The Musicals Album Review

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Review:

My devotion to Michael Ball is long-lasting and rather infamous among my friends. “Michael Ball sings it better” is something you hear a lot from me. Michael Ball sings everything better. (Well, almost everything.) Like my favorite operatic tenor, Placido Domingo, he’s a natural baritone with the vocal range of a tenor, which gives his voice a richness and depth that most pure tenors don’t have without sacrificing the ability to hit those high notes. And hold them, and hold them…

Amazingly, he’s had no formal vocal training, but his incredible voice has made him one of the leading musical theater stars of London’s West End since he created the role of Marius in Les Miserables in the mid-80’s. With The Musicals, he gets back to his roots with an enjoyable collection of songs from some of Broadway and the West End’s greatest hits.

Surprisingly, however, the album isn’t as good as it ought to be. There are several strange song choices and arrangements. Several of the songs are written for female characters, and despite switching the pronouns, they don’t quite work for a man. “I Dreamed a Dream” in particular jars me, because no 19th century man is going to have his life ruined by being seduced and abandoned to the extent of Fantine, so complaining about “this hell I’m living” comes off a bit rich. Maybe if I didn’t know her story so well, it wouldn’t bother me so much, but it does. “The Last Night of the World” and “All I Ask of You,” which are duets in Miss Saigon and The Phantom of the Opera, also sound kind of strange as solo songs.

Despite my misgivings about some of the song choices, Ball’s voice is incredible throughout. His rendition of “Anthem” (from Chess) is especially inspiring.

“Let man’s petty nations tear themselves apart/My land’s only borders lie around my heart!”

My rating:3 Stars (3 / 5), but “Anthem” is 5 Stars (5 / 5)

The Phantom of the Opera: Original London Cast Albums Review

When I was a child, there was a Carol Burnett/Julie Andrews skit that I thought was absolutely hilarious called “The Phantom of the Opry”:

Inspired, my parents gave me the “Highlights from The Phantom of the Opera: Original London Cast” album for my 8th birthday and I’ve been a huge “phan” ever since.

To this day, more than 25 years after the musical opened on London’s West End, the original London cast is considered the best by many phans. Though I enjoyed the 25th Anniversary Concert and the three touring productions I’ve seen of the stage musical, I have to agree. Sarah Brightman’s acting skills apparently left something to be desired on stage (see the music video below for evidence), but her high, pure soprano was perfect for the role of Christine and comes across beautifully in the cast albums, while Michael Crawford’s vocals – by turns hypnotically beautiful and threatening – epitomized angel, phantom, and ultimately, man.

Which original London cast album is right for you?

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Phantom of the Opera 25th Anniversary Concert Review

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Review:

I recently had the pleasure of watching the Phantom of the Opera 25th Anniversary Concert on PBS.

As a longtime “phan” of the Andrew Lloyd Webber stage musical, I was terribly disappointed by the 2004 film version. Though there were some impressive special effects – especially the amazing opening sequence – the singing was mediocre, the Phantom’s supposedly horrific deformity looked like a bad sunburn, and there were some remarkably stupid changes to the plot.

Despite high hopes, I came away from the theater after seeing the 2004 film with the conclusion that the world was still missing a great video Phantom for phans who can’t make it to Broadway or the West End whenever they want to see the show live. With the Phantom of the Opera 25th Anniversary Concert, we’ve come much closer to having it.

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The Secret Garden Original Broadway Cast Recording Album Review

The Secret Garden (Original Broadway Cast Recording)

Price: $8.90

4.8 out of 5 stars (38 customer reviews)

15 used & new available from $4.47

Review:

I was introduced to this musical by an excellent local production and liked it so much I went out and bought the Broadway cast album, which has become a favorite. Rebecca Luker is simply extraordinary as Lily. Her high, clear soprano is both warm and haunting.

The rest of the cast is also excellent, though I personally prefer Mandy Patinkin’s acting to his singing and favor the Anthony Warlow/Philip Quast version of the show’s biggest hit song, Lily’s Eyes:

Other favorite songs include  I Heard Someone Crying, A Girl In The Valley, Show Me The Key, The Girl I Mean To Be, Quartet: There’s A Man, Hold On, and Letter Song.

