Reviewer: Mark Clegg
Variety it’s said is the spice of life, a saying that the folks at 54 Below and Broadway Records have proven with their fast-growing and diverse collection of Live at 54 Below recordings. Over the past few years the club (housed in the basement of Studio 54, hence the name) has been home to the cream of Broadway as they host intimate concerts featuring music from a wide array of genres. Many of these concerts have found their way onto CD and this latest entry differs from most of the others in that instead of a single performer, the concert features nine singers brought together to perform songs by a single composer – Frank Wildhorn.
While not a household name, Wildhorn has had a long career in musical theatre starting in 1990 with the hugely successful Jekyll and Hyde which he wrote with Leslie Bricusse and Steve Cuden. Although Wildhorn has composed almost constantly since, major success has eluded his subsequent Broadway projects with only 2009’s Wonderland really standing out on his CV. Half of this concert recorded in December 2014 is made up of songs from Bonnie and Clyde which opened on Broadway in December 2011 and closed four weeks later. However even if the critics and public were not impressed by the show, the cast must have been as this recording reunites several of the main Broadway players including Laura Osnes and Jeremy Jordan who played the titular duo. These songs certainly evoke Depression-Era America with a rich vein of jazz and blues running through all of them and the second half of the CD is made up of similarly jazzy songs from other Wildhorn projects including Wonderland and Jekyll and Hyde.
The performers are all superb. Osnes and Jordan show their knowledge of the characters by giving soulful performances in their Bonnie and Clyde songs including one cut from the final score. Adrienne Warren gives a stunning performance in What I Do Best and Emmy Raver-Lampman is similarly impressive with A New Life. In fact as all the performers are equally talented, it would not be fair to miss out mentioning the rest: Mimi Bassette, Janet Dacal, Louis Hobson, Kevin Massey and Melissa Van Der Schyff are all names to look out for. The five musicians involved are also brilliant with Wildhorn providing piano accompaniment and helping to provide a warm, friendly atmosphere that comes across in the audio. This is a brilliantly produced and performed concert jam-packed with talent but it sadly remains lacking….
The big problem is absence of that all-important life-spicing variety. All of the songs are good in isolation but lumped together are too samey to provide a memorable recording. The fact that Wildhorn seems to have difficulty in coming up with clear musical hooks means that as the CD progresses, the songs begin to meld into one another and even after several visits, one will be hard pressed to hum any of the tunes. The almost complete lack of introductory chat from the cast (a highlight in many other such recordings) doesn’t help either and the songs are mostly presented with no context.
The performers really give it their all but by choosing to stick with such a narrow song criteria, this CD only really passes as something to play in the background: criminal even by Bonnie and Clyde’s standards.
Album Available from Broadway Records