New York-based independent label DRG Records certainly doesn't have the market on cast recordings to itself; the major labels still issue most of the original Broadway cast albums, and there are other competitors in the field. But 28 years into its existence, DRG continues to devote itself primarily to show music, and this sampler of cast recordings it issued between 2002 and 2004 gives a representative sense of the state of Broadway in the early 21st century. Of the seven albums drawn upon for the collection, three chronicled one-person shows, two presented revivals of Broadway shows, and two were original Broadway cast albums. Of those two last, however, one, Taboo, was a British import and the other, Little Shop of Horrors, was a revival of an off-Broadway show. So, there is no music here that was newly written for the Broadway stage, a surprisingly appropriate reflection of an era when the dispensers of the Tony Awards strain each year to find enough nominees in the new musical category. Broadway continually recycles its past, and here listeners are treated to music dating back to 1924 (Barbara Cook's performance of Irving Berlin's "What'll I Do," actually not written for a show) and including numbers from such vintage musicals as The Threepenny Opera, Follies, Annie Get Your Gun, and South Pacific. While the performers from Taboo, Little Shop of Horrors, and the revivals of Flower Drum Song and Wonderful Town are all excellent, the album is dominated by the three women who took their special productions to Broadway, Bea Arthur, Elaine Stritch, and Barbara Cook. In addition to their similarity (especially that between the funny, plain-spoken veterans Arthur and Stritch), the album reveals interactions between them, as Cook even tells a story about Stritch. The three are commentators about the history of Broadway, particularly Stritch, who presents a version of "There's No Business Like Show Business" in which she provides personal footnotes to the song's lyrics. Broadway's history is in good hands in the reminiscences of these women, but they also give this collection a distinctly retrospective feel.
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AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann