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Why We Love Original Cast Albums

Filichia's readers discuss some of the original cast albums they love and why they love them. logo

Faithful readers may recall that, a few weeks ago, I published "50 Things That Readers Love About the Theater." At the time, I mentioned that many who wrote submitted items that actually weren't about theatergoing, but about cast albums. While I included none of those, I did note that, one of these days, I just might list them, too. Ladies and gentlemen, today is the day.

Laurie Zuccarelli-Melia remarked upon the delight of "knowing a show you love is available on disc" but said the experience is even better when you "discover on the cast album a song you forgot about after you saw the show, and now you wind up repeating it over and over again."

Harry Turpin wrote that original cast albums were important to him "because I live on the West Coast, where I don't often get to see current Broadway shows. So listening to cast albums transports me to New York, where I can imagine I'm witnessing the show on stage." He also said that he appreciates it when he turns on the radio and hears "crossover songs...that I can definitely identify as musical theatre songs," and he likes albums that include "cut songs. Obviously every song can't go into a show, but it's fun to hear what didn't make it, and sometimes you wonder why the heck not, such as 'Come Down From The Tree' from Once on This Island."

Turpin also went to bat for "multiple cast albums of one show. No one needs to have all of the Les Misérables recordings," he conceded, "but I do. Why? Because of certain performances or even certain music that was cut from the show. It all makes for a different feel. The London version is a bit darker and heavier than the Broadway version. The symphonic version has great performances on it and includes the entire score. The original French album is wonderful to listen to -- you find that 'On My Own' was originally given to Fantine. The highlights recording not only has Lea Salonga singing Eponine, but also Colm Wilkinson sounding stronger than he ever did on any recording."

Josh Ellis acknowledged something about new albums ("Hearing an original cast recording when it first comes out just after you've seen the show") and old albums, too ("Hearing a new CD reissue -- in stereo -- of an old musical that you previously only had as a monaural LP"). He also took a moment to concede that some mono recordings have their charms -- such as "the original monaural cast album of Funny Girl, where Barbra Streisand says 'We're going home!' at the end of 'Cornet Man,' which she does not on the stereo LP or the CD." Finally, Ellis said he enjoys cast albums that include the "photos of the stars when they were making the records" before confessing that, when he was a youth, "I used to think they did the recordings in costume!"

Kevin Dawson said he enjoys "playing a cast album on the anniversary of first having heard it, or on the date when I saw the actual show." Jeffrey Landman likes "hearing remixes of original cast albums, such as the dance remix of 'And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going' and the amazing techno remix of Shirley Bassey's 'Big Spender.'" Jena Tesse Fox likes recordings with "new orchestrations that make me gasp -- whether in joy or in fury. I just love that orchestrations can make such a difference!" David Burrows pointed out a good news/bad news scenario: "The good news: You've lent a friend your CD of one of your favorite Broadway cast recordings and now s/he can't stop listening to it. The bad news: S/he won't return your CD, because s/he can't stop listening to it or even bear to be without it."

Kevin Daly wrote that he enjoyed "reading the liner notes to any cast recording, but especially reading about the cast I saw on-stage." Donald Butchko said he cherishes cast albums because it gives him the chance to "listen to a song or lyric I've known for years and finally 'get it' -- which I wouldn't have got had I not had those additional chances with repeated hearings." Seth Christenfeld appreciates "buying a cast album at random, one for a show I've never heard of, and then, after listening to it, being glad I discovered something I otherwise wouldn't have known."

Krebsman pointed out how much he liked the smell that came from the Mercury cast albums of the early '60s Off-Broadway musicals All in Love and Fly, Blackbird. And he's right; there was a delicious, pungent aroma that was specific to this company's records. It had to be the plastic that coated the cover, for Mercury's cast album to 1965's I Had a Ball had neither the plastic coated cover nor the smell -- though the album did smell for artistic reasons. (All right, all right, except for the title song, which Karen Morrow delivers superbly. Those who don't know it will soon be able to hear it -- and those who love it will soon be able to play it repeatedly -- when Decca Broadway releases the album on CD in a few months. )

Jason Flum contributed the most passionate paean of all. He cited "opening a new CD jewel box and finding extensive liner notes," which, he feels, is almost as good as "opening a new CD jewel box and finding lyrics in those liner notes." He also loves "dialogue on CDs" and "that I can go back and listen to a song multiple times by just pressing a button. I also love getting a recording of a show before I see it, and making up the staging in my head." When he does get to the show, he loves "being blown away by the live performance even more than I was by the performance I'd heard on disc."

Flum admitted "buying compilation CDs just to get one song I don't have anywhere else" as well as "buying multiple versions of the same show so I can compare casts." Another boon he mentioned was "getting a new cast album of a show I already have on disc and finding that I now can understand lyrics I couldn't make out from the previous version." He also pointed out that "cast recordings make driving go so much faster than other discs" because they tell a story. And he fondly remembered "that two-month period when the Rent CD came out and suddenly EVERYONE on my dorm floor was a Renthead -- even those who NEVER went to the theater."

Reading all of this correspondence brought a tremendous smile to my face, for the Original Broadway Cast Album was the reason I started going to the theater in the first place. How many times I remember calling the now-defunct Lechmere Sales in Cambridge, Massachusetts to ask the clerk if a certain cast album was in yet. On those delicious days when he said yes, I'd zoom over in my father's car, rush in, and buy the LP -- after checking that the lettering on the spine lined up so that I could read it perfectly once I'd filed it. (This is rarely a concern in these days of wider jewel boxes). Then I'd return to the car and hope that I'd get a red light at every intersection, so I could read the liner notes. But if each light was green, that was all right, too -- for it got me closer to hearing the newest Original Broadway Cast Album to come my way.


[To contact Peter Filichia directly, e-mail him at [email protected]]

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