Monday, 20 April 2009

No Updates and Cast Recordings...

Yeah. It's been a while since I've gone to the theatre.

Well, that's not entirely true. I saw a friend's cabaret on Easter Sunday (shockingly bad) and caught Calendar Girls (amusingly mediocre) for a commission, but no independent theatre-going to speak of.

I have, however, gotten ahold of the cast recording for next to normal, which just opened on Broadway. I adore the score for this show, and have since receiving a *cough* of the 2005 Festival production, back when it was still called Feeling Electric. So I should love the cast recording right?

Yeah, I do. But that doesn't mean I don't have a lot of quibbles with it. Some of the cuts are awkward because the snipped dialogue covers transitional underscoring, breaking up what should be two flowing pieces. The mixing is also off - the guitars, especially the electric guitars, are too low, and the harmonies are overly slick. The whole thing reminds me of the Broadway cast recording for RENT in a way - I find that recording to be far too sterile and while it does a decent job of presenting the score, it's just not right. (For the record, I prefer the German cast recording, iffy translation aside, which uses the original arrangements but was recorded live. The mix is slightly edgier and there's more energy than the rushed New York edition.)

The N2N CD suffers in the same way. Part of a soundboard was leaked from last year's off-Broadway production, and on the tracks where comparison is possible, the soundboard blows away the CD: there's the right amount of roughness, the arrangements shine, and the cast are surfing on the waves of the band and not floating ten feet above. But clearly someone was happy with it because it got released. And, to be honest, I'm listening to it all the time. There are a tonne of brilliant tracks here, and even with the flaws it's an amazing piece.

But I still prefer the Festival Version of "A Light in the Dark."

The album also brings up a good question: what is the point of cast recordings? The inclusion (and exclusion) of dialogue on the N2N disc really makes me wonder. The cast album for Hedwig plays like a rock CD, whereas Avenue Q's includes just enough to provide context to the music. RENT cut a couple of small dialogue pieces, mostly to ensure that the first act fit onto a 74 minute disc (80 minute discs existed then but were uncommon) and comes off more as an archive. Most classic cast recordings are both preservational (key songs) and promotional (sell the big song.) I'm more tempted to put N2N into the latter - a (relatively) cheap way to try the music before committing to expensive show tickets. Of course, given that the physical CD is pushing $25 depending on where you buy it, only the iTunes release really counts in that sense. I'd forgive so much more to have the full dialogue on "Just Another Day" and "Catch Me I'm Falling."

But it's not there. Alas. Fortunately we live in enterprising times and somebody can/will/has supply/ied.

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