Albums

Ultimate Broadway 2

Ultimate Broadway 2

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  1. Disc 1
  2. 1. Overture to Gypsy (London Cast Orchestra)
  3. 2. I, Don Quixote (from Man of La Mancha – Brian Stokes Mitchell)
  4. 3. Run, Freedom, Run! (from Urinetown – Hunter Foster)
  5. 4. Your Daddy’s Son (from Ragtime – Audra McDonald)
  6. 5. The Music of the Night (from The Phantom of the Opera – Colm Wilkinson)
  7. 6. All That Jazz (from Chicago – Bebe Neuwirth, Ann Reinking, Ensemble)
  8. 7. Gimme Gimme (from Thoroughly Modern Millie – Sutton Foster)
  9. 8. O soave fanciulla (from La bohème – Plácido Domingo, Montserrat Caballé, Sherrill Milnes)
  10. 9. Next Best Thing To Love (from A Class Act – Randy Graff)
  11. 10. Cabaret (from Cabaret – Natasha Richardson, Alan Cumming)
  12. 11. Springtime For Hitler (from The Producers – Mel Brooks)
  13. 12. Losing My Mind (from Follies – Barbara Cook)
  14. 13. Time Warp (from The Rocky Horror Show – Raúl Esparza)
  15. 14. Oklahoma! & Finale: Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’ (from Oklahoma!)
  16. 15. Breeze Off the River (from The Full Monty – Patrick Wilson)
  17. 16. Big Spender (from Fosse – Valarie Pettiford, Jane Lanier)
  18. 17. Gee, Officer Krupke (from West Side Story – Blast)
  19. 18. Agony (from Into The Woods – Robert Westenberg, Chuck Wagner)
  20. 19. Bring Him Home (from Les Misérables – Colm Wilkinson)
  21. 20. Lullaby of Broadway (from 42nd Street – Jerry Orbach, Wanda Richert)

Synopsis

Read the arts pages of any New York newspaper, any time over the last century or so, and inevitably you will find some reference to the Broadway theatre havine seen better days, comments about the dearth of new talent, and pronouncements that Broadway, “the fabulous invalid,” is dying. The short-sighted prognosticators perpetuating this claim inevitably fail to reckon with the patient itself, who shows little evidence of slowing down as we enter the 21st century.

These commentators do have a point in that Broadway does not originate its attractions as frequently as before, but often serves as a destination for plays and musicals that develop elsewhere. And, too, revivals have assumed equal importance with new work. But the freshness and ingenuity that go into a Broadway production still offer the contemporary theatregoer an experience unlike any to be found elsewhere. In the musical theatre, Broadway is the place to be.

Ultimate Broadway II is a musical photo album, offering pictures in sound of some of the shows you may encounter on Broadway, as well as in touring productions, in the first years of the third millenium. A new revival of Gypsy, starring Bernadette Peters, is one of the most anticipated Broadway productions of Spring 2003; the overture, among the most perfect of its kind, is a fitting opening to Ultimate Broadway II. Curtain up and lights lit, we move on to one of today’s musical theatre heartthrobs, Brian Stokes Mitchell, gallantly proclaiming himself “Man of La Mancha”, from the new Broadway cast album of the 2002 revival.

A satirical musical with the unlikely name of Urinetown sprang up from far-off off-off-Broadway to capture three 2002 Tony Awards®, including one for its score. A highlight from the original cast album is the pseudo-gospel number, “Run, Freedom, Run,” in which an idealistic young rebel (Hunter Foster) exhorts an unhappy, not too intelligent populace to unite behind his cause. (In one of several subtle connections between selections on this album, we will be hearing from Hunter’s sister Sutton later on.)

A Broadway showstopper can be slow and soulful rather than fast and energetic. Toward the end of the 20th century, a musical called Ragtime presented a panoramic view of events from the beginning of the century. Audra McDonald won her third Tony Award® for her portrayal of Sarah, who sings a haunting lullaby to her infant son, explaining why she had tried to bury him alive. Less a lullaby than a nocturne, “The Music of the Night” is the anthem with which The Phantom of the Opera lures the heroine into a mysterious relationship. Colm Wilkinson delivers a soulful performance from his album Stage Heroes.

