Monday, April 9, 2012

Joseph & the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (Part 2: 90s Versions!) : still in progress

For my general opinion of this show (I Love It!) and quick overview of the songs, go here:
Also at that link is the first version I'm reviewing/upon which I am commenting, the Original Broadway Cast (OBC) from 1982

This note, again:   I am reviewing these based on the recording only; I can't say too much about what the original live production would have been like (I wasn't even alive when the first one was on Broadway); but these are my impressions of the production based on the recording, and any pictures I've found in the CD booklet or online.

Next, we have:
1991 Original London Cast:
Linzi Hateley as the Narrator--I like her quite a lot. Some pronunciations sound odd to me, but I'm guessing it's just British-English vs American-English phonetics.  Oh, yes, and it's "Jozeph" (with a [z] sound instead of an [s]).  Her phrasing is a unique and not too distracting.

 Jason Donovan as Joseph:

B&B  This is another reason why I think this show is pretty amazing--I believe this was the 3rd live performance of this that I'd seen, and up until this point, I had always counted "Those Canaan Days" as my least favorite song and probably the lowest point of the show for me (the other low-ish point being "Close Every Door").  I really disliked "Those Canaan Days."  However, I don't know exactly HOW they did it, but the brothers in this version were GREAT.  They were so good, that I found myself really LIKING "Those Canaan Days".  And somehow...that memory carries me through that song to this day; in all the recordings I have.  I think I used to skip that track fairly often whenever I listened to the show, now I don't bother, I listen straight through.  Weird?

Live:  Civic
Unfortunately most of what I remember is being very disappointed in the Song of the King, because the guy who was Pharoah seemed a little dull and not very funny.

Now...I may be misremembering this; so anyone who knows the production I'm talking about can feel free to correct me!  But I seem to recall that when the local newspaper featured it, they interviewed the guy playing Pharoah; and when interviewed, I believe he said something to the effect of, "I'm not hamming it up in this role as much because most people interpret Pharoah as Elvis, and I'm trying to give a more realistic portrayal of Elvis."  (I'm sorry if this is wrong; but this is what I remember; but hey, it's possible my brain just made it up...)  This is a ridiculous thing to do though, because nobody comes to Joseph to see a "realistic" Elvis impersonation, we come to see a funny Elvis caricature as Pharoah.  I suppose if you're a huge Elvis fan, you may be offended by silly caricatures of him (I shudder to think what a huge Elvis fan would say about Rum Tum Tugger...) but, well, it's supposed to be fun and funny.  I appreciate all the good Pharoahs a lot more after seeing the Civic production.

Tangled vs The Princess & the Frog: work-in-progress

Both of these movies are better than I expected.  They have some of the magic of Disney that had been missing.  They also came out one after the other, so it seems fair to compare them.  I like them both; but I'm having an extremely hard time figuring out which one I like more, and why.  So here are some of my thoughts (Some were from immediately after seeing it).

I saw The Princess & The Frog just yesterday evening!  And I like it quite a bit, too.  I'm really not much of a Randy Newman fan, and the whole score is by him.  (I think that may be my real problem with Toy Story--for some reason, I've just never been fond of it--not enough music.  "You got a friend in me" is not a song I really enjoy much, I find it a little boring, though the sentiment is nice.)  However, I have to admit, if he's NOT the one singing the song...I generally like his music.  He doesn't have a very big vocal range, so all his songs sound the same--not much you can do with a melody if you only have about an octave to work with, you know?  I kinda think he should give up singing and be a composer since then he can make more varied melodies.

