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Who's Who in the Cast?

When it comes to purchasing Original Broadway Cast recordings, let the buyer be careful of exactly what he or she is getting.. logo

So, you've just seen the smash-hit musical Mamma Mia! at the Winter Garden and you'd like to take home the Broadway cast recording of the show. You head to HMV or Virgin or Tower, find the Broadway section, and see multiple copies of a Mamma Mia! CD sporting the show's now familiar promo art of a joyous bride. You note that the disc is labeled "A Decca Broadway Original Cast Album" in large, black type. Even though you also note that no cast members' names are printed anywhere on the outside packaging of the CD, you bring it to the cashier and take it home, confident that you're soon going to be listening to those catchy ABBA tunes sung by Louise Pitre as Donna Sheridan, Tina Maddigan as her daughter Sophie, Karen Mason as Tanya, Judy Kaye as Rosie, David W. Keeley as Sam Carmichael, Joe Machota as Sky, and so on.

But no. The "Decca Broadway Original Cast Album" of Mamma Mia! now in stores actually features the London cast of the show, with Siobhán McCarthy, Lisa Stokke, Louise Plowright, Jenny Galloway, Hilton McRae, and Andrew Langtree singing the roles listed above. To find the names of these performers, you have to flip to the inside back cover of the CD booklet--which, of course, you can't do until after you've bought the album and opened it.

You have to look really close at the outside packaging of the CD to get a hint that it's not the Original Broadway Cast recording. In small type on the back of the slip case is printed the following: "On April 6, 1999...a new musical featuring 22 of [ABBA's] classic songs opened in London's West End. Overnight, Mamma Mia! became London's biggest theatrical sensation in years!" This is followed by a pull-quote from a review of the show by the London Daily Telegraph. But nowhere on the cover does it actually say that the recording features the London cast. One can only guess that this is a marketing ploy; after all, it's cheaper to make one recording than two. Though the Broadway company of Mamma Mia! includes such recognizable theater stars as Kaye and Mason, Decca may be gambling that most consumers don't really care who's on the album--or, at least, don't care enough to attempt to return the CD when they find out that it showcases the London cast.

If you love Mamma Mia! but would prefer to hear it with Mason, Kaye, Pitre, et al., should you wait for a new recording? That's hard to say. Asked if there are any plans to issue a Broadway cast CD, a spokesperson for Boneau/Bryan-Brown--the publicists for the Broadway production--said, "At this point, there are not, but it hasn't been ruled out." Beth Krakower of CineMedia Promotions, publicists of the London cast CD, concedes that the packaging might be confusing but insists that "we haven't heard complaints that people were misled, we've only heard complaints that there isn't a recording with the Broadway cast." She also said that the possibility of such a disc being released is doubtful, citing possible contractual issues as well as high costs. (It's worth noting that neither The Phantom of the Opera nor Miss Saigon, two of the biggest Broadway hits in recent history, had Broadway cast recordings; rather, the London albums of those shows were released here, even though some of the leading roles of both were played by different people on different sides of the Atlantic.)

Given the situation detailed above, one might view with trepidation the new CD of Andrew Lloyd Webber's By Jeeves that has popped up in stores, enigmatically labeled as the "American Premier Recording." It turns out that this disc does showcase John Scherer, Martin Jarvis and, it would seem at first glance, all of the other performers who are now doing Jeeves at the Helen Hayes Theater. Why, then, is it not billed as the Original Broadway Cast Album? And why are the cast members' names not to be found anywhere on the external packaging? Says Beth Krakower, whose company also promotes the Jeeves CD: "My guess is that, unless someone is very knowledgeable about theater, the thought is that the name that's going to sell the album is Andrew Lloyd Webber."

It turns out that the album was recorded before the show opened on Broadway and there have been one or two minor cast changes since then, which may have made the producers wary of the the Original Broadway Cast label. The point is that buyers should be wary when purchasing cast albums that do not clearly list the performers on their outside packaging. Because you can't always get what you want.

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