Monday, July 15, 2013

CD Review: Pippin (2013 Cast Recording)

My one concern about the well-deserved winner of Best Revival of a Musical, Pippin, was the cast recording.  Would it be able to capture all of the magic of the spectacular performance?  Well, I should have trusted the immense amount of talent on that stage - not tomention the youthful, poetic innocense of the music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz - because this cast recording captures a lot of that onstage magic and reveals the depth of vocal and acting talent on display nightly at the Music Box Theatre.  (Review follows below.)

Grade: A+

Title: Pippin
Artist: The New Broadway Cast 
Label: Ghostlight Records
Number: 8-4473
Format: Single CD
Case: Single Jewel Case
Booklet: Full color, 32 pages.  Package designed by Stephanie Layton. Production photos by Joan Marcus, Pippin choir location photo by Steven Stuts.  Liner notes by Stephen Schwartz and Diane Paulus. Album produced by Stephen Schwartz and Kurt Deutsch; co-produced by Nadia Digiallonardo; executive produced by Howard and Janet Kagan.


5.  First rate production values.
There is a reason Ghostlight/Sh-K-Boom records has become the go-to company for Broadway cast recordings, and it isn't simply because they will record just about anything that has hit the stage.  Eventually, obscure titles and flops wouldn't be enough to sustain a business.  But sustained quality will keep all of us coming back for more.  And the production of the entire thing is superb.  The booklet gives the complete, up-to-date lyric changes made not only for this production, but in revisions made since the original Broadway production - "War Is a Science" is virtually completely different than the original.  It also has more than a dozen production photos, including a few that haven't been widely circulated, if at all.  And there are two nice liner notes, one from director Diane Paulus, which summarizes pretty much all of the interviews she did explaining "her vision."  The other is an enlightening essay form Stephen Schwartz, the humbly discusses the evolution and constant popularity of Pippin and Pippin.

The Cast on recording day!

4.  The exciting capturing of an updated score.
The sound mix - you have to listen to it in good headphones - gives the feel of being there. (Bravo, Lawrence Manchester!)  And Larry Hochman's amazing orchestrations manage to retain the youthful vibrancy of the original, while making this version's unique concept aurally accessible - you don't need to have seen it to appreciate it - and contemporary 21st century.  You'd never know that there are only 12 musicians playing!  If you don't believe me, take a listen to one of the four "Sing-Along-with-Pippin" tracks, added as a bonus.  "Simple Joys" is as thrilling to hear without lyrics as it is with Patina Miller's sharp interpretation.

3.  Own a piece of Broadway history.
This recording preserves the unique inclusion of what they call the "Pippin Choir."  As you know, the call went out to Broadway fans everywhere, and a select few (OK, a couple hundred) got to sing the chorus of "No Time at All" along with Andrea Martin and Stephen Schwartz.  What a thrill for those lucky fans!  And it certainly adds a sense of authenticity to the sing-along section of that showstopper.

The Pippin Choir

Some of the lucky singers and the souvenir they got!

2.  The performances.
So much has been written and discussed about Paulus' combination of the Fosse tradition and the circus elements.  In the the theatre, it is a thrilling visual feast.  One of the thrills of this recording is that it reveals that the quality of the cast really goes deep, vocally and acting-wise, too.  Without the bells and whistles, the tumbles, the death-defying aerial tricks, lights, costumes and circus accoutrements, it is great to hear that the actors are so emotive, and their singing adds much to their characterizations.  Yes, you should expect that from a Broadway cast recording, but it is so much more clear when you take away the biggest element of the actual production in this case.  Patina Miller is downright scary at times, and Terrence Mann's too brief part of the recording still manages to show why he deserved a Tony nomination. Matthew James Thomas is sweet sounding, and, well, SO PIPPIN!  For me, though, the biggest benefit of this recording is that it really brings out the brilliance of Rachel Bay Jones' layered (and woefully underrated) performance.  She's great onstage and really brings a fullness to Catherine that you don't usually see, but her performance here is just amazing.  Why wasn't she nominated for a Tony?

1.  The completeness of the score.
While this is still not every shread of music in the production, there is so much more here than on the original cast recording.  There are fuller dance sequences included with most every dance number - the "With You" dance break is terrific, and the introductions to several numbers are nice inclusions, particularly the usical intro to "Corner of the Sky" and all of "Morning Glow" packs an emotional punch for sure.

Pippin fans of old will certainly not want to replace this with the original - there's something about that that is just as special as this update.  But for new fans of the show, and those of us who have lived through every tweak and change, this recording is a must.  Extraordinary, indeed.


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