Posted by Joseph Gomez on Sunday, June 14, 2009
Yes I'm blogging again. Moving on...
Playbill.com has posted an article reflecting back on the cast albums of the 2008-09 theatrical season. After reading it, I've concluded that while the season may have been a bit blah for new musicals, it was still a pretty good year for cast albums. And while not every new show was of my personal liking (13, Shrek), there was one show that I fell in love with and one more that I am currently falling in love with more and more.
Now this past year was a little cough*crazy-hard-ridiculous*cough rough financially, so my New York trip didn't manifest itself, thus I missed most of the new shows (all but one to be more precise) live. Sad. Very sad. And being from Texas, It's not quite as effective for me to try and win $25 lottery tickets to some productions. As a result, I've returned to cast albums and television performances once again (which I must admit brought back a certain nostalgic mystery to discovery again) as my window to Broadway. So my judgments on the productions of the Broadway musicals of the past season are based solely on cast albums (with a little help/influence from Wikipedia, theater websites, publications, forums, bloggers I adore with all my heart, and a couple of illegal bootlegs - I in no way condone this practice, but they just happened to fall into my lap... and alcohol impairs your judgment, so I've heard).
No Spark, No Electricity
First up - Billy Elliot, the Musical. My quips: where's the Broadway cast recording? Ugh. What we are left with is the original cast recording from London that, for my money at least, is a dud. I've had the recording in my library for a couple of years now and even upon initial listening, the album was lame.
While the story is strong and heartwarming (see the excellent movie from which this musical is based), as a stage show I was never swept up. Perhaps it's Elton John's lukewarm and workmanship-like quality score - it gets the job done minus, pardon the musical pun, the 'electricity'. Or maybe it's the so-so performances of the cast members that fail to ignite a spark for me (although I must confess to liking the London Billy, Liam Mower, over Kiril Kulish). And Haydyn Gwynne is fine as Billy's dance teacher.
However, I think my main problem with the cast album is its inability to portray the heart of the show - the dance. That's not the cast album's fault; it's a fundamental thing. Cast recordings are made to preserve a show to the best of a compact disc's abilities. We're not talking DVD here (although I think Broadway creators/producers need to start looking into that medium's untapped potential more). But even with that said, from videos that I have seen of the show, while the actual choreography and dancing are great, my opinion of the production and staging is that they are overblown and weird. And the acting from Kiril Kulish, not to mention his singing voice, leave a lot to be desired. From what I've heard and read, David Alvarez seems to be fairing well as the most well-balanced Billy. And a former cast mate/friend of mine (and Broadway performer) Andy Richardson tells me that his friend Trent Kowalik is giving a wonderful performance (based on his Tony Awards performance, I can say he's a spirited young performer indeed).
In the end, I'm not an avid fan of the show. Maybe if I saw it live I would be inclined to think otherwise. But what the cast album has yet to do, is intrigue me enough to want to see it live. And from what I've seen of the recent production, I'm not biting.
** (out of ****)
Next album review - next to normal