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Cast album reviews: The American sound of Broadway

August 3, 2011 |  6:00 am

Rad Broadway might not be the place you'd expect America to go to do its soul-searching, but it's a surprisingly introspective place nowadays, as several musicals tickle forth insights about our national character.

Listen in, via the recently released cast albums for "Catch Me If You Can," "The Book of Mormon" and the Daniel Radcliffe-starring "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying." (Individual reviews follow on the extended post.)

For further examples of American themes now on Broadway, you might go back and listen to the revivals of "Chicago" and "Hair," as well as 2010 Tony winner "Memphis."

“Catch Me If You Can” (Ghostlight Records)

Catch In America, a person can be whoever he or she wants to be. This notion, so central to our belief in manifest potential, is seen to be at once true and breathtakingly false in a new musical that, like the 2002 movie of the same name, is inspired by a true-life tale of forgery and masquerade in the jet-set 1960s. The sexy songs, by “Hairspray's” Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, pulse with the rhythms of the Rat Pack, Motown and Antonio Carlos Jobim. Tom Wopat and Norbert Leo Butz sing with vintage flair; Aaron Tveit, with youthful vigor, propels it all into the 21st century.

“The Book of Mormon” (Ghostlight Records)

Mormon Americans tend to insist that our way is the right way and everyone else should do as we do. That sort of thinking gets Mormon missionaries into a world of trouble in the outrageous new musical by “South Park's” Trey Parker and Matt Stone and “Avenue Q” co-creator Robert Lopez. Rodgers & Hammerstein are the show's improbable godfathers; a more obvious influence is the faux Africana of “The Lion King,” invoked as teen evangelists — the subversively earnest Josh Gad and Andrew Rannells — face funny-nasty violence, illness and foul language in their posting to Uganda. This show must be seen to be believed, though; the cast album provides only a partial glimpse.

“How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” (Decca Broadway)

Biz The casting of Daniel Radcliffe has brought new attention to this zingy 1961 musical about a ruthless ascent along America's corporate ladder. The climber is beguilingly fresh-faced, a shark in baby-seal's clothing. It's hard to fault Radcliffe's thin, reedy voice because these qualities enhance his seeming innocence. The best reason to listen to this new recording, though, is to hear Doug Besterman and music director David Chase's exciting new takes on Frank Loesser's songs. The jazz-ensemble-like instrumentation evokes Henry Mancini, Esquivel, “The Jetsons” and all things sleek and smooth.


Theater review: 'The Book of Mormon' at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre

Theater review: 'How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying' on Broadway

Theater review: 'Memphis' at La Jolla Playhouse

-- Daryl H. Miller

Photo, top: Daniel Radcliffe as J. Pierrepont Finch in "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying." Credit: Ari Mintz / Associated Press. CD cover credits, Ghostlight Records for "Catch Me If You Can" and "The Book of Mormon," Decca Broadway for "How to Succeed."