New from Broadway Records

New label Broadway Records is fast adding eclectic titles and talent to its catalog with its first cabaret recording and first concept cast album, though I don’t really think a 20 year old score can really have a “concept” recording this late in the game (more on that later). They’re fast becoming a label to reckon with, following on their high profile inaugural releases of Bonnie & Clyde, Lysistrata Jones, and the Nick Jonas How to Succeed EP.

It seems that Laura Osnes is just about everywhere these days. In the last year alone, the rising star has become a Tony nominee for her leading turn in Bonnie & Clyde as well as the new darling of the Rodgers and Hammerstein Organization (Encores! Pipe DreamCarnegie Hall’s The Sound of Music and the upcoming revisal of Cinderella). She also brought Dream a Little Dream, her first go at cabaret, to the Cafe Carlyle.

She opens with “How ‘Bout a Dance,” the best from the Bonnie & Clyde before launching into a specialty “I Have Confidence.” An affable personality, Osnes has a self-deprecating sense of humor about stints in The Music Man (her dream role is Marian the Librarian) and even sings along with a demo of “Don’t Rain On My Parade” recorded by her 12 year old self. The comic highlight of the album is her reunion with Bonnie & Clyde co-star Jeremy and their spirited rendition of “Anything You Can Do” from Annie Get Your Gun (lots of delightful ad libs, and Osnes holds that note for 23 seconds). Props to her for including the obscure “Femininity” from the 1958 musical Oh, Captain. The emotional apex was with her tribute to her late mother, singing a devastating “When She Loved Me.”

Overall, Osnes is stronger in her middle register, or interpreting pop material (“I Think It’s Gonna Rain Today” and Norah Jones’ “Sunrise”) than in her less interesting ingenue/soprano mode (“Till There Was You” and “All The Things You Are”). That said, this doesn’t detract from the overall enjoyment of an accomplished recording. The single misstep I see in the recording is the inclusion of “A Whole New World,” a duet with Osnes’ husband Nathan Johnson which quite frankly lacks any real spark. This was Osnes’ first attempt at cabaret, so the patter isn’t very strong and she fills in gaps with what sounds like nervous laughter. As cabaret, this set as a whole lacks cohesiveness, but as a recording it’s quite fine. As a bonus, she included a preview of her upcoming Cinderella with a sincere rendition of “In My Own Little Corner.”

A new tour of Jekyll & Hyde starring Constantine Maroulis and Deborah Cox is on tour prior to a spring berth on Broadway. This new “concept” recording has been released in correlation with this new production. This time the orchestrations (by Jason Howland) are more rock flavored than I recall. Since the recording consists of the principal characters, the abysmal ensemble numbers are (thankfully) nowhere to be heard. The album restores “Bring on the Men,” which had been cut for the 1997 Broadway premiere. To be honest, the adaptation of the Robert Louis Stevenson novel is still fairly ridiculous, with some truly poor lyric choices from Leslie Bricusse and Steve Cuden though it has a few moments that stand out (namely “In His Eyes”).

Maroulis sings an impressive “This is the Moment,” while his “Confrontation” is something of a hot mess. Cox brings an appropriately dark, sultry vocal quality to Lucy (the role originated by Linda Eder) and acquits herself especially well on “Someone Like You” and “A New Life.” Teal Wicks doesn’t made much of an impression as Emma, a flavorless performance of a flavorless role paling in comparison to those have sung this role before. This recording was made in July and I can’t help but feel that the singers would have been better served with a later recording date, allowing them to define the characters they hadn’t yet played.

“The Sound of Music” – Carnegie Hall

Carnegie Hall presented the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic The Sound of Music on Tuesday evening as a gala fundraiser for the venue. In previous years, the Hall has presented similar concerts of Carousel and South Pacific. While this evening’s presentation of the score was not as memorable as those two previous outings (that Carousel wasn’t recorded is simply a crime – it was a dazzling success), it was a pleasure hearing those gorgeous songs performed live with the Orchestra of St. Luke’s.

Inspired by actual events, The Sound of Music was originally a stage vehicle for Mary Martin and later a blockbuster film starring Julie Andrews. It tells the story of a young postulant who becomes governess to seven children under the stern command of their Naval officer father. Throw in some feisty nuns and some evil Nazis and you’ve got the ingredients for a spectacular audience favorite.

The orchestrations in the program are credited solely to Robert Russell Bennett, but there were several pieces that sounded like Irwin Kostal’s arrangements for the film, including main title which was used as an overture for the evening (the stage show begins promptly with the haunting “Preludium”), “Do-Re-Mi” and the lower key version of “Climb Ev’ry Mountain.” I was pleasantly surprised to see the score presented in its original 1959 order. Maria and the Mother Abbess shared “My Favorite Things” in the Abbey, while Maria sang “The Lonely Goatherd” during the thunderstorm, etc. For the concert, “I Have Confidence” was added and “Something Good” replaced “An Ordinary Couple.”