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My rating:4 Stars (4 / 5)

The Scarlet Pimpernel Original Broadway Cast Recording

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Review:

I’ve never seen this musical live, but the soundtrack is very enjoyable and I’m surprised The Scarlet Pimpernel never became a bigger hit. As a huge fan of Terrence Mann, who played the villain Chauvelin, I have to say that his songs are my favorite, particularly the swoon-worthy “Where’s the Girl?” and the viciously cynical trio “The Riddle.”

There’s also some excellent comedy songs and I’m impressed by Douglas Sills’s ability to transition seamlessly between the roles of clownish buffoon and dashing hero.

My rating:4 Stars (4 / 5)

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Singin’ in the Rain Movie Review

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Review:

Before I watched this movie, pretty much the only thing I knew about it was the iconic titular scene, so I knew the singing and dancing were going to be amazing, but I expected the plot to be some sort of corny romance.

I was therefore very pleasantly surprised to discover that much of the movie was actually taken up by a hilarious plot about the bumpy transition from silent films to “talking pictures.” Really the only thing I didn’t like was the strange “Broadway Melody” sequence, which had great dancing courtesy of the legendary Cyd Charisse, but was just kind of weird and out of place.

My rating:4 Stars (4 / 5)

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Les Miserables (2012) Movie Review

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Review:

A more successful film adaptation of a Broadway musical than The Phantom of the Opera thanks to excellent performances from a much stronger ensemble cast, but still vocally disappointing. (I know it’s not really fair to compare the voices of non-musical theater actors with those of musical theater stars, like those who filled the cast of the Les Miserables 10th Anniversary Concert, but I can’t help it!)

At least they were smart enough to cast a bona-fide Broadway star (Samantha Barks) in the role of Eponine. (“On My Own” being the showstopper song you really don’t want to mess up.) I was also impressed by Anne Hathaway’s rendition of “I Dreamed a Dream,” which was too quiet and broken to work on stage, but fit the character at that stage of her life perfectly.

My rating:3 Stars (3 / 5)

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The Phantom of the Opera (2005) Movie Review

The Phantom of the Opera (Widescreen Edition) (DVD)
Actors: Gerard Butler, Emmy Rossum, Patrick Wilson, Miranda Richardson, Minnie Driver
Director: Joel Schumacher
Format: Multiple Formats, Closed-captioned, Color, Dolby, Dubbed, NTSC
Language: English (Dolby Digital 5.1), French (Dolby Digital 5.1)
Subtitles: English, Spanish, French
Studio: WarnerBrothers
Running Time: 141 minutes

List Price: $5.97
Price: $13.00
146 offers available from $0.79
4.7 out of 5 stars (3748)

Review:

As a longtime “phan,” I was pretty excited about this film, but I’m sad to say it disappointed me. Though visually stunning (the opening scene when the theater is restored to former glory was particularly breathtaking), the vocals were not up to par, especially Gerard Butler as the Phantom, whose voice was gravelly rather than seductive and bore no resemblance to anything that might be realistically mistaken for the voice of an angel. There were also some alterations to the plot that managed to be both pointless and stupid, and I can’t get over the awfulness of Butler’s makeup, which resembled a bad sunburn or case of hives more than a terrifying deformity.

phantomdeformity

Oh well.

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My rating:2 Stars (2 / 5)

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Les Miserables 10th Anniversary Concert Album Review

Review:

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If you’ve spent any time around theater geeks, you know that the question of which Les Miserables cast album is the best is a topic that can lead to heated arguments, and even feuds. This one gets my vote.

Though the production itself was visually bland (a bunch of people standing on stage in costumes and singing into microphones), it was able to get most of the most legendary stars of the first ten years, and the vocals are simply outstanding. Colm Wilkinson. Philip Quast. Lea Salonga. Michael Ball. Alun Armstrong. It’s called the “Dream Cast” for good reasons – the names are enough to send almost any theater lover into raptures. And they live up to their reputations.

My rating:5 Stars (5 / 5)

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