|PRESSED TO DISK
|By MATT WINDMAN
Now that the Tony Awards have finally come and gone, let’s take a look at the cast albums of six new Broadway musicals from the past season.
The Book of Mormon
The Book of Mormon, which received rapturous reviews and is now a sold-out mega-hit, is also making history through just its cast album alone. Prior to its official release, the show’s producers streamed the album online for free and then sold it on Amazon.com for just $1.99 for four days. It has now become the fastest selling digitally released cast album to date. But more so, it is the first cast album to break into the Billboard Top 10 since Hair did back in 1969. Even Rent managed only to break into the Billboard Top 20.
A warning label on the album makes it clear that it contains explicit material. But the mere mention of the names Trey Parker and Matt Stone, who are best known as the creators of the foul-mouthed animated television show South Park, should be enough of a warning. But in spite of some curse words, The Book of Mormon is an upbeat, even sentimental musical that combines Rodgers & Hammerstein, Les Miz powerhouse ballads and tap dancing.
The album fully captures the unending originality, humor and heart that have made the musical so irresistible to Broadway insiders and mainstream audiences alike. Even while parodying Mormonism, particularly its controversial origin story and the doorbell-ringing practices of its dedicated followers, The Book of Mormon also celebrates the power of religion – any religion – to give people hope in the face of despair. Frank Rich even provides an essay in the liner notes in praise of the musical.
The orchestrations have been enhanced for the recording. Whereas they are played by nine musicians on Broadway, they were rewritten for 23 musicians on the album.
The Scottsboro Boys
It’s difficult to compare The Book of Mormon and The Scottsboro Boys, the two finest musicals of the year. While one is the biggest hit in years, the other quickly flopped. It didn’t even get the reviews that it deserved.
Billed as John Kander and the late Fred Ebb’s last musical, this innovative and daring exploration of the famous Scottsboro Boys trial in the 1930s was staged in the form of a turn-of-the-century minstrel show, just as Chicago was framed as a vaudeville and Cabaret as seedy and sexy nightclub entertainment.
This jarring mix of racist and anti-Semitic stereotypes, legal injustice, and physical abuse with the Old South and song-and-dance entertainment was brilliant, subversive and ultimately heartbreaking. While its cynical attitude and shocking content were often difficult to stomach, it told a true story that needs to be remembered and critically examined.
Even those who disliked the show’s book for being too heavy-hitting can certainly appreciate the masterful quality of the score. The album is also bound to inspire numerous regional theater productions across the country that will hopefully receive the recognition that the musical unfortunately missed on Broadway.
Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson
At barely a half hour in length, this might just be the shortest cast album in musical theater history. You can listen to the entire score on your way to work. And if you like it, you can listen to the whole thing again on your way home.
In addition to providing “emo” rock ballads,