Since Broadway/West End musicals are really my passion, I wanted to include a list of them here because they are one of the strongest representations of me... (and I'm making up for the 10 days of posts I missed in the month of January)
So, here it is:
Musical Theatre Madness - my list of can't-miss musical theatre CDs. The top 5 are the musicals that have had the most impact, but I couldn't limit the list to just 5.
1. Les Miserables - Original London Cast:
There are many versions of "Les Miserables" and they are all good for their own reasons, but the BEST version is the Original London Cast recording from 1985. I started listening to this album (yes, when it was on black vinyl...in fact, Les Miserables London Cast Recording was the first CD I ever bought - when I didn't have a CD player...I waited 2.5 years to play it...I just HAD it) at the behest of one of our friends, Jamie Cowan. At first, Roby and I didn't like it...the first time we listened. We were still heavily into "Chess" and not quite ready to transition. I remember the first time I heard, "Lovely Ladies" and I couldn't believe that kind of subject matter was in a musical. I was inexperienced with musical theatre at the time - I have since learned better.
My favorite character started as Fantine and then Jean Valjean (Colm Wilkinson is still the best Valjean). I think that Patti LuPone is still the best Fantine, even though I have a terrific clip of Randy Graff from "The Donahue Show". Roby was always partial to Eponine and the Thenardiers and Javert. He loved villians and waifs. It worked perfectly. Sometimes at night, we would just drive around (it was the 80s and gas was still cheap) and listen to "Les Miserables" on a boom box and SING!!! I loved those times.
Song Highlights: At the End of the Day, I Dreamed a Dream, Bring Him Home, One Day More, Empty Chairs at Empty Tables, Little People, Little Fall of Rain, and many many more.
2. Chess - The Origianl Concept Album:
"Chess" is a brilliant concept that somehow didn't seem to capture the audiences in live theatre in the United States in the same way that the album (yes, vinyl) did. We listened to that for a LONG time. Without stop...my mother even has a copy in her car. It was written by Benny Andersson, Bjorn Ulvaeus (of ABBA fame) and Tim Rice (from "Evita" and "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" fame).
Jamie Cowan is also responsible for Roby and I getting introduced to "Chess". She gave Roby the cassettes and he gave me the first act and he took the second act. He never liked the beginning build up in the show...I always loved the first choral number that sets up the setting and the premise of the show. We memorized our cassettes and then swapped them. Eventually, we would sing the "Embassy Lament" together in the car...and "The Mountain Duet" - really everything, but we had highlight songs that we loved to sing because we always chose the opposite parts to sing. He was a tenor and I sang all the men's parts. He never made me feel ashamed or yukky about being able to sing the men's parts better.
I think I have to send Jamie Cowan a thank you card for the gift of musical theatre that she gave me. It has enriched my life in unbelieveable ways.
3. Rent - Original Broadway Cast:
"RENT" came out in 1996, in July. It had barely been six months since I had lost Roby to AIDS and this show spoke to my heart so much. Kevin and I bought it on the first day. I didn't really know if I was ready for it or not, but I started listening. I don't think it ever struck Kevin in the same way that it did me, but it pierced right into my heart.
I know that "RENT" isn't for everyone, in some ways, but there is so much that appeals to such a wide audience if people will just open their hearts and minds to it.
I have seen "RENT" on stage more than 27 times...If I lived in or near NYC, I think I would have been one of those people who has seen it hundreds of times. It is never tired to me and sometimes it taps into the residual grief that I hold close because people just don't understand the experience of AIDS unless they have gone through it.
I relate most to the character Mark, the documetor of all the goings on in their lives, "How did we get here? How the hell?...How did I get here? How the hell?...how can a night so frozen be so scalding hot? How morning this mild be so raw? Why are entire years strewn on the cutting room floor of memory...?.. Why am I the witness and when I capture it on film, will it mean that its the end and I'm alone?"
