"I greatly admire this score by Sondheim - I have often found it to be one of his most emotionally wrought pieces. Unfortunately, this recording comes across as a soul-less effort.What I find most woeful is what was done with Jonathan Tunick's astounding orchestrations. A case in point: the glorious brass of the title song is replaced by a pathetically synthesized sound. Those brass sections of that song are among the most thrilling sounds I've ever heard on a cast recording: strident, angry, a clarion call to take Frank back to his past. Unfortunately, on this recording, the tinny sound doesn't drive itself inside your mind and inside your heart, and you don't feel as though Frank is being driven to relive his past by something he cannot control.Second only to the orchestrations in what I find problematic are the vocalists. Now, they are a cast with impressive credentials, and equally impressive voices: Malcolm Gets, Michele Pawk, Adriane Lenox, and Cass Morgan are the names that stand out. But they *don't* have what it takes to carry this score. On the original Broadway cast recording, those youths had a raw, edgy sound, in much the same way as aforementioned brass was raw and edgy. The pain, anger, and frustration that drove the score in the OBC recording are gone, replaced by smoothly polished, well-refined singing voices - and it *kills* the emotional content. I was most disappointed by the rendition of "Franklin Shephard, Inc." here: the anger and bitterness of Lonny Price on the OBC recording is here replaced by the ho-hum delivery of Adam Heller. Again, I'm not saying he's not a good singer, but rather that he's not the *right* singer for this role.I suspect the OBC had an added benefit - not only were they young and raw, but the show had closed the day before they recorded the album after a sixteen-show run. No doubt their pain and anger and frustration from that was poured out into their recording.Don't bother with this recording: it's slick, it's neat - and it's soul-less."
Third recording of MERRILY
Mark Andrew Lawrence | Toronto | 04/10/2005
(3 out of 5 stars)
"The original 1981 production played 6 weeks of previews before opening to crushingly bad reviews. Two weeks later it closed. The day after the final performance the cast assembled at RCA's New York studios to record the cast album. In 1985 a revised production directed by James Lapine opened at the LaJolla playhouse and received encouraging reviews. More revisions lead to other productions and 1992 it was given a production at the Haymarket Theatre in Leicester and that production was given a lavish 2 CD recording by John Yap and issued on TER in England and later on JAY in the U.S. This was followed in May 1994 -just a few weeks after PASSION opened on Broadway - by an off-off-Broadway York Theatre Company revival that received generally better reviews than the original received. It was recorded by Varese-Sarabande. Both the Leicester cast and York casts use the revised version with an altered tune stack.
1. OVERTURE - In 1981 the Overture was a complete piece. In the revised version it cuts off midpoint and segues into the title song.
2. MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG - The original production began with Frank coming back to his former high school to mark 25 years since his graduation. His speech - a caution to the students to be prepared for compromise and frustration was challenged by the students who launched into the title song. As noted above, the revised version begins with the cast singing the song but without any context.
3. THAT FRANK/RICH AND HAPPY - The party scene. In the original Frank's new movie was terrible though none of the guests would tell him to his face. In the revised version the movie is a success. In THAT FRANK the party guests, Mary excepted, sing of Frank's seemingly endless talents. RICH AND HAPPY drew the conclusion that since Frank was rich and successful he must therefore be happy as well. Both songs use the same accompaniment.
4. OLD FRIENDS/LIKE IT WAS - originally in a separate scene in 1975 at a restaurant where Mary hopes to encourage reconciliation between Charley and Frank. In the revised version this number was placed as a lead in to the 3rd scene, tightening the narrative.
5. FRANKLIN SHEPARD, INC. - this song remains virtually unchanged. In the original Frank walked off the stage of the TV talk show at the end of the song ending his and Charley's partnership. In the revised version, borrowing some dialogue from the deleted restaurant scene, Frank makes it very clear that he is furious with Charley and that their friendship is finished.
6. OLD FRIENDS - though the dialogue scene leading into this song was changed for the revised version, the song remains the same.
7. GROWING UP - added to the revised version. The OLD FRIENDS scene continues after everyone leaves Frank alone in his new apartment and he muses on his friendship with Mary and Charley. Later Gussie arrives having left her husband - Frank and Charley's producer - and intent on moving in with Frank.
8. NOT A DAY GOES BY - this song changed hands a lot. Originally - in previews - Frank's soon-to-be ex-wife Beth sang it on the steps outside the courthouse. The actress playing Beth could not sing it so they re-assigned the song to Frank with a modified lyric. In the revised version it was restored to Beth and the original lyric is used.
9. NOW YOU KNOW - some lyric changes but essentially the same song. The original Broadway production incorporated a dance section that recapped the first act score (in forward sequence) using NOW YOU KNOW, OLD FRIENDS, FRANKLIN SHEPARD INC and RICH AND HAPPY. The dance segment was not recorded and was dropped from the revised version.
10. ENTR'ACTE/ACT TWO OPENING - in the revised version Act Two opens with Gussie onstage performing GOOD THING GOING. The original began Act Two with the scene outside the theatre as the friends listened to the audience reaction.
11. IT'S A HIT! - Essentially the same but loses a clever short section about selling out (Charley: Even if (the show) is a smash, doesn't that mean we sell out? Producer: Well, I hope we sell out! Charley: What I mean is sell out. Well you know...")
12. THE BLOB/GOOD THING GOING - THE BLOB was cut in previews and not included on the OCR. It was restored for the revised version. Note the main melody is the same tune used for GROWING UP. GOOD THING GOING is essentially the same.