I was not a huge fan of Ray, the lightning bug voiced by Jim Cummings though it's nice to see him getting a bigger role.  Dr. Facilier despite being obviously evil, has a bit of that con-man thing going for him, like James Woods's Hades in Hercules, and his villian song is both funny and scary, it has everything a good villain song should have, and a great voice to go with it.  BUT Dr. Facilier's plan seems a little silly (gotta get somebody to impersonate the prince, marry the...mayor's daughter?  and then...somehow get to be (elected?) mayor and take over the town somehow?  He could have just urged the prince to marry Charlotte or something...and even then, it's still a little silly...after all, it's a MAYOR...somehow he can urge the town to do things if his toady marries Charlotte?)  Still, some neat songs...I'd have to say my least favorites are both of the Jim Cummings ones--he gets 2 whole songs, oddly enough...and an actual major (sort of peripheral but still major) character role (instead of filling in for Christopher Lloyd's singing, or doing a few singing lines for Jeremy Irons, or doing random voices...admitttedly he's been Winnie the Pooh and Tigger, but he wasn't the original for either...and Rasoul, the chief guard in Aladdin, but that's a really minor role...)  However, I just didn't like him that much, and although his songs were fine (and had nice melodies/beats), they weren't the best ones, IMO.

I'm not sure if I like this more than Tangled or not.  I lean a bit toward the music in Princess and the Frog...but like The Nostalgia Critic said, the story in Tangled is better.  Hunchback has jumped to #2 on my list because of the excellent music (since about a year or two ago), though, so maybe in a few years, Princess will outlast Tangled for me.  I'm not sure, though, since I liked the Tangled story a lot--and Hunchback still has a story that I think makes sense (generally).  And the music in Tangled is a tad more generic in general...then again, Randy Newman...can be a little generic as well--his music hangs together well though, and he did the score, too, so the music has a nice overall cohesiveness.

I thought Doug was a little unfair to Tangled, too, since Mandy Moore wasn't TOO distracting as a voice actor (okay, it was a BIT distracting sometimes--especially with the hair change at the end--isn't that one of Mandy Moore's actual hairstyles, that they gave her?), and I liked the guy (haven't seen Chuck or whatever he's in).  And that horse was funny.  I wasn't too impressed with the big gang of tough guys (kinda saw that one coming) but it's more about our leads.  It actually bugged me a bit that the parents didn't have any LINES (other than sighs) but he did make a good point, they did a nice job with the animation, so that they didn't HAVE to say anything...but it was a minorly distracting point, that they didn't say anything, when they finally find their daughter after over a decade!  I was going, "What, you couldn't pay a couple of extra voice actors for Mom and Dad?"  Then again, maybe it's better that way...I dunno.

In any case, the side characters in Tangled don't get as much screen time, which I kinda liked (although, I did kinda like the alligator in Princess and the Frog--though James complains that they can't talk to him anymore when they change back to!).  I thought Jim Cummings bug had a little too much screen time; and the Shadow Man doesn't get enough.

In any case...Doug is right, somewhere in those two movies there is a REALLY GOOD movie, one that could be a Top 5 kind of movie...but neither is quite there.

I think I'm going to have to revisit them every so often and see if they move up or down on my list.  It's much too soon to tell if they're going to be lasting favorites for me or not. :)  Wow...why do I waste so much time analyzing this?  Well...okay I do know why...Disney movies are still some of my ALL-TIME favorites... :-p

Somehow the Princess and the Frog plot didn't bug me that much.  I guess because it had fairy tale logic going on, where you need the prince to become a frog, so the bad guy turns him into a frog.  I think I actually missed that Dr Facilier had more of a plan than just strewing chaos, ala the Joker.  I watched the movie with the commentary, and they actually talked about Randy Newman and his score and how they wanted a classic American sound.  I enjoyed the music, and the first time I watched I didn't even realize Randy Newman did the music, since he didn't sing.  Classic Family Guy did a joke about Randy Newman which pretty well sums up his personal music for me, just his limited voice and piano.  You've Got a Friend wasn't bad at first, but it gets kind of old.

I didn't care for Mandy Moore, not so much because she was a celeb, but she wasn't much of a voice actor.  She was just a basic voice, not a character to me.  I liked Rapunzel, but I didn't love her.

Yeah, I've seen that Family Guy bit, and they do have a point.  They actually get to use band/orchestra instruments for Princess and the Frog though, not just piano, which certainly helps with the whole "Randy Newman sound" problem.  (Probably has a bit more of a blues/jazz feel and more brass instruments in it than usual for Disney).
Maybe my standards are too low (doubtful since I looooove to be snarky...) but I really liked both movies quite a bit.  I am feeling a leaning toward Tangled overall but the Princess music seemed better...I kinda want to watch them both again.  As :-p  But I should study for my STAT quiz.

