Enough Music and History to Keep You Entertained for Weeks
By: Ellis Nassour
If you like to be regaled with lots of options from the world of entertainment – what to watch and listen to, you’ve got plenty of options.
Already available or dropping over the next few weeks are the original cast CDs of these recent musicals Annie, A Christmas Story, Cinderella, Dogfight, Giant, Hands on a Hardbody, Here Lies Love [in the works; but a deluxe all-star (Tori Amos, Steve Earle, Cyndi Lauper, Florence Welch) concept CD/DVD is available], Jekyll & Hyde, Kinky Boots, Matilda, Motown, Murder Ballad, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Passion, and Pippin.
You can become absorbed by some of the most beautiful and classic tunes of musical theater with the lush Rodgers & Hammerstein at the Movies (EMI Classics; 15 tracks; SRP $13), John Wilson, conducting the John Wilson Orchestra – an amazing 80 plus strong (23 on violin). The title’s a bit of a misnomer. Like what came first: the chicken or the egg, Rodgers & Hammerstein were theater first and movies later. However, here Wilson used thefull-bodied film orchestrations. One of the things that makes the CD, a studio recording of a BBC concert, a pleasure is the sense of continuity with the overtures/main title music and tunes from Carousel, The King and I, Oklahoma!, and The Sound of Music grouped together. To say it would have been nice to have more vocals is an understatement, but the price is right. Vocalists are Olivier and Drama Desk nominee Sierra Boggess, Julian Ovenden, Anna-Jane Casey, Grammy-winner Joyce DiDonato, and David Pittsinger, and the Maida Vale Singers. Over 100 minutes. Illustrated booklet with mini-movie posters and extensive notes.
Great Performances at the Met: PBS Thirteen, May 17, 9 P.M.; and May 19 at 12:30 P.M. – Verdi’s Rigoletto. Tony and Drama Desk-winning director Michael Mayer (Spring Awakening) made his Met debut with this audacious staging production that moves the emotional drama from 16th-century Italy to 60s glitzy, "depraved" Las Vegas. Tenor Piotr Beczala sings the Duke, portrayed as an amoral lounge singer whose entourage includes the world-weary comedian Rigoletto, baritone Željko Lučić. Soprano Diana Damrau is Rigoletto’s innocent daughter Gilda, victim of the predatory Duke. Michele Mariotti conducts. Classic arias are "Questa o quella," "Caro nome," "Bella figlia dell’amore," "Chi è mai," and one of opera’s most famous, "La donna è mobile." Renee Fleming hosts and interviews the stars.
She-Wolves: England’s Early Queens (Athena/BBC; SRP $35) is a horrible, but apt title for this fasinating and captivating three-part miniseries. Medieval and Tudor times may have been ruled by warrior kings, but a handful of hardscrabble women sought to rule by birthright even if vilified as "she-wolves, " as historian/host Dr. Helen Castor calls them. Most fascinating and persistent was Matilda, daughter of Henry I and granddaughter of William the Conqueror, who 800 years ago was thwarted, betrayed, imprisoned, and condemned until the day came when England had no choice but to make her queen, if only briefly. Shot on location in England and France, the series explores the lives of seven English queens who challenged male power, the fierce and fiery reactions they provoked, and whether much has changed. Illustrated 16-page guide included.
Megan Hilty: It Happens All the time (Portrait/Sony Masterworks;10 tracks; SRP $10) is Hilty’s debut album and, she says, "a different side of me because it’s the first thing I’ve ever done that’s just me and not attached to a character or story line." The ballads and uptempo tunes – title song co-written by celebrated rock composer and Grammy-winning producer Glen Ballard; "Safe and Sound," co-written by Taylor Swift and T-Bone Burnett; and "The Heart of the Matter," co-written by Don Henley – are a big step beyond musical theater where Hilty appeared as Glinda in Wicked and found fame and a Drama Desk nomination as Doralee in 9 to 5, in addition to SMASH ‘s Ivy Lynn.
Bombshell (Columbia; 22 tracks; SRP $13) is the original cast album of the musical within NBC’s Golden Globe-nominated TV series SMASH. The album contains 22 original songs that make up the two-season score by hard-working Tony, Drama Desk, and Grammy-winning Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, whose tunes succeeded far more than the show with its twists, turns, and reversals. Megan Hilty and Katherine McPhee headline along with Will Chase, Nick Jonas, Leslie Odom Jr, Julian Ovenden and Bernadette Peters, with back up by Christian Borle (a composer whom we rarely heard sing), Sophia Caruso, Debra Messing, and the ensemble. One hour, 10 minutes of music. Illustrated booklet with notes all lyrics.
Joshua Bell Conducts Beethoven (Sony Classical; SRP, $12) – Bell makes his recording debut as a conductor/music director with the acclaimed Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields Orchestra, the first American to hold the title since Sir Neville Marriner formed the orchestra in 1958. He conducts as well as plays violin on two of the composer’s most graceful and buoyant symphonies, No. 4 & 7. The recording is outstanding "for the effervescence and brisk tempo he brings to No. 4 in B flat major and the dance rhythms on No. 7 in A Major." Eight tracks, over an hour of music; illustrated booklet with notes by Bell.