Laura Osnes made for a sweet if somewhat bland Maria, singing well but without the spark that has made others so indelible in the role. Tony Goldwyn was a vocally weak and colorless Captain. Met Opera mezzo and fan favorite Stephanie Blythe gave the evening’s master class in singing, with a stirring rendition of “Climb Ev’ry Mountain.” Brooke Shields couldn’t quite handle the vocal demands of Elsa, but carried herself with grace and glamour, earning exit applause. (Fans of the film may be surprised how much more politicized and nicer the character is on stage). Patrick Page practically purred his way through Max’s lines. Veanne Cox, Cotter Smith and Reed Birney were on hand for smaller roles, while Daniel Truhitte, Nicholas Hammand, Kym Karath and Heather Menzies (of the film) made brief cameos. Special mention to the Women of the Mansfield University Concert Choir, who supplied breathtaking renditions of the liturgical music in the show.

Gary Griffin staged the concert (performed completely off-book), but while the evening was well-paced, the energy was inconsistent. David Ives provided the concert adaptation of Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse’s original book, which didn’t make much of a case for a full-fledged revival. Joshua Bergasse provided the small amounts of choreography seen throughout the evening, most notably the “Laendler.” A misstep was using projections of Austrian pictures and site specific locales from the film against the back wall of the Stern Auditorium’s stage. These pictures, presented in a sort of widescreen panorama distracted from the performers. The cast wore concert attire that suggested at character; the only dirndls to be found were those audience devotees who dressed up.

“Bonnie & Clyde”

Odds are if you mention the name Frank Wildhorn to a die-hard theatre fan, you’re going to be met with a rather impassioned opinion. While not a critical darling, the composer of Jekyll & Hyde, continues to bring new shows to Broadway with what appears to be continually diminishing returns. I am familiar with some of Wildhorn’s scores, but have not had the opportunity to see one onstage until his most recent, Bonnie & Clyde,  a spirited re-telling of the infamous duo famous for their murderous string of robberies in the 1930s South, and were also considered something akin to folk heroes as well.

While Mr. Wildhorn takes the brunt of criticism for his shows, as his is the *name* that is most associated and marketed with them, it’s not necessarily his fault that this new musical doesn’t really work. In fact, I think his problem is more in the selection of his librettists and lyricists (though I do enjoy The Scarlet Pimpernel). In this case, Mr. Wildhorn is dealing with a libretto (by Ivan Menchell) that contains a dramatically inert first act, in which the audience faces 75 minutes of pure exposition. The number that should serve as the first act finale appears in the beginning of act 2. The songs don’t have clear motivation, and there are often times when I wondered why a character was even singing. The lyrics (by Don Black) are mundane and don’t reveal very much about character. There are songs that range from the abysmal (“Made in America”) to the unnecessary (“When I Drive”) to the familiar (“You Love Who You Love,” a sort of Southern homage to “In His Eyes” from Jekyll & Hyde). The eleven o’clock number is “Dyin’ Ain’t So Bad,” which speaks to the cliched nature of the lyrics in general.

This is even more disappointing than I would have expected because the show’s leads are absolutely terrific, especially the two leading ladies. Jeremy Jordan does what he can with Clyde, but it’s an insurmountable challenge to make him even remotely sympathetic as he’s written like a petulant schoolboy and all attempts at sympathy fail to counterbalance his life of crime. (Excuses that his actions were the product of the Depression don’t interest me; even if that were the case Barrow’s actions were met with a consequence that is unsurprising). He has a strong voice, though he pushes a bit much. Even better is his leading lady, the ravishing Laura Osnes, who radiates star quality from her entrance to exit. She sings beautifully, acts with a compelling sincerity and is on top of all her multiple talents, a visual knockout.

Making a warm, winning Broadway debut is Claybourne Elder, who first caught my attention off-Broadway in Road Show, as Clyde’s brother Buck. Playing his wife Blanche, arguably the most fascinating character in the entire story, is Melissa Van Der Schyff. At a post-show talk back, I discovered that Ms. Van Der Schyff had avoided the film through the show’s genesis, which made it all the more interesting how like her Oscar-winning counterpart in the film (Estelle Parsons), Van Der Schyff walks away with the show.

Louis Hobson sings well as a the police officer in love with Bonnie, but the role as written seems just like all the other unrequited love stories we’ve seenThe musical also features a strong ensemble, most notably the hilarious Marissa McGowan who gets some of the biggest, most unexpected laughs of the entire show with a bit part in a hair salon.

There isn’t much in the way of choreography, but Jeff Calhoun has staged the musical well creating some interesting stage pictures, with the assistance of costume and set designer Tobin Ost, whose multifaceted unit set is one of the most inspired aspects of the musical. Ost’s period costume designs evoke the feel of the time and place, but also manages to recreate iconic clothes seen in images of the outlaws. But you really shouldn’t leave a musical humming the sets.