Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Jumping Back in With New CD Thoughts

Oops. Where did April go? Was it the flurry of shows rushing to open in time for Drama Desk nominations? Could it have been stuff on the home front kept me away? In whatever event, sorry for the silence.

As had been my wont, I want to try to resurrect this as the space where I talk about musicals – and things related to them, CDs, new books, etc. etc. And so, to jump back in, I want to quickly talk about the onrush of CDs this spring. Already, I have a whole bunch that I want to write about, including DRG Records' spiffy release (teasingly called Best of Broadway Vol. 1) of studio cast recordings of Kiss Me, Kate and South Pacific the original cast recording of the Bill Finn revue, Make Me a Song (from Ghostlight Records, and the new disc from Maureen McGovern that's on PS Classics.

Of course, all the new Broadway shows have cast recordings that are barreling down the pike, and there are a host of other solo recordings, including an intriguing song cycle from Jeremy Schonfeld called 37 Notebooks. The sort of cool thing with "Notebooks" is that the disc features a host of Broadway performers singing Schonfeld's songs, including Shoshanna Bean (Wicked), Jarrod Emick (Damn Yankees), Lauren Kennedy (Spamalot), Adam Pascal (Rent) and Kate Shindle (Legally Blonde).

The folks repping "Notebooks" sent me a few MP3's and I gotta say I'm quite taken with their sound, which references pop, gospel, folk, country-western and Broadway traditions. I can't wait to hear the complete recording. This one's scheduled to be released May 6. There's a pre-release party planned for Birdland on May 5 which will benefit the Broadway Dreams Foundation, and a host of the performers on the disc are scheduled to appear.

So, in any event, will be a better blogger in the next few days.



DRG Records: www.drgrecords.com
Ghostlight Records: www.ghostlightrecords.com
PS Classics: www.psclassics.com
Jeremy Schonfeld: www.jeremyschonfeld.com
Birdland: www.birdlandjazz.com
Broadway Dreams Foundation: www.mybroadwaydreams.com

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Into the Woods Alums 'Back Stage'

Right now, three members of the original cast of Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine's Into the Woods are appearing in productions on Broadway (Chip Zien - The Country Girl), off-Broadway (Joanna Gleason - Something You Did) and off-off-Broadway (Merle Louise - Elizabeth Rex).

I recently had a chat with Zien about his work in his revival of "Girl" and that should be appearing in print and online next week. Until then, you can find an feature that Leonard Jacobs did on Gleason online at


and a piece that's I've done about Louise went online today at:


Monday, April 7, 2008

Sweeney Todd on DVD - God, That's Good

The sumptuous darkness of Tim Burton's Sweeney Todd arrived on DVD last week. It's a pleasure to report that the film as transferred remarkably well to small screen, and in fact, in its DVD incarnation, I found it was easier to savor many of the smaller details of the movie while watching the DVD: most notably Johnny Depp's simultaneous romantic and demented interpretation of "My Friends" – Sweeney's lyrical paean to his razors. Depp's performance here is enhanced remarkably by Dariusz Wolski's swirling cinematography, which allows us to see Sweeney's reflection in his "choppers" as Mrs. Lovett calls them.

On disc, what I found interesting too, was the way in which the claustrophobic atmosphere of Victorian London –created by the Academy Award-winning team of Dante Ferretti (art direction) – seems to be increased exponentially. The black and white visuals – with traces of red – simply seem terrifically – and appropriately – oppressive. Given this, the film's the trio of Technicolor sequences – two early in the film when it flashes back to Sweeney's "happier" days with his wife and infant daughter and one late when Mrs. Lovett imagines her life with Sweeney by the sea – are not only visual reliefs, but eye-popping ones a well. It's a little like being taken out of a dark basement and into bright sunlight.

"Sweeney" has been released as both a single disc and a deluxe two-disc "Special Edition." A quick check of "street prices" online reveals that there's only about a $6.00 or $7.00 difference between the two, so I'd have to say that the double disc is probably the better bet, given some of the special features that are included on the second disc.

As with many bonus features on DVDs these days, several of the sequences are little more than extended press junket footage – interviews with the cast and creatives. There's interesting material here, but it does become repetitive as you surf between the features. What makes the bonus features truly interesting – for those familiar with the musical and those new to it alike – are the mini-documentaries that have been released alongside the movie. One focuses on the real history of "Sweeney Todd", Another one explores the theatrical tradition of "Grand Guignol" and a third investigates the realities of "Sweeney's London."

I also found myself captivated by a fourth segment here – the mysteriously titled "The Razor's Refrain" – a kind of medley from the soundtrack that is synched sublimely with still images from the movie.

All in all, this one is a delight – albeit a gory and chilling one.

QUICK LINK: http://www.sweeneytoddmovie.com/