A very different kind of night music launches the vaudeville-style musical Chicago, enjoying new popularity as a feature film. The cast album of the 1996 Tony Award®-winning Broadway revival opens with “All That Jazz,” in which we meet Velma Kelly (Tony® winner Bebe Neuwirth) and Roxie Hart (Ann Reinking), the two headliners on murderesses’ row in Chicago in the roaring ’20s. Meanwhile, back in New York City, Thoroughly Modern Millie is leaving her own imprint on the jazz age; Sutton Foster finally surrenders to the power of love in the joyous ballad “Gimme Gimme.” Millie got her Jimmy, and Ms. Foster got her Tony®.

Mimi and Rodolfo are the protagonists of the opera La bohème, brought to Broadway in a hip new production by film director Baz Luhrmann in 2002. Before a huge neon “L’amour” sign, with the rooftops of Paris in the background, they proclaim (in Italian) their newfound love in a passionate duet, here drawn from a recording featuring two opera superstars, Montserrat Caballé and Plácido Domingo. Later in the opera, Mimi tells Rodolfo that it is over between them, a moment in a relationship often set to music; so we move from a classical act to A Class Act, in which Randy Graff sings a rueful postmortem to an ex-lover allowing that they had the “Next Best Thing To Love.”

When one has loved and lost, there is nothing to do but come to the Cabaret, as Natasha Richardson explains in the cast album of the 1998 hit revival of that show, set in Berlin just before the dawn of the Third Reich. Both Richardson and Alan Cumming, heard introducing Fräulein Sally Bowles, won Tonys®, as did the revival. In The Producers, Mel Brooks creates a musical within a musical, set soon after the time of Cabaret, with a lavish opening number celebrating “Springtime for Hitler.” Our recording comes from the original film soundtrack, and includes a cameo appearance by Mr. Brooks.

Mr. B. was undoubtedly accused of having lost his mind when he first conceived “Springtime for Hitler,” so it seems appropriated to have musical legend Barbara Cook wondering if she has lost hers in a song from Follies (taken from the RCA album Follies In Concert) that was also part of her one-woman show Mostly Sondheim (2001). In The Rocky Horror Show it appears that all the characters have lost their minds in a “Time Warp;” Raúl Esparza, Daphne Rubin-Vega, and Dick Cavett lead the 2001 revival cast in this instructional ditty.

Escaping from the time warp, we find ourselves a few years prior to the events of Ragtime and out on the plains of Oklahoma!, where settlers are celebrating the establishment of a brand new state and a beautiful morning. A spectacular new production of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s first hit traveled from London in 1999 to Broadway in 2002, exposing a new generation to one of the best musicals of all time. The cast album of an earlier revival (1979) provides us with an “Oklahoma O-K.”

Daddy’s turn at lullabies: Patrick Wilson, who played Curly in the Oklahoma! of 2002, became a star in the original cast of The Full Monty in which, as a divorced father addressing his sleeping son, he introduced the heartfelt ballad “Breeze Off the River.” The unemployed men of The Full Monty scheme to make money as male exotic dancers. “Big Spender,” a song from Sweet Charity that was a highlight of the musical revue Fosse, features female dancers, somewhat more mercenary and only slightly less exotic.

Strip clubs and dance halls have seen their share of the police, but they don’t arrive in marching bands the way they do in this rendition of “Gee, Officer Krupke” from BLAST!. This evening-long halftime show won the very first Tony Award® for Special Theatrical Event (2001), with its imaginative choreographic routines to fresh arrangements of pop and classical standards. From the evidence presented here, the eponymous officer, once the nemesis of the West Side Story gangs, has been watching too many cartoons.

The Tony®-winning revival of Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods in 2002 enabled a new generation of parents to introduce their children to the wonders of musical theatre. From the original production’s cast album comes an earnest and hilarious duet between rival sibling princes in “Agony.”

One of Broadway’s longest-running musicals, Les Misérables, ended its 16-year New York residency in 2003. Colm Wilkinson originated the role of the hero, Jean Valjean, on Broadway, and reprises one of his most memorable songs, the prayer “Bring Him Home” on his Stage Heroes album.

Now comes the quintessential Broadway musical about Broadway musicals. 42nd Street actually originated as a film, Its first Broadway staging was a sensation, and the Tony®-winning revival in 2001 once again had toes tapping happily, this time in a theatre actually on 42nd Street. Earlier we heard lullabies from Ragtime and the Full Monty, but there is no better way to close this collection of Broadway snapshots than with Jerry Orbach, from the original cast album of 42nd Street, reminding us of the greatest lullaby of all.
— Daniel Guss