“I’ve seen that cast” recordings

I have a lot of cast recordings.  Several hundred of the things, in fact, more than any sane person probably ought to own, including multiple recordings of some shows, particularly Cabaret, where I think I own every English-language recording of the show.  Generous people would say I’m a collector, others might just back away and flee from the crazy man obsessed with musical theatre on CD.  I often get hold of them through eBay, charity shops and record sales where they can be obtained at much less than recommended retail price, because they tend to sell at higher prices than pop or easy listening, appealing to a more niche audience.  I find them all fascinating, even though I don’t, to be honest, enjoy absolutely all of them.  And some hold a special place in my affections.

These are the very rare instances when I’ve seen the production that was recorded.  Not the show (I have seen A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to the Forum several times for instance, but not in productions that were recorded), but the particular iteration of the show.  Perhaps even the same cast.  That’s always exciting.  It’s a very rare thing, you see, as I don’t often get up to London to see shows, and these are the only casts generally preserved on disc in the UK.  From time to time, I may see a performer who has recorded the role, such as Richard Dempsey as Ugly in Honk!, but only three CDs in my collection are “I’ve seen that cast” recordings.

The first is The Witches of Eastwick, which ran in London around the turn of the century, having a much shorter run than I felt it deserved.  In this case, I got hold of the CD before the trip to Drury Lane, but we managed to get up to London while the original cast were still in their roles.  I was excited to see performers such as Maria Friedman and Joanna Riding, veterans of many productions and recordings, and the CD got me excited in advance about such numbers as ‘Dirty Laundry’, a wonderful piece for the ensemble, and ‘Something’, an exceedingly cute love duet. It was somehow more exciting knowing that I’d be not only hearing the same orchestrations (and believe me, orchestrations can vary a huge amount between productions) but seeing the same performers. 

The other two are the other way around, as the CD was produced after I saw the shows in question.  Both shows were deeply moving, though in rather different ways.  The London productions of Billy Elliot and Parade.  In years gone by, cast recordings would be available very shortly after opening night (if not before, sometimes recorded during tryouts and previews), but this is rarely the case now.  With Parade, which was presented for a limited run at the Donmar Warehouse, the recording became available a couple of weeks after the show ended.  The Billy Elliot one just took quite some time to put together.

With both of these recordings, having seen the show with same cast (almost – I saw a different Billy) gives the CD extra resonance, being able to associate the songs (and in the case of Parade, the dialogue, as it is a truly complete recording) with the emotions, thoughts and experience of seeing the cast perform them on stage.  It’s not quite the same as a video preservation of the show, particularly since I lack the capacity to summon up images of what I saw on the stage, but perhaps that’s a good thing.  Filmed stage productions always lack something, because the camera chooses where the eye will focus, while in the theatre there is generally a choice of things to look at.  The whole stage picture, the principals, the chorus, details of the set, sometimes even the stage crew.  But you still remember what happened.  The police cordon in Billy Elliot.  The way Bertie  Carvel fidgeted nervously in Parade.  The sheet-snapping in The Witches of Eastwick.  It makes the experience of listening to these particular recordings subtly different to that of listening to any other cast recording, even of different recordings of the same songs.  It makes them special, in a way completely unconnected to the quality of the music or performances.  It gives them a connection to me.

  1. I know exactly how you feel — I also have way too many cast recordings, but I’ve found myself more + more listening to the ones I’ve bought of productions I’ve seen since moving to New York (and less to shows I haven’t seen).

    Tops for me would have to include the heartbreaking CAROLINE, OR CHANGE, THE LIGHT IN THE PIAZZA, and even ALTAR BOYZ (which comes off on disc as nothing more than a pop album, but was delightful on stage).

    Of course, sometimes it seems like a burden to have to buy the recording for each show I’ve seen (especially when I haven’t even opened or listened to some of them — like Alfred Molina’s FIDDLER ON THE ROOF).

  2. Well, perhaps I’m not as far gone as you are, since the recording of Take Flight would have to be very, very cheap for me to consider picking it up, despite having been at the final performance!

    Incidentally, I love the Altar Boyz album, though I have yet to have the chance to see it live. I think it could well be because I’m familiar with the source material they (very affectionately, as far as I can tell from the CD) parody.

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