By Gregg Shapiro
In the pantheon of concert movies, from Woodstock to Wattstax and from Justin Bieber’s Never Say Never to Michael Jackson’s This Is It, few have reached the pinnacle of The Last Waltz—although Stop Making Sense comes closest. A 1976 farewell concert by The Band (and many of its friends), directed by Martin Scorcese, it is the concert movie that all other concert movies dream of being. Right off the bat, The Last Waltz: 40th Anniversary (WB/Rhino/MGM) deserves kudos for finally getting the reissue right. Previous editions, including the four-disc box set were missing something—namely, the movie itself. Sure, the music is spectacular (especially the Joni Mitchell segment), but The Last Waltz is a concert movie, so seeing the movie is essential to the enjoyment of the music. This 40th-anniversary edition of The Last Waltz not only includes all four CDs (46 concert tracks, as well as five from the “concert rehearsal”), but it also features Scorcese’s film on Blu-ray. Bravo!
Already racking up numerous awards and nominations, La La Land, Damien Chazelle’s musical love-letter to Los Angeles, looks like it’s the one to beat come Oscar time. With music by Justin Hurwitz, and lyrics by openly gay Benj Pasek and his straight collaborator Justin Paul, La La Land: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (Interscope) completes the picture. Movie-musical lovers are rejoicing over the fact that La La Land, one of the first contemporary non-animated movie musicals, contains original songs—the kind you leave the theater humming. Even if you haven’t seen the movie yet, it will be impossible to resist numbers such as “Another Day of Sun,” “Someone in the Crowd,” “A Lovely Night,” “City of Stars,” and “Audition (The Fools Who Dream).” The one clunker is “Start a Fire,” the song performed by John Legend and co-written by Hurwitz, Legend, and a small committee.
For a musical that got its start as a 1988 John Waters movie with a message, Hairspray, like its main character Tracy, continues to defy the odds. A 2002 Broadway-musical adaptation by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman won a Tony and inspired a 2007 movie-musical version starring John Travolta as Tracy’s mother, Edna—a character originated on film by the late Divine before Harvey Fierstein brought her to life on Broadway. Following The Sound of Music, Peter Pan, and The Wiz, Hairspray lives on as the latest addition to NBC’s stable of musicals performed live on TV. Hairspray Live!: Original Soundtrack of the NBC Television Event (Masterworks Broadway/Epic) returns Fierstein to his Tony Award-winning role as Edna. Joined by Kristin Chenoweth, Jennifer Hudson, Martin Short, Ariana Grande, and newcomer Maddie Baillio, the cast does the songs proud—including “You Can’t Stop the Beat,” “Good Morning Baltimore,” “I Know Where I’ve Been,” and “(The Legend of) Miss Baltimore Crabs.”
“Oh, hell to the no!” you can almost hear Whitney Houston screaming from the afterlife—can’t you? She’s probably not the only one who will have that reaction to the world-premiere cast recording of The Bodyguard: The Musical (First Night), an unfortunate jukebox-musical starring 2008 X-Factor champ Alexandra Burke as Rachel, the character portrayed by Houston in the 1992 blockbuster. Mixing songs from the movie’s soundtrack (including, of course, “I Will Always Love You”) and some from Houston’s career (“How Will I Know,” “Greatest Love of All”), The Bodyguard is proof that imitation is the laziest form of flattery.
Reuniting Anthony Rapp and Adam Pascal (a pair of actors who appeared together in the inexplicably popular musical Rent) for a show at Feinstein’s 54 Below probably sounded like a good idea. (Why should Idina Menzel be the only one enjoying a post-Rent music career?) Acoustically Speaking (Broadway), subtitled “Celebrating Twenty Years of Friendship,” simply doesn’t live up to the hype. Pascal, who subscribes to the “why be wrought when you can be overwrought?” school of thought, is the weakest link here. Some of it has to do with his choice of material (Jeff Buckley? Really?) and his stage-patter splatters. Openly gay Rapp, on the other hand, is more appealing (and controlled). Again, it falls to the choice of material, and Rapp’s selections, including “Losing My Religion,” “The Origin of Love,” “Happiness,” and duets with English Bernhardt on “Falling Slowly” and “Don’t Give Up,” are more successful than Pascal’s. The duo closes out the set with four songs from…you guessed it: Rent.
After Rapp’s Rent stint, he appeared as Charlie Brown in a 1999 revival of the Peanuts musical You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown alongside a then-relatively unknown Kristin Chenoweth as Charlie’s sister, Sally. You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown: 2016 Off-Broadway Cast Recording (Broadway) takes an interesting approach to the Clark Gesner musical (which first premiered on Broadway in 1971) by casting young Broadway performers between the ages of 9 and 14 as the young characters in the show.
Not the most thrilling musical on Broadway during the 2016 season (have you heard of a little show called Hamilton?), the revival of the 1963 Harnick/Bock musical She Loves Me nevertheless held its own, even earning a Tony Award. She Loves Me: 2016 Broadway Cast Recording (Ghostlight) stars Jane Krakowski, Zacahary Levi, and Laura Benanti (who received raves for her performance) in this stage-musical adaptation of the movie The Shop Around the Corner.
Gregg Shapiro is a regular contributor to OutSmart magazine.