Broadway Cast Album: Original enough or too Original

The Grammy for Best Musical Theater Album went to the Into the Woods revival, which made me think…

For all the musicals that I like, I totally imprinted on the first version I heard. That’s what the show is supposed to sound like—and when I happen to hear a different version of that show, it sounds wrong to me. I’m sure that’s a totally normal thing, but there it is: the version in my head is that one, and anything else is wrong.

I’m not talking about individual songs—there are plenty of showtunes that I love several different recordings of, mostly (obviously) from the Classic Age of Musical Comedy and the Great American Songbook, but also at least a few more recent songs and covers. Taken out of context, merely as songs, it doesn’t bother me. But in the context of the show, there is only one Album, and any others are, as I say, wrong. The correct one is usually the Original Broadway Cast Album, of course. There are a few odd cases—I imprinted on the audio lifted from the televised Sweeney Todd with George Hearn, for historical reasons, and then wound up listening to the Original Broadway Cast Album a lot, too, so I am kind of OK with either version—but not, of course, the 2005 Broadway revival, the film soundtrack, or the 2012 London revival. I can’t think of any movie soundtracks that I imprinted on when there was an earlier Cast Album, but there are cases where the movie was first, and that’s the one in my head.

Anyway, here’s the thing: I think it’s great that there are different versions of these shows! I think it’s great that they record them! One of the things I love about theater is when different people do different versions of the same show. I don’t like it when revivals unimaginatively imitate the original production. A show is for the audience that’s there, not the audience of a previous generation. That’s as true for the orchestration and the vocalization of the songs as it is for the sets and costumes and choreography. If I had seen the Broadway revival of Into the Woods—or any production—and it sounded just like the Original Broadway Cast Album, I would be cranky about having bought the tickets! But if I listen to the album and it varies in any way from the Original Broadway Cast Album, I am cranky about not having just listened to the Original Broadway Cast Album.

There’s nothing in any way bad or wrong about the Grammy going to Into the Woods. Not that I care very much about the Grammys, generally, but still: I’m glad it’s a good cast album! I glad it was a good cast! But I will never actually enjoy listening to it.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

4 thoughts on “Broadway Cast Album: Original enough or too Original

  1. irilyth

    Huh, we have tickets to see Into The Woods in Boston in March, and it hadn’t really occurred to me that it might be a lot different from “the original”. I’ve seen it a couple of times, although not for a while, and I don’t recall whether I had the “oof that is jarring” reaction to any of them.

    I wonder if I should listen to the new album in preparation for the show! Hmm.

    1. irilyth

      I should (or could anyway) add that I have listened to one or two of the songs from the recent film version, and found the differences jarring, especially when they’d changed the lyrics.

      1. Vardibidian Post author

        I assume that every production is at least somewhat different, but not necessarily jarringly so. I have somehow never seen it live at all—I have seen the Original Broadway Video and the Disney Movie. I don’t think it has ever occurred to me to listen to the Disney Movie soundtrack. I would love to see it live, and have had opportunities to do so, and have never actually gone.



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