Original Cast

Completing the Century

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Completing the Century concludes the Metropolitan Opera Guild's series of nine double-CD sets chronicling "100 Years of the American Musical Theater" by presenting 36 selections from Broadway cast recordings of 36 shows that opened between 1980 and 1994 on two discs with a running time of 141 minutes. The period is marked by the continuing dominance of composer/lyricist Stephen Sondheim, with songs from his scores for Merrily We Roll Along, Sunday in the Park with George, Into the Woods, Assassins, and Passion. No other songwriters match him, though the team of John Kander and Fred Ebb has three selections; composer Cy Coleman has three, each with different lyricists; and William Finn, Charles Strouse, Richard Maltby, Jr., and Alan Menken each turn up more than once. Several veterans have their last hurrahs, notably Alan Jay Lerner and Jule Styne; new talents like Michael John LaChuisa and the team of Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens are introduced; and there are such interesting one-shots as Roger Miller, Rupert Holmes, and the team of Henry Krieger and Tom Eyen (Dreamgirls). The era saw a decline in new musicals but a rise in Broadway revenues, which is partially explained by the proliferation of revivals (Anything Goes, Guys and Dolls, Carousel) and shows made up of vintage music from other sources (42nd Street, Sophisticated Ladies, Jelly's Last Jam). The singers are as good as in any era, and they include Lauren Bacall, Gregory Hines (twice), Jennifer Holliday, Liza Minnelli, Mandy Patinkin (twice), Patti LuPone, Keith Carradine, and Faith Prince. It was not a period that found Broadway on the pop charts: only Holliday's impassioned "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going" from Dreamgirls was a substantial hit. But the songs are often memorable, from "Four Jews in a Room Bitching," the clever, provocative opener to William Finn's March of the Falsettos, to "Mama Will Provide," the moving ballad from Flaherty and Ahrens' Once on This Island. Still, if any further evidence of Stephen Sondheim's preeminence in this era (not to mention his influence on the next generation) were needed, this set, by matching his songs against those of his contemporaries, provides it definitively. (And this even though producer Paul Gruber often has not picked the most accessible Sondheim songs for inclusion.) One need only compare the exquisite "Finishing the Hat," from Sunday in the Park with George, to the song that follows it, Roger Miller's pleasant but hapless hoedown "Muddy Water," from Big River, to appreciate the difference. (Note that the American focus of the series excludes the works of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Claude-Michel Schonberg, which achieved massive popularity during this period.)