I guess I do appreciate that they tried to make Rapunzel and Tiana have more realistic personalities and such (though they're still Disney, so it's not REALLY realistic). They seem more like real people than most of the other Disney ladies.  I'm glad they didn't go with what's-her-face from that Film Brain video and 27 Dresses, whose method of trying to make a realistic character is to be painfully awkward and fake-quirky.

New Notes (4/7/13):
Prince Naveen is pretty awesome.  You can really see that he's maybe a little selfish but quite charming...and FUNNY!  He's got a personality and it's an engaging one.  Lack of personality has plagued Disney Princes for ages.  I liked Prince Philip but its because of his singing voice; and Prince Eric well...what personality does he have?  He's "awesome" because he stabs Ursula WITH A SHIP but that's not really a personality.

Flynn Rider (or whatever his real name is...Eugene Fitzherbert?) is, well...a tad lame.  Maybe trying a little too hard.  I'm not sure if the character is supposed to BE smooth or just THINK he's smooth.  And then suddenly turns out to be a really sweet guy?   In a comparison between them, I think Naveen wins.

Villains in both are great.  Mother Gothel is manipulative but in such a way that you can see why Rapunzel (having no other comparison) actually believes that she cares about her.  Even pulls the old guilt-trip masterfully.  Dr. Facilier, as previously mentioned, has that smooth-talking con man thing going for him.  You understand why Naveen, being a bit silly and looking for fun, decides "heck, why not, I'll follow this guy into his obviously evil-looking lair.  I mean, he can't possibly be serious, this creepy stuff is just for atmosphere, there aren't any real evil demons in there..."

Minor characters:
--The horse in Tangled is great.  The chameleon is well, just cute but not really anything else.  The gang of thugs...are not really there much.  They're fine but nothing special--just mildly funny.
-- Princess:  Well, there's Jim Cummings bug, who I didn't care for, and the alligator who is fine but didn't really strike me as particularly great, and only mildly funny.  Mama Odie was good, though her song was maybe a little too generic lyrically.

Tangled had one good minor character, the horse, who is pretty darn funny actually, but really, it's just 3 characters:  Rapunzel, Flynn, and Mother Sorceress/Gothel.  There really aren't any side characters.  The surly thief brothers are barely even characters at all.  The gang of thugs had potential but...I'm not sure what's missing.  Maybe they could have focused on one or two and given them just a tad more screen time? 

Princess:  Charlotte Le Bouff "Lottie" (Tiana's friend) was a great character (so nicely done!  Obviously cares for Tiana while still being somewhat silly and spoiled.--and she's very funny.  Too much of ONE minor character, Jim Cummings bug.  He's got so much screen time I'm tempted to call him a main character.  I guess I'm just not big on a cajun hillbillies.  Sorry.  Just doesn't work for me.

So we have, maybe not enough minor characters vs too much minor character?

Compared to my top ones...
Beauty and the Beast--could not imagine this movie being as good without Lumiere, Cogsworth, Mrs. Potts...even Chip.  All the furniture that doesn't talk but still have personalities. 

Hunchback--Ok, I just love the way they did Phoebus. Not sure it's fair to call him a minor character.  Love Paul Kandel's Clopin though.  Djali, the goat, was, eh, ok.  I actually rather liked the gargoyles, even though I know some people hate them.  I thought they were okay comic relief, even if it's weird that they really do come to life but only when Quasimodo's alone...and are actually physically helping Quasimodo fight off the guards at the end...which I acknowledge is a little weird...

Aladdin:  Abu--ok, Iago--ok...and what would this movie BE without the Genie?  Nothing.  

Hercules: Danny deVito's Phil is funny, Pegasus is..well, eh.  Pain and Panic are...well, y'know, I do think they've somewhat funny.  Even some of the gods and random townspeople are fun.

Jungle Book--okay, this movie is just FULL of great minor characters.  I mean, Baloo and Bagheera are great, and I suppose are maybe also main characters, but I also love the vultures, the elephants, the monkeys...honestly the "villain" is trebled (King Louie maybe the 3rd) or at least doubled (Kaa) & the main villain Shere Khan.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Joseph & the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (Part 1; Overview & OBC) - ALMOST DONE!

