Over the Rainbow and Over the Moon to a Better Place Than Brooklyn

Brooklyn – the Musical, Razor & Tie 82930-2
The New Moon, Ghostlight Records 4403-2
Finian’s Rainbow, Ghostlight Records 4402-2

Three cast recordings have just come in the mail. THE NEW MOON, FINIAN’S RAINBOW and BROOKLYN the Musical

The fact that a show title needs a descriptor is troubling to me. If BROOKLYN needs to be defined maybe it isn’t ready to be called what it wants to be. After all mention THE NEW MOON, FINIAN’S RAINBOW and anyone who’s interested will already know that they are musicals. Imagine introducing Pete Sampras the Tennis Player, Tiger Woods the Golfer. The name alone conjures up an image of the personality or the product. So why can’t BROOKLYN simply be BROOKLYN?

Could it be that it doesn’t really know what it wants to be? So many shows call themselves musicals, but are they really? Just stringing a group of songs together with some sort of �storyline� does not constitute a musical. The problem today is that musical genres and styles are constantly homogenised and pasteurised to suit the music marketing industry.

I have never been a big fan of pop music �Broadway� scores. Hair, Rent and J.C.Superstar have never real fulfilled my need for a good �showtune�. I love The Beatles, The Beach Boys, Billy Joel and the amazing folk/rock writers of the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s but they’re not songs for the musical theatre stage. Put them in a Broadway theatre. Sing them whatever way you like, be it acoustic or amplified. Write a story to go with the songs, but please, don’t call them musicals . Contemporary musical theatre composers like Ricky Ian Gordon, Jason Robert Brown, Adam Guettel and Michael John LaChiusa have been inspired by people like Joni Mitchel and Billy Joel, but when they write, they write for �Broadway�, or the concert hall, opera stage, cabaret room, recital hall or pop arena.

Why must everything be the same to be popular? Shopping malls, pop music and bulging underwear billboards are taking over the world. Go to any major city in the world and they look, sound and smell the same. Boring. The sound of �musicals� is being squeezed out of existence by this need for global uniformity in what we watch and listen to.

How has BROOKLYN managed to raise the funds to be produced on Broadway and Stephen Sondheim’s latest ( Bounce) barely rates a cast recording? The producers of BROOKLYN must see some commercial potential in it, or are they really willing to just throw their money away?

I have not seen BROOKLYN. So it is unfair to pass judgement on the production. I have read critic and audience reviews and met several people who have seen it. The general consensus seems to be �why?�.

So here I am listening to the cast recording. I should note that this recording was done in a recording studio with a live studio audience. This must be a first in cast recording and marketing history. Shows have been recorded during performance, but not with a �studio� audience. The need to include audience applause and cheers on the recording highlights insecurity on the part of the creators and producers to let the recording stand on its own merits.

The recording label Razor and Tie is to be commended for picking up the title for release. I love to add new cast recordings to my collection, and share them with my radio listening audience. Unfortunately BROOKLYN does not stack up well against the pack. However, it is in good company with a list as long as your arm of shows and recordings that never ranked in the annals of musical theatre history. Its pop music style immediately makes it sound generic and transient. The lyrics are neither poetic nor funny or meaningful. There is a bundle of talent on stage in this show: Kevin Anderson, Cleavant Derricks, Eden Espinosa, Ramona Keller and Karen Olivo. It’s a shame they don’t get to do something better constructed.

Ghostlight Records is a new subsidiary of Sh-k-boom Records, created by Kurt Deutsch. Sh-k-boom has been created to ensure the recording of new works and the new �sound� of Broadway. Supporting a list of new Broadway performers by producing their solo albums and releasing the cast recordings of �The Last Five Years� by Jason Robert Brown, �Debbie Does Dallas� by Andrew Sherman, Michel LeGrand’s ��Amour� and �Bare� by Damon Intrabartolo & Jon Hartmere Jr . Kurt is taking proactive steps towards building new audiences for �Broadway� musicals in the 21 st century. Establishing Ghostlight Records creates a bridge joining the old with the new. Two new releases have launched this new label: City Center Encores! � Sigmund Romberg’s THE NEW MOON and The Irish Repertory Theatre’s production of FINIAN’S RAINBOW. Unlike BROOKLYN I shall be playing these more frequently over the coming months. Both recordings are absolutely delightful.

While THE NEW MOON is still very much in the operetta style that Romberg helped to establish in America at the turn of the (20 th ) century, this new recording brings bright new voices to songs that became standards when they were first heard: �Softly, as in a Morning Sunrise�, Stouthearted Men�, �One Kiss�, �Wanting You� and �Lover, Come Back to Me�. The cast includes: Rodney Gilfry, Christiane Noll, Lauren Ward, Burke Moses, Peter Benson, Simon Jones, Danny Rutigliano, Ailx Korey, Brandon Jovanovich, Mary Ann Lamb and Alex Sanchez.

�Operetta� – Here is another interesting genre. Not quite opera, not quite �Broadway�. THE NEW MOON was a collaboration of Sigmund Romberg and Oscar Hammerstein II. At the same time that Hammerstein was collaborating with Romberg he was about to make musical theatre history writing the book and lyrics to Jerome Kern’s music for Showboat . Transition and transformation in musical theatre is what makes it exciting.

FINIAN’S RAINBOW has one of the best Broadway scores ever written, including �How Are Things in Glocca Morra?�, �Look To the Rainbow�, �Old Devil Moon�, �If This Isn’t Love�, �That Great Come-and-Get-It Day�, �When I’m Not Near The Girl I Love�. Unfortunately the script has not worn well over time. Even with a re-write by the late Peter Stone, a Broadway bound production of a few years ago never made it to New York. Charlotte Moore adapted the script in 2003 for a benefit concert. It is this adaptation that is used by The Irish Repertory Theatre in this off-Broadway concert style production. Performed with two pianos rather than full orchestration the stellar cast for this chamber production: Mark Aldrich, Melissa Errico, Jonathan Freeman, Malcolm Gets, Jonathan Hadley, Eric Jackson, Jayne Ackley Lynch, Kerry O’Malley, Kimberly Dawn Neumann, John Sloman, David Staller, Joacquin Stevens, Max V
on Essen and Terri White give a bright and delightful sound to this Broadway favorite. With a test run and a recording now available, City Center Encores! � should seriously consider this production for a future season. With the luck of the Irish it could finally develop into a Broadway run.

�See you at the theatre!�

©Henry Sachwald December 2004

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