Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The music of their lives

I'm marking a very big circle around June 3 on my calendar - the date the two-disc original Broadway cast recording of In the Heights will be released. There's an interesting Playbill Radio podcast, taped at the recording session for In the Heights. It made me even more excited to listen to the music again.

What struck me was hearing producer Jeffrey Seller, actor and composer Lin-Manuel Miranda and actress Mandy Gonzalez, who plays Nina, talk about the cast albums they loved growing up. The music - West Side Story, Camelot, Les Miserables, A Chorus Line, Rent, to name a few - had a big impact on their lives.

While I wasn't a huge musical theatre fan as a teenager, I did have a few cast albums and soundtracks: Cabaret, 1776, A Chorus Line, Camelot, Oliver! (Don't laugh. I think I saw the movie when I was 9, and I loved it!) and Hair. I've still got all of them. Except for Hair, I'm pretty sure I started listening to them only after I saw the movie, or in the case of A Chorus Line, on stage in Boston when I was in college.

But for Sellers, Miranda and Gonzalez, the cast albums were their introduction to the shows. They listened to the music long before they saw the musicals on stage. Some of them, they may never have seen, or they may only have seen the movie version. That's one of the things I also found most interesting about The Drowsy Chaperone. Its narrator, Man in Chair, is in love with a musical he's only experienced through a cast album handed down from his mother.

Here's some of what they said:

"When I was growing up in Oak Park, Michigan, my first exposure to shows like A Chorus Line, Evita, Sweeney Todd were through the cast albums. I fell in love with those shows through the cast albums. And then if I was lucky I finally got to see those shows on Broadway. So a cast album is the the first line of attack for more than half of our audiences. It's only a small number of people that actually get to see a Broadway show in the theater in which it was born."
Jeffrey Seller

"One of the reasons they [his parents] realized they fell in love was they were comparing record collections and they both had Man of La Mancha and they both had Camelot. My dad saw Man of La Mancha in Puerto Rico and it was an English-language production and he remembers not understanding much of it, but when "The Impossible Dream" came on, just being reduced to tears. So I saw the effect that had on them at a very young age. I think it's probably one of the reasons I'm in this field is I saw how much theatre music can really move people."
Lin-Manuel Miranda

"This is my first original cast album and I'm so excited. When I came to New York I always said I want to be on Broadway and I want to be on an original cast album. Because my whole life I've listened to cast albums over and over and over again. So many different cast albums have had such a different effect on different parts of my life. to feel like somebody might do that with this and feel that way with one of my songs is just thrilling. So I can't believe it."
Mandy Gonzalez


Vance said...

Okay, finally saw In the Heights and LOVED IT!

As for only hearing the cast albums, I have shows I love but have never seen. For a while it was Company but now finally saw it (and it's even better), and another is She Loves Me (which I'm finally going to see at the Huntington). I wish there were a Bare remount though.

I've been lucky (and indulging) lately, finally seeing all the others that I loved but never saw until recently (like Ave. Q) but its finally nice to put a show to the cast recording!

Esther said...

I'm so glad you loved In the Heights! I know the plot's a little weak, but I love the dancing, I love the sets, I love how sweet and appealing Mandy Gonzalez is as Nina. You should hear her in this interview from the making of the cast recording. She sounds so excited. In fact, everyone sounds thrilled and really dedicated to making a great cast CD.

One thing I forgot to mention, I listened to the Broadway cast CD of "The Wedding Singer" for months before I saw it on tour, and I really liked it. I'm a sucker for catchy, pop-oriented musicals. When I finally did see it, it was fun to finally see those songs performed on stage.

Vance said...

The plot may have been a little weak but so are half the musicals out there so I didn't really care. In fact, I kind of got into it and loved it all. (The only thing is that I fell in love with "Here Me Out" from off Broadway and it was cut to change around the plot a bit but I still think they should have worked it in). Actually, I just saw Wonderful Town and thought they were kinda similar in a way, both being about neighbourhoods in NYC and their cast of characters from that hood and both had meandering storylines but whatever ITH did, I loved it way more. WT was cute but insubstantial in the end to me. Meanwhile, I'm trying to figure out when I can go back to ITH.. hah!

Hmm... Wedding Singer huh? Still haven't seen it. I like a few songs but mostly found underwhelming. Another blogger I chat with enjoyed it in a cheesy way though so maybe I should check it out if it comes by Toronto.

Esther said...

The Wedding Singer was one of those CDs that I kept playing in the car as I was driving around doing errands. It was just fun to listen to and I thought a lot of the lyrics were pretty clever. When I saw it on tour, I was a little underwhelmed by the actor who played Robbie, but I liked a lot of the supporting cast and I loved Rob Ashford's choreography.

And I agree with you about In the Heights. I'd definitely go see it again. There's just so much to see and so little time!

I've never seen Wonderful Town, though. I don't think it's coming anywhere near me.