Various Artists

Broadway: Timeless Classics of Stage and Screen

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Broadway: Timeless Classics of Stage and Screen is a 36-track, two-CD box-set compilation of songs drawn primarily from stage musicals. No performers are credited on the album cover, which is always a bad sign. But it turns out that the tracks originated on the series of studio cast recordings that the British JAY Productions label has been turning out over the past ten years or so, recordings usually featuring original orchestrations and calling upon the talents of contemporary musical theater performers, many of whom appear frequently on Broadway and in the West End. For example, Rebecca Luker, who duets with Karen Mason on "Ohio" from Wonderful Town, has starred in Broadway revivals of The Sound of Music and The Music Man. Among the better-known names, Len Cariou (taking the Tevye part in "Sunrise Sunset" from Fiddler on the Roof) and Leslie Uggams ("It Only Takes a Moment" from Hello, Dolly!) have even originated starring roles on Broadway. The singers are usually accompanied by the National Symphony Orchestra, as conducted by John Owen Edwards or Martin Yates. So, the performances here are a cut above what one might expect from some anonymous show music collection, but a cut below a compilation of original cast recordings. Unfortunately, the packaging does not serve those performances. The selections, taken from shows that opened between the 1920s and the '90s, have been sequenced randomly, so that the transitions are sometimes odd. The songs tend to be ones that are well known outside the theater, but not always, which makes the choices sometimes seem arbitrary. Why use "He Lives in You" from The Lion King, for example, instead of, say, "Can You Feel the Love Tonight"? Among songwriters, Stephen Sondheim, the most renowned composer/lyricist of his generation, is underrepresented, with only two selections from West Side Story (for which he wrote only lyrics) included; George Gershwin is completely ignored. But then, the album does not constitute a history of the musical theater, which is certainly demonstrated by Michael Heatley's liner notes (a couple of sentences about the show from which each song comes, with nothing about these actual recordings) and the rest of the skimpy annotations. Heatley seems most familiar with the movie versions of the shows, not the stage versions. He apparently doesn't realize, for example, that "Maybe This Time" is a song written for Liza Minnelli's nightclub act that was later interpolated into the movie adaptation of Cabaret, mistakenly supposing it originated in the original stage production. Elsewhere, librettist Arthur Laurents gets his name misspelled, and composer Herbert Stothart is mistakenly credited as a lyricist. Such errors are characteristic of a sloppy project. But many of the performances on the album are of the caliber one might encounter in a Broadway or West End revival of one of these classic shows in the '90s or early 2000s.

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