Just as Joanne in Company asks whether anyone still wears a hat, this being my annual cast-album round-up article, I can’t help but wonder whether anyone still buys CDs of new Broadway cast albums instead of downloading (iTunes store) or streaming (Spotify, Amazon Prime, YouTube) them at a considerable discount. As a critic, even though I still receive CDs of new cast albums in the mail from press agents, I find it easier to listen to the same albums on Spotify. In fact, this year, new cast albums tended to show up on streaming sites before being made available on disc.
This past year brought about a lot of new cast albums, although I suspect that they have been overshadowed by the handful of Broadway musicals that have recently been filmed and distributed online, in movie theaters and/or on PBS (including Falsettos, Holiday Inn, She Loves Me and Newsies). Interestingly, none of these film recordings can be purchased on DVD or Blu-ray. Falsettos, Holiday Inn and She Loves Me can still be viewed online either through the increasingly valuable streaming service BroadwayHD or through the premium content section of the PBS website. Newsies (filmed while the national tour was in L.A., with Jeremy Jordan returning as Jack Kelly for the occasion) is currently available on Netflix. An American in Paris was recently filmed in London and will be screened in movie theaters shortly.
Also, let’s not forget the stunning London revival of Follies with Imelda Staunton, which is still being screened in movie theaters via the National Theatre Live series. Interestingly, there are no plans to record a cast album of the London Follies, which begs the question of whether it is now cheaper or more economically attractive to film a musical live than record a cast album (especially if we’re talking about a revival of a musical that has already been recorded multiple times).
The cast album of Dear Evan Hansen (released back in February) is all we have left now of Ben Platt’s unforgettable, extremely vulnerable, vocally superb performance. Listening to it gives one a better appreciation of the tight integration of the score (by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul) with the dialogue. (The script was recently published as part of the jumbo-sized souvenir book Dear Evan Hansen: Through the Window.) Other new Pasek and Paul albums this year include the soundtrack of the Barnum movie musical The Greatest Showman (generic pop for an overblown film trying to be a family-friendly Moulin Rouge) and the live television presentation of A Christmas Story (which failed to garner the same enthusiasm among television viewers that it has among regional theater audiences looking for holiday entertainment).
Personally speaking, my favorite cast album of the year is Bandstand, which I believe got a raw deal on Broadway. I do not think the show has a future in regional or amateur theater due to the difficulty of finding young male actors who can double as a swing band. However, the album sounds glorious, preserving the dynamic jazz band score and the gutsy performances of Corey Cott and Laura Osnes. Also worthy of mention is the similarly titled but far different, far more acclaimed The Band’s Visit, which showcases David Yazbek’s Middle Eastern flavored score. The score can feel muted in David Cromer’s hyper-realistic, somber production. Also highly recommended is the recording of the recent Broadway revival of Sunday in the Park with George with Jake Gyllenhaal and Annaleigh Ashford.
Other cast albums from 2017 include Anastasia (listen to the movie soundtrack instead), Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (revised Broadway version, just as terrible as the London recording, if not worse), Holiday Inn (White Christmas, Part Two, an unnecessary show that at least offers some interesting Irving Berlin rarities), War Paint (decent pastiche, but not on the same level of Grey Gardens, also by Scott Frankel and Michael Korie), Kid Victory (creepy, interesting, underappreciated work with music by John Kander), In Transit (a sanitized vision of the subway meets Pitch Perfect), Amelie (unmemorable soft pop), Come from Away (overrated pub rock) and Spamilton (for those who love Hamilton and/or miss Forbidden Broadway).
Two interesting new revival recordings from London include 42nd Street and Dreamgirls (with Amber Riley of Glee), and two curiosities include Hamlisch Uncovered (rare Marvin Hamlisch songs sung by the likes of Kelli O’Hara and Randy Graff) and Barnum Backers Audition (in which Cy Coleman and Michael Stewart explain and sing through an early version of Barnum). Thanks to The Greatest Showman, Barnum can now be looked at as the better P.T. Barnum bio musical.