Come Friends, Who Plough the Sea

For a couple of years some of my friends and I have been sharing music. We’re supposed to review/rate what gets shared with us, and share those reviews with the group, but that doesn’t always happen.

This week, Tim suggested we all share something from Broadway. Not just a musical. Broadway. Do I share 42nd Street, which I played in the pit for (just in high school, not on Broadway)? Do I share Carousel, The Music Man, or some other play for which I was on stage? Do I share Footloose, Wicked, or some other play which I’ve actually seen on Broadway? It was a hard choice, and I purposefully waited until everyone else had shared something, so they would narrow my choices (kind of the opposite of how I choose what to share most other weeks). Before I get to my choice, here’s what my friends shared:

Sister Act (2009)

I didn’t know they made this a musical, but I liked the film, so … sure.

When Scott shared this, he said it’s “slightly sacrilegious and inappropriate at times, but most of it is good.” Not being Catholic (not that he is either), I still get that.

Do the Sacred Mass was a good example of that. The lyrics and the musical style don’t really seem to go together – although I know there are some churches whose services sound a lot like this, so it probably just depends on your expectations of religious services and your preferred method of worship.

It does make me want to write some funky, southern gospel-inspired music: more gospel revival, less Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

I actually liked I Could Be that Guy more than I can explain, and Bless Our Show was great, but Sunday Morning Fever was my favorite. While the actress wasn’t in the musical, the rapping grandma from The Wedding Singer was in the Sister Act film, and I’m glad they blended the two characters a little. When I Find My Baby is notable just for it’s upbeat treatment of the plan to murder Deloris Van Cartier.

I’d probably give this a chance on stage, but mostly it makes me want to watch the movie again. 3/5

Here’s what my friends thought:

“This one really surprised me. I am a big fan of the movie, and the sequel (to a point), so I went in a little biased. But in many ways you can’t compare the two. The music from the movie is a completely different score than the play, and I can only assume this is due to rights and licensing.

It was tons of fun, I mean tons of fun, and flowed expertly from song to song, while doing a really good job of telling the story. If I had one complaint it would be that I felt the nuns were out of character a lot. I mean nuns wouldn’t be talking about sex, and wouldn’t take God or Christ’s names in vain as often and casually as they did. They didn’t in the movie, and it felt like it was thrown into the play to add a little irreverence so non-Catholics would enjoy it more.

Overall it is a great soundtrack, and I would love to see it live sometime.” 5/5 – Tim

“So, I gave this a listen, and I’m not super familiar with the story. I was a bit busier at work yesterday so I didn’t have a lot of attention to lend to it, but overall, it just seemed kind of average. I rarely get excited about musicals and so showtunes really have to be great to appeal to me. Usually I like the musical based on the story or comedic value rather than the music which is interesting because its almost exactly backwards to how I approach other music. Anyhow, I guess I have some introspection to do.” 3/5 – Spencer

Phantom of the Opera (1986)

As soon as Tim suggested Broadway, I thought there was a 30 percent chance he’d share this, a 30 percent chance he’d share Les Mis, and a 40 percent chance I was totally off. Thanks for not disappointing me.

I have only seen this once on stage. Not Broadway – instead in Paris (in English). I was told it was in the opera house where the story took place, but later found out that theater was destroyed in the late 1800s. But still.

Let me also say up front that I prefer the book to the musical, but the musical is probably a better introduction to the story. It at least teaches you how to pronounce some of their names.

This has some great numbers (I was once in a band who played a masquerade dance at Weber State and did our own interpretation of the appropriate song from this soundtrack), but there are also things like the Notes/We Have All Been Blind/Twisted Every Way or Wandering Child/Bravo, Monsieur! medleys that just sound like they needed a song, but didn’t have any melodic ideas.

When they hit, they’re home runs. Otherwise … well, it guess it is a horror novel, so the music does reflect that at least. It may just be that I’ve listened to this a lot, and there’s so much built up around it, but I actually feel like it’s the weakest of this week’s suggestions. 3/5.

From my friends:

“I haven’t listened to this for years. I guess I’m familiar with the 1 disk version my folks would listen to because the double disk on spotify had several scenes and songs I don’t remember at all. This one has some nostagia for me, and really has great performance and score but the story is a bit dark. It was fun to review, but kinda left me feeling like, lets do this again in another 5 years.” 3.6/5 – Spencer

The Pirates of PenzanceThe Pirates of Penzance; or, The Slave of Duty (1879 1983)

I’ve already reviewed one performance of this musical on my blog. It’s a funny play. Now here’s the official recording of my preferred version (also there’s a version I’ve seen of early Hollywood actors making a film version – instead of pirates and maidens, there are voice over artists, and the actors aren’t heard … it’s a little complicated, and the police are “actual” police who think they’ve been brought on to act, but it’s very funny).

