New Cast Soundtracks
Stephen Holden of the New York Times, one of the most astute music and film critics in the country, has nailed it again. His analysis of the current crop of cast albums does a great job of describing the appeal of the newer sounds of Broadway while avoiding the patronizing or dismissive tone many writers adopt when writing about the Broadway tradition.
There has been no doubt for decades that Broadway needed a shot (or many shots) of contemporary music and rhythm to increase the musical’s appeal to modern audiences. When my wife, daughter, and I sat onstage at “Spring Awakening” last year, the power of the trad musical, a true rock score, and modern stagecraft came together in an electrifying way. I suspect the scores of the shows Holden discusses with keep this trend moving along. The traditional musical form is still a broad vessel with lots of room for injections of contemporary style.
I’m always amazed at how Holden’s views echo my own, which makes my small brain proud. His take on the cast album of “South Pacific” affirms a suspicion I had from watching the Tonys: that the show’s power probably can’t be discerned by listening to its musical performances alone. To be fair, the excerpt on the Tonys broadcast was a medley of the show’s hits and no doubt was hurriedly rehearsed. But Kelli O’Hara’s performance of “Wonderful Guy” came off as over the top and not a clear improvement over Mary Martin’s (or even Mitzi Gaynor’s) interpretations and certainly nowhere near the unique authenticity of Reba McEntire’s. (But that’s apples and oranges.)
As someone who’s been spending a lot of time researching the Broadway of the teens, 20′s and 30′s, let alone the postwar evolution exemplified by “South Pacific,” I’m thrilled that the show has gotten such great reviews and that audiences are getting a taste of the form at its 1940′s height. (For you younger music fans, it’s, er, sort of like the movie “When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth.”)