of Promises, Promises, Fela!, and The Addams Family.
Burt Bacharach and Hal David's original score for this 1968 musical was already known for generating such pop hits as "I'll Never Fall in Love Again," "Knowing When to Leave," and the title tune. But this new revival also interpolates two of the team's standards, "A House is Not a Home" and "I Say a Little Prayer," meaning that listeners can be even more certain that this new disc is worth a spin, particularly when the catchy melodies use Jonathan Tunick's jaunty orchestrations.
There's also the presence of Kristin Chenoweth (as Fran Kubelik) to whom so many of the crossover hits fall. The Tony Award-winning star delivers them with power and passion; but the depth of emotion which she can bring to the songs -- particularly "Knowing When to Leave," which she infuses with both theatricality and a pop singer's flair -- might even take her fans by surprise.
Sean Hayes, in the role of unlikely romantic lead Chuck Baxter, acquits himself admirably, tackling less familiar numbers like the title song and "She Likes Basketball" with aplomb and undeniable charm. Perhaps more important, when he and Chenoweth deliver "I'll Never Fall in Love Again," Hayes matches his co-star both vocally and emotionally and their combined work fills the unforgettable number with bittersweet poignancy.
Other joys on the disc include Tony Goldwyn's heartfelt delivery of "Wanting Things," the gleeful vocals from Megan Sikora, Cameron Adams, and Mayumi Miguel on "Turkey Lurkey Time," and the über-masculine zest that Brooks Ashmanskas, Peter Benson, Sean Martin Hingston, and Ken Land bring to the smarmy (at least by today's standards) "Where Can You Take a Girl."
This vibrant recording will be a welcome addition to the CD shelves of both musical theater fans and devotees of world music, as the 22-track disc is not only a vivid preservation of the Tony Award-winning show, but it also brilliantly displays the artistry of songwriter and Afrobeat pioneer Fela Anikulapo-Kuti.
Towering on the album -- just as he does in the theater -- is Sahr Ngaujah in the title role. He deftly captures Fela's defiant spirit, deep passion, and galvanizing musicianship (as both singer and saxophone player). Whether he's remembering lessons he learned as a child and transforming them into a protest song ("Water No Get Enemy") or satirizing the willingness of the Nigerian army to blindly follow orders ("Zombie"), Ngaujah's Fela captures the ear and even the heart.
The contributions of the band Antibalas cannot be discounted in the success of the CD, as their surging percussion and soaring brass are simply astonishing. So are Lillias White (playing Fela's mother) and Saycon Sengbloh (playing one of Fela's many lovers/wives), whose superlative vocals enhance the emotional core of the show.
The recording is accompanied by a handsome full-color booklet that contains fascinating liner notes by Rikki Stein (Fela's friend and manager) and a synopsis. Although the lyrics for the songs are not included, the booklet does admirably recreate the spirit of the show and its ambiance (particularly Marina Draghici's collage-like scenic design).
This disc displays the passing charms of composer/lyricist Andrew Lippa's work and the deft performances from the company as they bring the characters from Charles Addams' famed cartoons to life.
As Gomez, the Addams patriarch, Nathan Lane is a wonderful presence. Whether he's delivering Lippa's purposely heavy (and thus pretty funny) rhymes in "Morticia," in which Gomez laments his wife's sudden cold-shoulder, or attempting to cheer daughter Wednesday with the touching "Happy/Sad," Lane's work is exceptional.
It's hard not to wish that Bebe Neuwirth had more material, but what she does have, she delivers with panache. This is particularly true of the second act opener, "Just Around the Corner," a number bubbling with macabre humor that's delivered with dry wit and precision. As Wednesday, Krysta Rodriguez delivers her numbers with grace, force, and passion, particularly "One Normal Night."
Another standout is Kevin Chamberlin as Uncle Fester; he makes the most of "The Moon and Me," a romantic confessional that harkens back to the days of vaudeville. Equally notable are Carolee Carmello and Terence Mann, who play the "normal" couple visiting the Addamses. Their work is lovely throughout, but nowhere more so than in the fervent anthem "In the Arms" that comes toward the end of the show. In this song, filled with deliciously silly lyrics, the two prove that fervency and comedy can coexist.