August 9, 2008

There Is Nothin' Like A Great Cast Album

My California friends Bill and Joyce visited New York last month and, of course, they wanted to see some Broadway shows. I suggested the Tony winners August: Osage County, In the Heights and South Pacific. They got tickets to the first two and while they really enjoyed August, they were knocked out by In the Heights. Earlier this week Bill emailed to tell me that they’d just ordered the cast album. If they could have gotten into the sold-out South Pacific, they might also have bought its sensational new cast recording.

If you love Broadway musicals, then you probably own a bunch of cast albums too. They’re the closest way we’ve got to bring the thrill of a musical home. But I confess to envying cinephiles whose DVDs of their favorite movies come with all kinds of special features, like director's commentaries and making-of videos. With cast albums, what you see (or hear) is pretty much all you get.

It wasn’t always that way. In the golden era that began with the original cast recording of Oklahoma!, which came out on six discs in 1943, the major record studios released recordings on multiple LPs that were often accompanied by coffee-table-sized souvenir books, color photos, liner notes, and lyric sheets. But in the Dark Ages of the 1970s and ‘80s the labels started backing away from recording shows, sometimes trimming their scores to fit on just one LP and often jettisoning most of the extras.

Since 2001, Sh-K-Boom and Ghostlight Records, owned by Sherie Rene Scott, who’s currently in The Little Mermaid, and her husband Kurt Deutsch, have been recording hits, flops and cult favorites (In the Heights and Passing Strange are among their recent releases; a version of [title of show] came out in 2006). And all praise to them for doing so. But these new recordings and the few produced by other labels come out on CDs (or as digital downloads) and their extras have to be crammed into that small space.

So although I’ve written about it before, I’m giving another big shoutout to the folks at Sony Masterworks Broadway. Their original cast recording of the new Lincoln Center production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific came out right before the show won the Tony award for Best Revival. And while the actual CD comes in the customary no-frills packaging, there are loads of extras online, including some truly terrific podcasts that can be downloaded to your iPod.

Nearly everyone connected with the show has recorded his or her thoughts about it and there are eight separate podcasts, running in length from eight minutes to 22. Kelli O’Hara talks about how she based Nellie Forbush’s racial attitudes on those of her grandmother, a southerner who grew up in the 1930s and was “carefully taught certain things.” Loretta Ables Sayre expresses how much it means to her to be the first woman from the South Pacific to play Bloody Mary. Director Bartlett Sher explains how he cast the show and battled the ghosts of Mary Martin and Enzio Pinza. But my favorite is Bert Fink, the head of publicity for the Rodgers and Hammerstein Organization, who is a font of tidbits about the history of the musical including what happened on the closing night of the original production.

Videos and photos from the recording session (and what straight woman or gay guy doesn’t want another look at the show's leading man Paulo Szot) as well as a sampling of songs from the album are available on the website, (click here to go there). You can find all of the podcasts on iTunes. It's all totally enchanting and totally free.

1 comment:

Esther said...

Wow, I had no idea there used to be such lavish packaging. While I love the "Curtains" cast recording, I was so disappointed that the lyrics weren't included. You have to go to the web site and download them, which is fine, but what do you do with them afterward? You can print them out, but they don't fit nicely in the little plastic case. I've downloaded a few of the South Pacific podcasts. I'll have to go back and get the one with Bert Fink. It sounds great!