This is going to be long.  Possibly a few entries worth here, since I will be commenting on every version of this that I know of.  Why, you ask?  Well, probably because I'm insane and this is one of my favorite musicals--it's extremely family-friendly and uses (parodies?) a lot of different "styles" of music in it (country/western, Elvis-style rock, calypso, etc.), so people with differing musical tastes can enjoy it. In fairness, though, it is a Broadway-flavored parody, which means it won't be completely accurate in sound.  Also, despite being a bible story, it doesn't feel too preachy. It's hard to mess this one up, and even a mediocre production can be very entertaining.

Quick definition:
A moderately successful show is one that recoups its costs.  It usually takes a run of 10 months to a year. []

General Information and Opinions: There have been 2 Broadway productions of Joseph, the original and a revival.  From  The former lasted from Jan 27, 1982 - Sep 4, 1983, 747 performances, certainly a respectable length, over a year, and the latter from Nov 10, 1993 - May 29, 1994, 231 performances.  Both most likely recouped their costs; and the latter gave rise to some national/regional tours. Neither lasted for any record-breaking amount of time, unlike some of ALW--Andrew Lloyd-Webber-'s other shows (Cats, Phantom of the Opera, etc.), but I feel this one is just as good as those, but in a very different way. Not as weird or artsy as Cats, and not as dramatic and soaring as Phantom, just a relatively simple story with a lot of fun music.  There are no vocal "pyrotechnics," and extremes of vocal range are not used too often (perhaps why it is so frequently done; it doesn't require singers with huge ranges, though of course there is room for a few vocal flourishes).
Since it is sung-through (i.e. there are no scenes of dialogue), the show really moves along. After all, you go to a musical for the music and the songs, so sometimes the scenes of dialogue can really drag things down. There are some slow-ish spots, but I never feel like it drags. Also, the music, though not as lush nor as edgy/rock-inspired as some of ALW's other shows, is catchy and, well...just fun. I'm going to have to revise this when I figure out what word I was looking for. Memorable, maybe? This is NOT to say that I don't like Cats or Phantom, by the way. I'll tackle those eventually.

Anyway, I know very few people would be interested in...let's see, how many do I have...5 different recordings and a movie of this (and if I'm feeling crazier I'll do a quick review of the 3 or 4 stage versions I've seen), but's my blog, I can do what I want. :-p This is mostly just to make use of all the random knowledge and opinions I have rattling around in my head.

I may end up doing this as a overview and then specifics on each version.  Experimentation! :) So far I'm just going through each version in order from earliest to latest, song by song, making various comments.

Notes:  I am reviewing these based on the recording only; I can't say too much about what the original live production would have been like (I wasn't even alive when the first one was on Broadway); but these are my impressions of the production based on the recording, and any pictures I've found in the CD booklet or online.

EDIT: Ok, overview of all songs in general, first.
Act 1
**Prologue - Narrator: Narrator's intro for the frame story. Many versions include a children's chorus to whom the Narrator sings. This song was added for the 1982 Broadway production.
**Any Dream Will Do - Joseph, Children: Fairly standard broadway ballad. Added in this spot in the show AFTER the 1982 production.
**Jacob & Sons - Narrator, Brothers, Wives, Children, Ensemble: uptempo, fun song for exposition and quick character introduction
**Joseph's Coat - Jacob, Narrator, Brothers, Wives, Children, Ensemble: The Color song! Red and yellow and green and brown and scarlet and black and ochre and peach...more setup for the story.