13. BOBBY AND JACKIE AND JACK - the revised version slightly trims the number.
14. NOT A DAY GOES BY - Originally a trio for Mary, Frank and Beth at the wedding of the latter two. When Beth lost the song in Act One she was cut out of the Act Two version as well. Frank sang it to Beth as his wedding vow while Mary quietly, sadly duetted from the sidelines. The trio version is restored to the revised version.
15. OPENING DOORS
16. OUR TIME
These two remain essentially the same.
17. THE HILLS OF TOMORROW - The revised version ends with OUR TIME. The original version had a short final scene in 1955 as Frank finishes his valedictory speech to the class. They then sing a song he and his friend Charley have written. The classmates smile, there is a flash as their class picture is taken and the curtain slowly falls on these smiling faces. It was a fine ending to the show and I wish this (and the opening graduation scene) would be restored. Otherwise the revised script is in every way superior.
Sound-wise the newer recordings have a crisp, clean sound though the orchestra is roughly half the size of the original. The first cast is pretty hard to beat. If you are doing the show only the revised script is available, so you will want one of the new recordings. Jay's 2 CD set is most complete and includes some of the dialogue. V/S has the wonderful Malcolm Gets as Franklin. "
The Definitive Recording
Andrew Fox | Oak Park, CA United States | 11/04/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"After seeing this Stephen Sondheim musical, I was hardly able to move as the closing had moved me so much. I was determined to find the soundtrack immediately, and decided upon the original cast. I was very much dissapointed, and could see why that cast was a flop. 18 year olds are in no way capable of playing these roles, except for perhaps the last three scenes of it. Much of the finished score was not on it, the plot was almost completely changed. However, six months later I was able to get this. The acting was far better than the original cast, the entire score was there (and even a few that were not in the latest California revival), and the sound was much more clear. This may be Sondheim's most unappreciated out of his non-offensive shows (undoubtedly, Assasins is his most unappreciated). It is a very melodic and moving score. It will make you break down in tears (Not a Day Goes By Reprise), become consumed with hatred (Gussie is one of the most evil characters in musical history, and Michele pawk does a wonderfully evil rendition of Growing Up), and break down with laughter (Bobby and Jackie and Jack, which brilliantly parallels the innocence of the times and characters, not knowing their futures). For your own sake, buy it!"
No, it's not the original, but it's the best recording...
S. Sittig | Washington, D.C. | 10/15/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This recording of the 1994 Off-Broadway revival of one of Sondheim's most well-loved flops is by far the definitive recorded version of this fantastic score. Yes, the 1981 Original Broadway Cast recording does have more bite and the original orchestrations with real brass and full orchestra, but that's all it has.The 1981 version is muted and the sound quality is so poor it sounds like you are listening through a tin can down a really dark and hollow tunnel. Fortunately, this version is clear as a bell and all the changes made to the much edited score and script are all for the better here. "The Hills of Tomorrow" framework was totally unecessary and I don't miss it or the song for a second. Michele Pawk as Gussie and Malcolm Gets as Frank are stand-outs vocally and while Adam Heller and Anne Bobby may not be the strongest singers, their acting ability comes through in their vocals, something that I think adds a great depth to Charlie and Beth, my favorite characters in the show anyway.The best tracks on this one are "Good Thing Going" and "Our Time". They have a sense of purpose and longing that are perfectly in tune with Sondheim's creative flair. They make me wish I had actually seen this production live.I've had the 1981 OCR for many years now and have always liked the score, but now with this version I feel I am listening to the score anew, and liking it even more! This recording adds something hard to describe, perhaps a sense of time, a smoothness, a unity that wasn't present in the OCR.Totally worth every cent!"
Tempos too slow!
Cookie Crawford | Los Angeles | 04/25/2003
(3 out of 5 stars)
"Okay, just a few little notes on this one. If you don't have the original cast recording from 1981 or whenever, this one will do because it's a great, great score...but the earlier album is much more brassy and energetic, i.e., FUN! This is such an exciting show to listen to...it just zips right along, like musical popcorn exploding around luscious ballads. (I always get choked up during "Our Time".) "Opening Doors" is my favorite; it's like a whole Judy Garland/Mickey Rooney Lets-Put-On-a-Show musical crammed into ten minutes. (Cast members have said that this number, which condenses two years at breakneck pace, is a true nightmare to rehearse. Someone always comes in late, right up till dress rehearsal!) Speaking of pace, in this version it seems like the tempos in many of the songs are a shade too slow. This is noticeable on the album's very first song, ("Yeeesteeerdaaaay is dooooone"), and really bothers me in "Bobby and Jackie and Jack", a rollicking number that takes on a sort of dirge-like quality here. Here's the reason the first recording is superior, though: Without pointing fingers or naming names, the voices on display there are just better suited to the roles. On the plus side, a good thing about this version is a reprise of the tender "Good Thing Going" that's orchestrated to sound really torchy and sleazy. This is done to show how the character of Frank has commercialized his music, but I was surprised by how catchy it sounded that way! Also, there's a funny bit in "That Frank" where Mary brings a gossipy party to a screeching halt by getting drunk, and Frank makes her some coffee. After a shocked silence, the chorus whispers, "Poor Frank / He handled that well..." (Maybe you have to hear it, but it made me laugh.) Also, there's a new number called "It's a Hit" that has a weird, discordant section that sounds exactly like "Sweeney Todd"! Aside from these interesting little bits, though, I like the earlier version best..."