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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

 
BROADWAY CAST ALBUMS

KING HAMILTON
By MATT WINDMAN


Just as any retrospective on the state of musical theater in the year 2016 is going to be dominated by Hamilton, this roundup of musical theater recordings released in 2016 will be dominated by Hamilton too. This is not to say that many other excellent cast albums were not also released, preserving new musicals and worthy revivals, but Hamilton dominated cast albums in ways unseen in decades.

The Hamilton cast album was technically released in the fall of 2015, but its heavy sales continue into 2016, allowing those who are unable to obtain or afford tickets to see it at the Richard Rodgers Theatre to experience secondhand Lin-Manuel Miranda’s hip-hop score and the indelible performances of the original cast. It has become the highest-selling cast album of the past 50 years. It also went on to win the 2016 Grammy Award for Best Musical Theater Album. For the occasion, the cast got to perform the opening number live from Broadway on the awards broadcast and Miranda then made an acceptance speech from the stage. When was the last time that happened? Can you imagine it ever happening again?

And the accomplishments of Hamilton don’t end there. On December 2, 2016, The Hamilton Mixtape was released, in which major hip-hop and pop artists (including Busta Rhymes, Usher, Regina Spektor, Kelly Clarkson, Alicia Keys, John Legend and Common) cover and reinterpret selections from the score. Even Jimmy Fallon makes an appearance as King George. This harkens back to the long-gone tradition of singers covering songs from new Broadway shows. True, Harvey Weinstein did the same thing recently with the substandard score of Finding Neverland, but that was done purely for promotional purposes. Lin-Manuel Miranda also appears on The Hamilton Mixtape with demo versions of songs that got cut from the musical during the development process.

Another major figure in the cast albums of 2016 was songwriter William Finn. The recording of the 2015 Encores! Off-Center concert production of A New Brain with Jonathan Groff and Ana Gasteyer contains more of the score than the album of the original Off-Broadway production and changes to the score and orchestrations. The recording of the superb Broadway revival of Falsettos with Christian Borle, Andrew Rannells and Stephanie J. Block marks the first recording of Falsettos as a two-act musical, as opposed to the separate recordings of March of the Falsettos and Falsettoland before they merged into Falsettos. A New Brain and Falsettos vividly display Finn’s eccentricities, sharp politics and open emotionality.

Michael John LaChiusa’s uneven but compelling four-act musical First Daughter Suite was thankfully recorded following its short run at the Public Theater in fall 2015. A companion piece to his 1993 work First Lady Suite, First Daughter Suite explores the wives and daughters of several recent presidents, with a critical eye and compassion for the stresses and strains that they endured. Three out of the four acts are recorded in their entirety, whereas the third act (a scene between Nancy Reagan and daughter Patti) is mostly omitted since it contained just a single song.

One of my favorite cast albums of the year is Bright Star, Steve Martin and Edie Brickell’s country-folk, southern-tinged musical, which received positive reviews (especially for leading lady Carmen Cusack) but closed right after the Tony Awards. The album ought to rescue the show from potential obscurity and encourage regional theaters (especially in the heartland) to produce the show. Another bluegrass score that got recorded was The Robber Bridegroom, Alfred Uhry and Robert Waldman’s rarely seen “Mississippi fairy tale” musical. The album of the Roundabout’s rollicking Off-Broadway revival with Stephen Pasquale is superior to the flat and creaky original album.

The acclaimed Broadway revivals of Fiddler on the Roof, The Color Purple and She Loves Me were all recorded. The Color Purple is a must-have album considering how the revival overshadowed the original production in virtually every way. On the other hand, it is difficult to outdo the original cast albums of Fiddler on the Roof and She Loves Me, and plenty of recordings already exist of both scores (which were both penned by Sheldon Harnick and Jerry Bock).

I long for the days when virtually every City Center Encores! show was recorded. It is especially a shame that the recent production of Cabin in the Sky (which marked a wholesale resuscitation of the score) went unpreserved, but it’s wonderful to have a recording of the 2015 Encores! production of Lerner and Loewe’s Paint Your Wagon, given that the original 1951 cast album is ancient and far too short (missing the overture and dance music). In spite of a wayward plot, the show has many vibrant songs, and listening to the album is a joy.

 


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