I'm procrastinating. I sat down to finish a 10-minute play that I started SIX MONTHS AGO. And here I am listening to cast albums and writing about them. I missed my scheduled session last weekend, but I forget why. That's not why I'm doing 2 this morning. I'm pretty sure I'm doing 2 because I'm a mighty fine procrastinator. I mean, my day job writing copy for 30-second radio commercials often finds me taking coffee breaks after I've written 15 seconds (though really the coffee break comes when I try to save my 30-second radio commercial and the UNIVAC I'm working on with an old version of Word Perfect 5.1 [or Microsoft word 2003, it's hard to tell] decides it'll take 10 minutes to save, but I digress... because I'm procrastinating now on writing my responses to some musicals.).
So! This morning finds me stumbling across the new original cast album of The Little Mermaid. Apparently I'm on some sort of Alan Menken kick, because I followed The Little Mermaid up with the Original UK Cast Recording of Little Shop of Horrors. Let me just start off by saying it was a lackluster morning of music for me. I'll start with the bad first.
A little aside, after talking with one of my coworkers about a kid who sang a selection from Bye Bye Birdie on a local morning show, I told her to check out his phenomenal work in a little show I directed. So we watched "Suddenly Seymour" and with about a year's removal from the experience, I suddenly realized we made the song really slow. It's not awful, just slow. And even as slow as we staged it, we still rocked harder than what I heard in the Original UK Cast Recording.
Not to be vicious, but when you listen to a recording from a CD that someone has seen fit to print a lot of, you expect certain things. Things like voices being in sync with the music. And energy. About the only thing I liked about this recording is that Audrey didn't sound like an attempt to copy Ellen Greene. Unfortunately, she doesn't sound better then Ellen, who is so hard to top that really, it may not be worth mentioning. But Su Pollard is the only name I can find for the original UK cast, and it's probably the only name worth mentioning. Audrey's numbers are probably the only numbers worth listening to. I've already deleted the entire album though. I don't expect to want to hear those numbers again when I've got the Original Cast Album to listen to.
Other noteworthy bits: much like the Original Cast Album, a lot of songs are missing, Including Closed for Renovation, Call Back in the Morning, and Meek Shall Inherit. There aren't that many songs to begin with, so why leave some out? Especially when you include a "megamix" which isn't really a dancy remix but a badly done medley of the songs from the show. I wish I had something better to say. I don't. Some of Alan Menken's best work is in this show, and this recording does it no justice.
Next for the morning is another Menken musical: the recently opened Little Mermaid. This recording is also a bit of a disappointment. I don't know if Alan Menken can top his work from that period of the early 80's. It's possible I've got a lot of nostalgia I'm bringing to the table, but Little Shop, the original music for Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin are tough to top. I'm beginning to think that Howard Ashman was an important part of that songwriting duo. Menken is still capable of great work, but the clear winning tracks on the Little Mermaid Original Broadway Cast Album are the original songs from the film. Unfortunately, those songs don't win out over the original film versions.
There are some cute gems, like "Human Stuff" which is a great number for the kids, but doesn't have as much broad appeal as other kid songs I have heard and enjoy. The quartet, "If Only" is in a style I usually enjoy. I love when multiple singers sing in counterpoint; "Model of Decorum and Tranquility" from Chess is one of my favorite showtunes, as is "His Work and Nothing More" from Jekyll & Hyde. Both songs are very much like "If Only," but "If Only" seems to be missing something, and I think it's that it's at odds with the rest of the show. It sounds like a dropped song from Les Mis, rather than a song from a children's musical that features a song about brushing your hair with a fork or about cooking fish. I don't know if it's wrong to try to expand the tone of a show when adapting it for the stage. There's certainly a lot of exciting leeway for expanding on characters and their inner processes, but I think the problem is when the tone varies so wildly. All in all, Little Mermaid is probably more exciting to watch than it is to listen to. Give the album a try, but it's definitely better to listen to the original soundtrack.