I’ve seen one production that the Elvis singing style in Frederic’s performance of Oh Is There Not One Maiden Breast is pretty obvious (in addition to the hair, some hip movements and a “Thank you very much” when the audience laughed). Considering this is a 1983 re-imagining of the 1879 original, I wonder if that’s in the production notes and I’ve only seen one production that really goes for it, or if it just almost sounds that way in this recording and the one production I’ve seen thought to make more of it than was originally intended.

No, I am Brave is funny, but like all comedy, it also depends on the performers to really pull it off. And of course, With Cat-Like Tread made me put in both earbuds and turn up the volume. I had a really hard time not singing along at work. Nothing like singing as loud as you can about being quiet and sneaky – at 9:00 in the morning at the office.

But aside from the comedy, it’s also full of good music. I mean, there’s some filler in there, too. But I feel like there’s less than Phantom. 3/5

From my friends:

“It’s definitely a comedy, and the songs are good for a couple chuckles. But overall it did not seem to have that polish I expect from a Broadway production.

I didn’t feel much complexity to this, and I wasn’t swept away. That is probably my biggest factor with Broadway and musicals over a standard music album. You should feel the emotions of your characters thoroughly though the music. And in many ways it felt like the songs only served to get from point A to B. I didn’t feel invested in the story or characters throughout, and it just felt like something you observe more than experience.

I know a lot of people like this play here in Utah and hold it dear to their hearts. I’ve seen it twice, and never was really impressed. I thought a more “professional” rendition through this album would change that, but I found it just felt the same. It felt better suited for a High School or community play, with the music performed by the local band.” 2/5 – Tim

Something Rotten! (2015)

Partly because it’s so new, this is the one play on the list I am not really familiar with. Contemporaries of Shakespeare are trying to compete by making a new form of theater: the musical. I may not follow the story by just listening, but that should be enough for context.

Except, I’m not sure I understand the female’s role. Were there more than one? I’m sure she’s a love interest, because that’s the easy thing to do. Otherwise, I’m not sure what she’s doing.

There were a couple of times in Hard to Be the Bard where I felt like they overused words. Yes, I know it’s in the title and it rhymes with “bard,” but can’t they find some synonyms?

The Black Death was humorous, but I laughed out loud at work during the Something Rotten!/Make an Omelette medley at a very simple joke. I mean, the “alas poor yolk, I knew him well” was clever and the reading of an omelette recipe was unexpected, but the knock-off Hamlet character was talking about his relationship with his father and said,

My father said this to me
That he did and then he blew me
Away with wisdom simple and concise

That earned me a reason to apologize to my coworkers. I also appreciated some of the subtle references to other musicals (same with A Musical, which was absolutely great) – especially the Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat “colors” reference. I’m sure there were plenty I missed.

This was better than I anticipated, mostly because it makes fun of musical theater while paying tribute to it at the same time. If I get the chance to see it, I probably will. Pirates was going to be my favorite of the week, but this was a close second. 3/5

Thoughts from friends:

“This was a fun one. The music was definitely funny! But I had a hard time following the story. I’m going to assume this is one of those plays where the music is not a vehicle to further the story as much as to provide variety and break up the monotony of dialogue. Overall this is one I would see if given the chance.” 3/5 – Tim

“This might have been my favorite this week. I was unfamiliar with it, but I liked the basis of the story and the kinda geeky English jokes in there. The dry synopsis of musicals is hilarious. It had a bit of lowbrow humor here and there that kept me from loving it, even though it probably enforces the post-medieval theme. But mostly pretty funny and clever. I don’t even remember much of the music yet I enjoyed it.” 3.9/5 – Spencer

Chicago (1926 1975 2002)

I decided to go with maybe not my favorite musical, but the one with some of my favorite music overall. Mister Cellophane is absolutely brilliant.

For consistency, go with the 2002 musical soundtrack.

Here’s what my friends thought:

“So Paul says MY music is racy.

This was a really good one. I’ve never seen Chicago, movie or play, but I know enough of the story to get what’s going on. It does a good job of blending story telling in with the songs, and picks the right mood to set for each scene’s message. It is definitely an American classic in terms of Broadway, and well deserved! I enjoyed it a lot, but won’t listen with the kids or likely see it live anytime soon.” 4/5 – Tim

“I guess Chicago is NOT my kind of town…

I’m not really into the swingy swanky style of music here. Its ok, but I actually don’t get through a whole big bad vodoo daddy album. It actually makes me think “showtune” more than “jazz.” The opening track, every other line is “all that jazz,” and it got pretty annoying pretty quickly.

So there’s that, but much bigger issues here is the whole thing is a bit crass and dark. The theme and storyline were too much for me to enjoy or overlook. So ya. Not coming back to this.” 2/5 – Spencer


One thought on “Come Friends, Who Plough the Sea

  1. Pingback: I Got No Time to Mess Around | An American Audio-logue

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