**Joseph's Dreams - Narrator, Brothers, Joseph: Not sure what to call this, but the latter part of the song is jazzy. (Joseph is kind of a jerk in this...oblivious, too.  Honestly, you have to sympathize with the Brothers somewhat!)
**Poor, Poor Joseph - Narrator, Brothers, Children: I have to call this partly rap. Yes, rap. It sounds lame I know, but it works. Somehow. The Brothers are such...punks? :-p  Joseph is sold to the slavers.
**One More Angel in Heaven - Reuben, Narrator, Brothers, Wives, Jacob, Children: This a country/western style song, sung with exaggerated twang and styling. Usually includes an uptempo dance sequence (celebration) after Jacob totters off somewhere to mourn. The Brothers celebrate like jerks.
**Potiphar - Children, Narrator, Male Ensemble, Mrs Potiphar, Potiphar, Joseph: This is a 1920s Charleston (?) number according to Wikipedia.
[King Herod's Song from Jesus Christ Superstar is a much more ragtime piano/Charleston-sounding song to me.]
**Close Every Door - Joseph, Children:  slow ballad; saddest part of the show.  When I was younger I found it way too boring and sad but we need some contrast before the NEXT number...and really, a contrast in tone is needed somewhere.  The song has some emotional depth (If my life were important I would ask: will I live or die? but I know the answer lies far from this world); without completely losing hope (Children of Israel are never alone, for I know I shall find my own peace of mind...) and it develops Joseph into more of a character instead of being completely bland.  Lets Joseph's actor show off some vocal prowess.
**Go, Go, Go Joseph - Narrator, Butler, Baker, Ensemble, Joseph, Guru, Children:  Well, after that sad, serious interlude...DISCO!  This song starts out sounding a lot like the last number, starts slow until we get to the chorus.  And then it explodes into a dance party!  The lyrics of the chorus are not particularly deep but the tune is so darn catchy that I stopped caring long ago.  A fun, energetic song to close out the first act.

Act II

**Pharaoh's Story - Narrator, Children:  The Narrator gives us some more exposition/background and foreshadows Joseph's rise.  Let's the Narrator show off some vocal prowess.
**Poor, Poor Pharaoh - Narrator, Butler, Pharaoh, Children:  Sung-through scene.
**Song of the King - Pharaoh, Ensemble:  And here we have probably the high point of the show.  We finally meet the Pharoah...and he's Elvis.  Or rather, he acts and sings like a parody/exaggeration of Elvis.  [And if you think that's weird, just consider this:  There's an Elvis-inspired cat in Cats.]
**Pharaoh's Dream Explained - Joseph, Ensemble, Children - Joseph explains the meaning of Pharoah's dream (obviously)
**Stone the Crows - Narrator, Pharaoh, Children, Joseph, Female Ensemble - Joseph becomes the Pharoah's advisor and saves Egypt from starvation.  Egypt loves Joseph.
WIKIPEDIA LISTS AN ADDITIONAL SONG HERE, CALLED "King of My Heart -Pharaoh" which I have never heard/heard of. It was not in the most recent production I saw, either.
**Those Canaan Days - Simeon, Jacob, Brothers  -- a French ballad
**The Brothers Come To Egypt/Grovel, Grovel - Narrator, Brothers, Joseph, Female Ensemble, Children
**Who's the Thief? - Joseph, Brothers, Female Ensemble
**Benjamin Calypso - Judah, Brothers, Female Ensemble
**Joseph All the Time - Narrator, Joseph, Children
**Jacob in Egypt - Narrator, Jacob, Children, Ensemble
**Any Dream Will Do (Reprise) - Joseph, Narrator, Ensemble, Jacob, Children
**Close Every Door (Reprise) - Joseph, Children
**Joseph Megamix - Ensemble:  Reprise of nearly all the songs.  I love it!  Added here AFTER the 1982 production.

First up:
According to Wikipedia there was a 1969 concept album by Decca, which I do not have. I'll check it out if I see it.

I also see on Amazon a 1973 London Studio Cast, which I don't have. Listening to samples, I think I'll skip it--singers are a little dull, but it is neat to hear these early versions of the songs--you can hear the show/songs starting to take shape; and it's very clear how they progressed and were tweaked (tempo/phrasing) to become the polished later versions. On second thought...I may have to get this one eventually, too. Curse my collector's tendencies!
Also from Wikipedia: A recording of the full musical was released on the MCA label in 1974, again featuring Gary Bond, Peter Reeves, and Gordon Waller. This is the earliest recording of Joseph to eventually go to CD. Gordon Waller also appeared on another recording in 1979, featuring Tim Rice as the Narrator and Paul Jones as Joseph, on the Music For Pleasure label.

