Posted on December 15, 2007 at 2:02 pm
It hadn’t occurred to me that anyone would offer to do another cast album for Parade. I figured, the 1998 recording is still in print, it sounds unbelievably good, and, given the kind of doldrums in which the recording industry finds itself these days, I’m amazed that anyone records musical theatre at all anymore. So with all that in mind, I couldn’t imagine that a version of the show with a reduced orchestra and cast with no stars that was playing a limited run in a theater with less than two hundred seats would attract the attention of any record company.
Apparently, I was wrong. Just before press night at the Donmar, I was called to a meeting to discuss a possible cast album with John Craig, the president of First Night Records, a company dedicated solely to recording musicals which carries in its catalogue the original British recordings of Les Misérables, Miss Saigon and Blood Brothers, all of which must have sold very nicely over the years.
I was very excited about doing the album for three reasons. First, the cast at the Donmar were astonishing, both as singers and actors, and I wanted to be able to preserve and relive those performances. Second, David Cullen wrote an absolutely gorgeous set of new orchestrations that completely reimagined the sound of the show. And thirdly, there were several new songs and fragments that I had written and I planned to include those in the published version, so it would be great for theater companies putting on the show to have this album as a reference.
Jeffrey Lesser has produced every album of my work since Songs for a New World, and I was delighted to find out he was available and interested to do this recording, even though it would mean he had to fly over to London for three frantic days in between sessions for The Wonder Pets. Once Jeffrey was on board, I realized that we had an opportunity to do something very different and special with this album.
The director of my high school plays was a big Gilbert and Sullivan freak, and he turned me on to all the D’Oyly Carte recordings from the fifties. What I liked best about those recordings was the fact that they included all the dialogue. Don’t ask me why that mattered to me, the dialogue in Gilbert and Sullivan isn’t remotely interesting, but I felt like those albums respected the work by including the libretti and therefore they made me respect the work too. At Finkelstein Memorial Library, there were a couple of spoken-word recordings of complete plays as well – I fondly remember a Glass Menagerie with Montgomery Clift and Julie Harris, and Pygmalion with Michael Redgrave – and I eagerly devoured those. Then I discovered the rarest subgroup of all, Broadway musicals recorded with their books intact. There weren’t (and aren’t) many; offhand, I can only think of three: The Most Happy Fella, Cyrano (a musical version of the show from 1973 starring Christopher Plummer), and – most important to me – the 1973 Chelsea Theatre production of Candide directed by Hal Prince. I remember those albums viscerally; even though Cyrano wasn’t very good, I fondly recall the A&M label on the individual LP’s and the joy of following along with the lyrics printed in the gatefold. I played Candide until I wore through the grooves. I checked it out from the library so often that they might as well have taken it out of the circulating collection.
So what I proposed for the Donmar Parade album was a return to the style of those albums: record every word and every note and treat it like a radio play, an immersive experience. If you wanted to hear your favorite lynching musical with a big orchestra and chorus, there was already a recording that did that. But if you wanted to hear how the show functioned, how it all worked together, dialogue and lyrics and music and orchestration, this would be that document.
Jeffrey actually hunted down the Candide LP’s on GEMM (a very valuable resource if you’re looking for second-hand and out-of-print recordings), and I sent him my Sweeney Todd CD’s. Those two gave him a good idea of the template. Then we set up the sessions: I annotated a copy of the script with blocking for the actors so they knew which microphones to go to at different points in the scripts and songs (there were only eight mics for fifteen actors), and we divided the show into eight sections which would be run in their entirety, two takes each. I couldn’t get back to London for the sessions, but Tom Murray, the musical director, sent me reports. Apparently, it was quite a scene. But the minute I heard the tapes, I knew it had been worth it.
After the recording in London, the session tapes were sent to me in Los Angeles, and a wonderful ProTools editor named Jon Baker went through all six hours of material with me, picking the best takes and sewing them all together into a coherent piece. Then we sent those edits to Jeffrey in New York, who mixed them all in between his Wonder Pets commitments, mixing Andréa Burns’s album and recording Xanadu. Finally, the album was mastered in New York and sent back to London for pressing. We compressed the schedule as tightly as possible because First Night was desperate to have the album out before the show closed at the Donmar. (Didn’t make it, as it turns out. But we all certainly moved fast!)
But hey: the album’s out now, and it’s totally everything I wanted it to be. It’s not as effects-heavy as the Candide or Sweeney albums, but it’s a very intimate and visceral experience. I thought the dialogue might be tough to listen to in the car, but it turns out to be a lot of fun; you just get on this ride and it doesn’t stop! And more importantly, the cast sound magnificent. You’d never know listening to the album that they were in the middle of an eight-show week. They sound invigorated and invested and entirely at the top of their game. The musicians also clearly enjoyed putting this score down for posterity and they play their hearts out. I’m very proud of the album, and I think it reflects exactly what we wanted to accomplish at the Donmar: not just a reduction of the show, but a version of the show that worked like chamber music, where everyone in the cast and orchestra had to work off of each other to make the piece come to life.
Furthermore, there’s a booklet with all the lyrics and a lot of very swell photos from the show, and even a little bonus DVD with interviews of me and Alfred Uhry and Rob Ashford, as well as our designer, Christopher Oram, and the artistic director of the Donmar, Michael Grandage. A very sexy package altogether.
So perhaps you might find it to be a good Chanukah present for the show-tune queen in your life? Even if that person is you? The First Night folk would prefer that you get it directly from their site: First Night Records. But if you’re US-based, you might find it considerably less expensive to go through Footlight Records or Amazon’s marketplace. Just don’t download it for free someplace. First of all, you’ll miss out on the groovy booklet. Secondly, it makes it entirely unlikely that anyone will ever do an album this extravagant in the future.
Enjoy the album, and Happy Holidays to you all!