I love Roger and one of my favorite songs is "One Song Glory", but I ache for Angel and love "I'll Cover You" (remind me to talk about this scene in the movie). I love Collins, too.
The song that I most cherish from the show is "Will I" because it captures all the fears that I heard over the years of dealing with AIDS. The song can be applied to more general experiences, but it came from the AIDS crisis and everyone involved knows it.
You can't have a most influential musical theatre list without something from Steven Sondheim. I would put "West Side Story" because I actually think that was one of my first musicals ever, but I prefer the movie soundtrack to the actual Broadway recording, so I think that might be a whole other thing..
So, "Into the Woods"... In 1987-88 (we left on Dec. 26, 1987 and returned on January 1, 1988), Roby and I went to NYC for the first time with Carol Coburn and a group of Aloha High School students. He and I were "chaperones" - we actually did an admirable job, even though we didn't think we would.
The whole reason we were going was to see "Les Miserables" and all the rest was gravy. We arrived on Saturday evening, I believe, and just got a lay of the land. On Sunday, we saw our first Broadway show, "Starlight Express", a matinee. On Tuesday, we saw "Radio City Music Hall's Christmas Spectacular" and in the evening we saw "Into the Woods" (we had never heard it or heard of it, really. We saw "Les Miserables" on Wednesday (I will tell you about that some other time).
"Into the Woods" was a fascinating experience. We saw it with all the original cast, Chip Zien, Joanna Gleason, and Bernadette Peters. She was STUNNINGLY good. It was in her heyday (as if she doesn't still blow everyone out of the water...). The story combines fairy tales and the first Act is all the stories blending and combining, but telling them in a fairly traditional way (Grimm's tradition, anyway). Act II is "what happens after happily ever after". At intermission, I remember looking at Roby and saying, "Is it over?" Everyone had already gotten their wish - Cinderella had her prince, Jack had the riches from the beanstalk, Little Red Riding Hood vanquished the wolf, the baker and his wife had a child. What else could there possibly be? We were so wrong about that.
I love "Into The Woods" for its brilliant use of words and humor and pacing. I love songs that challenge you to sing quickly, precisely and act as tongue twisters. I love "Giants in the Sky" and "Children Will Listen" and even the "Into the Woods" choral numbers. When PBS came out with the video of the actual show, as we saw it on stage with all the original cast, I was so excited I couldn't stand it. I still try to introduce that show to people whenever we talk about Broadway because it is such a fine example of the more traditional art of musical theatre.
And might I say that Joanna Gleason is almost as brilliant as Bernadette Peters? In a different way, but true nonetheless.
I'm not done yet, but my hands are tired and I have to break for a while....back soon.
5. Wicked - Original Broadway Cast
I tried reading the book, I really did. Maybe I will be able to read it for my Reading Renaissance this year. Either way, I think the brilliance of this show is that it pulls the audience in by peaking our interest in the twist on a cultural icon - "The Wizard of Oz", and it holds us by the sheer talent, the social commentary and the universal ideas contained within the show.
I just watched a video called "Show Business" about the 2003 Tony Season and "Wicked" was one of the shows that was spotlighted. The critics really gave the show a hard time - they said it had problems. I wish I knew what they thought were the problems. From where I'm standing, the show is brilliant.
Obviously, there is the show-stopping song, "Defying Gravity", but there are other songs that I have grown to love more as I understand the story and the themes more. "For Good" is beautiful and sad, "Popular", "What is this Feeling?". I never understood Kristin Chenowith's appeal until I heard this musical and Idina Menzel has been brilliant in everything she's ever done.
I think everyone can relate to being misunderstood and that moment when you have to decide if you will give in to what other people think/label you as, or if you will continue to take your own path. I think both are difficult. The appeal this show has for young girls and women is so important because we are our own worst enemy in so many ways. If girls and young women can just get a glimmer of understanding about what "popular" can mean, what "nice" can mean and that we are all a little bit "different", the world would be a better place.
And it is just a good listen. Period.