We've all been so familiar with cast recordings of musicals that we sometimes forget that this is not always the definitive version. I've recently learnt this with the release of the London Cast Recording of Legally Blonde; the annoying "live recording" applause and laughs aside this version seems so much fresher and full of life. Plus Sheridan Smith is phenomenal. As I seem to have exhausted all the musicals on Spotify and have to wait until this season gets going on Broadway for new musicals, I have found myself delving into the realms of YouTube for fresh takes on established songs. I've decided to share these with you in what may become a regular feature depending on how many more youtubealicious treats I find. But we shall start with these three.
I recently added most of William Finn's back catalogue to my Spotify playlist as I enjoyed Spelling Bee and have been recommended much of his work by friends. His works A New Brain and Falsettoland definitely bare many similarities. A New Brain is a semi-autobiographical account of Finn's battle against a brain tumour whilst Falsettoland concerns a gay Jewish man and his battles with his ex wife, his son's bar mitzvah and his lover's struggle against AIDS. I first heard the song Sailing sung by my friend Dale (I would link to his blog but he has a proper job now working in politics so I don't know if he wants to be associated with a little old blog like this!) at his inaugural cabaret show and loved it in then. I finally got round to searching for it on Spotify to find it was performed by Norm Lewis on the cast recording. For those who don't know, I love Norm Lewis's silky smooth voice, it so comforting to listen to and he get away with singing almost anything and still sound amazing. As an extra note, I really gutted I can't make it to "The Music of Scott Alan" produced by my friend Phil as Norm is going to be there. Instead I'll be pretending to laugh at the jokes of financial advisor types in Grantham. Sad face :(. So back to Sailing, firstly here's the chosen video (as there isn't one of Norm I had to go with someone else).
Now I admit that this isn't the best sung rendition of the song but it has a lot of heart and works well with Jonathan's voice despite being completely different to Norm's. Groff's voice is sweet and tender, as if he were singing a lullaby to his lover. What I love about this song is how it flows so easily up to that middle eight where Finn injects a little humour with lines like "sex is good but I'd rather be sailing", almost to break up the sentimentality and remind us that this isn't a stereotypical love song.
As well as non-sentimental love songs that are still tearjerkers, Finn also has a knack for inappropriately funny bittersweet songs that really get to you in a way you weren't expecting, for this we look at Falsettoland. Completely the trilogy with The March of the Falsettos and In Trousers, it came to Broadway in 1992. But for our trip into non-original renditions we have to travel forward to this year and Seth Rudetsky's Broadway Chatterbox. Recently, I've been trying to catch up on my Chatterboxes via broadwayworld.com and stumbled upon an interview with Krista Rodriguez and Wesley Taylor, stars of the new Addams Family musical. Wesley Taylor is most well known as Franz in Rock of Ages, a comedic gay German and so the song he sang came as a complete surprise and a revelation. After listening to the original version, this is so much more heartfelt. So, ladies and gentlemen, I give you You Gotta Die Sometime-
This song reflects a harrowingly truthful view about dying, whereas most musicals gloss over death ala A Little Fall of Rain from Les Miserables, Falsettos represented a more realistic portrayal of the effect that news has on us. This may have been a result of the increasing threat of AIDS to the gay community in New York, they needed something they could relate to, we could no longer brush it under the carpet. Whereas Stephen Bogardus's version was very lyrical and precise, almost matter of fact, Wesley Taylor has a vulnerability in his voice, as if he is trying to keep a brave face but inside he's crumbling. I particularly like the strain in the last sustained Sometime, it's not because he can't reach the note, its because he's doing a little "pull at your heartstrings" riff. I'm officially in love with Wesley Taylor.
Our final offering for today is completely different from William Finn's modern, realistic works about modern day families. Instead we look to Bernstein and his grandiose operetta Candide. I've been putting off listening to Candide for quite a while now, despite many recommendations by friends, I just felt it would be too operatic for my tastes. So I was sceptical when it was suggested we did a song from it for our Charity Concert in Devon. Well, Make Our Garden Grow is now one of my all time favourite finales. Apparently Candide is based on parodies of operas, but it can still be enjoyed by people like me who have never been to the opera and so do not take in these references. But back to Make Our Garden Grow, and it's amazing ending- the moment when the chorus come in is just breathtaking; the audience is suddenly hit with the wall of harmony. Many of the productions I have found on Spotify are very dry and operatic, I was surprised by the lack of emotion as I had assumed opera was all about emoting. Instead I turned to YouTube after a recommendation by my friend Michael to check out the Broadway concert. Here is the video of that Make Our Garden Grow. Although I tend to have a love/hate relationship with Kristen Chenoweth (much as I do with John Barrowman), I am absolutely in love with her portrayal Cunegonde, her phrasing in her solo is brilliant, with a slight nod towards musical theatre without riffing the hell out of the beautiful melody. Also, watch out for the spellbinding moment when the chorus rise to their feet. Amazing.
I hope you enjoy indulging in and digesting these three little songs, hopefully I'll find some more tidbits to delight you and will duly post about them. I may even make a Spotify playlist of "songs you should know from shows you won't know". Happy listening!