My (current) top five favorite cast recordings


It’s been admittedly slow on Chicago Theatre Addict for the past few weeks. However, starting today, the theatre machine is in full-force. See the [CTA] Show Tracker to the left for what’s in store. Want to add your show to the list? Just contact me, and I’ll do my best to fit it in.

Anyway. I’m kind of a musical freak. And Zev Valancy over at On Chicago Theatre got me thinking about the magic of revisiting favorite cast recordings. If I were to lose my iPod on some Chicago street corner (or, heaven forbid, have it stolen), I bet the recipient would be like, “WTF is this sh*t?” There are a lot of showtunes jammed in that device. I’m fairly new to the iPod culture, so the concept of having nearly my entire musical library on hand in one portable device is pretty huge for me. And it’s allowed me to revisit some classic cast recordings I haven’t listened to in years.

So, I thought I’d share some of my favorites. Lucky you!

Also: how am I defining “favorite?” Well, for me, at this moment, it’s a cast recording that:

  • I constantly find myself turning to
  • Makes me happy and/or engaged
  • Takes my mind off things
  • Makes the morning commute fly by

So take that in consideration with this list (which I’m sure will change tomorrow):

1) Anything Goes: 1987 Lincoln Center revival – Patti LuPone and Howard McGillin are gold in this recording. She’s 110% sass and brass, and he’s pure class with a creamy tenor. Just listen to her blare in “Blow, Gabriel, Blow” or  his crooning of “All Through the Night.” Dynamite and dreamy, all in one.

2) Sweeney Todd: Original Broadway Cast – You just can’t compare this recording with any others on the market. While George Hearn is thrilling and explosive as Sweeney the 2002 New York Philharmonic concert recording, Len Cariou’s calm-crazy is infinitely more chilling. And no one can touch Lansbury’s Lovett. No one. And, hello? It’s Sondheim’s masterpiece. Side note: I’m still waiting for a decent recording of A Little Night Music, my favorite Sondheim score. All the ones I know of either don’t completely represent his score, or have tinny, reduced orchestrations. Someone get on that.

3) City of Angels: Original London Cast – Here’s one that might be unexpected for you showtune geeks. I love Cy Coleman’s snappy score, but I’m not a fan of the OBC recording. Maybe it’s because the London cast recording was my first exposure to this rarely-produced show, and we tend to show allegiance to our firsts, but I think the performances on the recording are just better all-around.

4) Crazy for You: Original Broadway Cast – Tap dancing, glimmering orchestrations by William D. Brohn, a fantastic Gershwin score. What’s not to love?

5) A New Brain – Unexpected, perhaps? If you haven’t checked out this recording yet, you should. William Finn’s quirky, semi-autobiographical musical is just what the doctor ordered on a dreary el ride home. It’s a score filled with great standalone numbers, and the cast in this recording is stellar (including a young Kristin Chenoweth in the ensemble). Norm Lewis’ “Sailing” makes the album.

Share your favorite cast recordings in the comments!

9 thoughts on “My (current) top five favorite cast recordings

  1. I can’t believe that you didn’t put “Evita” on your list since LuPone belts the hell out of that music. Though after all these years of hearing other recordings where she’s even more powerful that might have been the reason it didn’t make the list. There are some notes she hits in “Blow Gabriel, Blow” that I’m constantly rewinding because they’re insane.

    It’s funny I must be the only person who could never warm up to Madame Lansbury’s singing in “Sweeney Todd” and always thought that the singers couldn’t match the orchestrations on that one. I try to make my life easier by just lumping all Sondheim shows together when it comes to cast recordings though I will always have a love of “Into the Woods” as that was the first Sondheim show I ever saw and the next day forced my parents to take me to the record store to buy the cast recording along with “Anything Goes” and “Evita”.

    I agree about the Broadway cast recording of “City of Angels” Gregg Edelman always sounds flat especially during Funny, Kay Mcclelland, God Bless her sounds like an understudy thrown into the part and even though I do love Randy Graff she’s just not as vocally good as Susannah Fellows is from the London recording though in the Chicago tour I saw Betsy Joslyn the Johnna from the “Sweeney Todd” video play the role and she was fabulous. She belted everything in soprano and included that machine gun vibrato that you either love or hate.

    I am surprised about “Crazy for You” if for no other reason then the Original Broadway Cast??? Maybe its I just keep thinking “My One and Only” when I think of this show or that Jodie Benson sounds like she’s got the sniffles but if I had a choice I’d pick the Ruthie Henshall London recording. Though I know a lot of people who hate Ruthie I think she’s the Bees Knees.

    As for “A New Brain” I’m not surprised you picked it as it’s probably William Finn’s most emotional work, it’s one of two shows that anyone could stand Mary Testa, the other being “Lucky Stiff” and everytime I hear “Heart and Music” I get misty-eyed and also love the “Toss it Out” number tha Penny Fuller gets.

    I won’t mention what my favorite recordings are because there are way too many to put into a list of top 5 let alone top 50 but honestly great list. Bobby Baby if you haven’t heard it yet you should listen to the original cast recording of “Hello Again” interesting music and a bunch of soon to be stars and Carolee Carmello’s “Tom” is a killer. Also for sentimental reasons I’d though in the original cast of “Rent” only because I still remember waiting at midnight on a Monday at Tower Records so I could get a copy before it was released on Tuesday and then walking home listening to the score. As for “A Little Night Music’s” you might enjoy the Royal National Theater with Judi Dench though she does come across as Desiree if played by a trucker.

    StevenD

    1. Hey, hon!

      What a comment!

      Evita did cross my mind, but I only listen to the LuPone tracks, so that doesn’t really count as a full recording. And she sounds way better in the coughbootlegscough than she does on that recording. She’s too tame.

      I do enjoy the OLC of “Crazy For You,” but something about the recording just doesn’t sit right with me. Probably, again, because the OBC was my first exposure to the show, and we tend to show allegiance towards our firsts.

      And I also have the RNT “A Little Night Music.” There are too many changes to the score for me to really enjoy it, and Johanna Riding, as much as I love her in other things, sounds horrible as Anne on the recording. She simply can’t hit the notes.

      “Hello Again” is too depressing for a commute. :)

  2. Awww, I’m glad I could inspire you! I wouldn’t even try to make a top 5, though there’s a good chance the OBC of Sweeney Todd would be on the list if I did. And I didn’t even know they recorded the London “City of Angels”–I remember it being a pretty notorious flop at the time.

    I really need to get down to re-listening to all of my music now!

  3. A New Brain is one of my favorites as well. And Sailing really is one of the most beautifully executed songs on the recording!! I still sometimes tear up listening to this show….and I’ve heard it A LOT!! :)

  4. For me, its always something that shifts like the weather. There are some constants, but I never like to peg down a definitive list.

    Right now (ask tomorrow and something new will pop in):

    The Light in the Piazza – Original Broadway Cast Recording
    A Little Night Music – Original Broadway Cast Recording
    Regina – 1958 NYCO Cast Recording
    The Rothschilds – Original Broadway Cast Recording
    She Loves Me – Original Broadway Cast Recording

  5. I’ve got a question about one of my faves, the SWEENEY TODD OBCR. Where was it recorded? I mean, this may be a silly question, but parts of it sound like it was recorded onstage to me.

    1. Hi, Andrea –

      Thanks for commenting. Yes: the Sweeney OBC does sound like it was recording on a stage — because it was. However, not in the theatre. From what I’ve read, they recorded the show in a studio with the cast on a giant platform that was a few feet above the orchestra — much like a stage/orchestra pit setup. This gives the recording its authentic theatrical sound. And I love it.

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