1982 Original Broadway Cast (OBC)
This is the first (or at least first recorded) version of the show that I have. I have to admit, I didn't hear it until I'd heard the next three versions; and so I was somewhat underwhelmed by the original. This is the only version that does not include "Any Dream Will Do" as the 2nd song on the CD; it is only the finale. There is no children's chorus in this version (I don't know if they had one and it wasn't recorded, or if they added it for later productions. It's probably a lot of trouble to coordinate.)

Laurie Beechman as the Narrator is fine, but probably my least favorite. Just listening to the prologue, she is a little too throaty and also slides and wails on notes ("a dreamer li-i-ike you" "all dream a looot") and sounds almost mournful. I'm not sure how much of this could be due to music trends at the time (wailing is usually in for female country singers...), but her voice doesn't have any edge. There's at least one example of wailing or sliding in just about any of her solo sections--the wails and slides make random lines sound overdramatic. I'm not sure if maybe the wailing helped her project or, not exactly BAD, but not my cup of tea (so, IMHO, kinda bad. :-p).

Joseph (Bill Hutton): Pleasant, unremarkable. Somewhat lackluster; not enough energy.

Prologue has actual piano sound instead of synth.

Poor, Poor Joseph--this version is mostly sung, instead of rap/spoken. Has a vaguely 80s pop? sound to it. Maybe that's why the newer ones, made in the 90s, use rap instead.? Though maybe the 90s version are supposed to still sound like the 80s, I'm not sure. Need somebody to help me here.
So maybe they can maybe change this one to whatever the current pop sound is...The 2000s versions should be using autotune then. :-p
The Narrator is all right in this song; a couple of unpleasant notes/wails, but her flair for over-dramatizing and throaty voice (plus a couple of growly words--i.e. blood & guts) works all right here.

One More Angel in Heaven--a very folksy, western version; with an audible clip-clop rhythm underneath. Levi (Steve McNaughton) is singing lead.

Potiphar--has him singing about himself in 3rd person and/or past tense part of the time instead of the narrator, which feels a little awkward sometimes.  I suppose this actor doesn't get much to do though, so it's more understandable; and it saves having the narrator running around in the scene (either invisible or as a random observer).

Go Go Go Joseph--Disco song.  Narrator's wailing at the beginning is a little OTT; it provides contrast but it grates on my ears.  Has a lot of random, slightly chaotic sounding vocalizing near the end--not sure if that was supposed to help with the "disco" style of this song.  It's IS something of a dance song in this version, not quite as high-energy as later versions though.  It's also much shorter; later versions repeat the chorus a few more times and have more dance interludes.

Pharoah Story--too much narrator wailing.

Song of the King--Cheesy Elvis impression with some cute...honky-tonk? piano and chorus...listen for a little "oooh, yeah-yeah-yeah" and "ooh-wheee-oooh". Cute touch, maybe someone decided it was too campy though, since it's not in the later ones.  Some of Pharoah's lines are a little too quiet, have to turn up the sound to hear them clearly. Seems like something easily fixed in the studio during mixing but maybe not.
I'm not an expert on Elvis, so maybe this is a terrible impression, I don't know. Elvis fans, tell me what you think!

Those Canaan Days--
Reuben (Robert Hyman) is singing lead.

Quick note on the CD I have: There is an error, Track 13 is just Those Canaan Days. Track 14 is The Brothers Come to Egypt/Grovel, Grovel/Who's the Thief?

Final comments:
The arrangements of the next 4 are all about the same.  I do like having this version, to hear an alternate arrangement of the songs--different tempos and slightly different parts emphasized.  Feels much less polished but perhaps a touch more...realistic?  sincere?  Unfortunately the sort of bland, uninspired Joseph and my dislike of the Narrator's voice really keep me from liking this one that much.  You may argue that Joseph is a bland character anyway, but I find

Lyrical changes
-still in your prime

Newest (2006)
no real string instruments in the orchestra

Trying too hard. Really chewing the scenery. It's for kids, so it's ok, but not my favorite.

Go Go Go Joseph--no spirit!...minimal background, trying something new with drums, but...feels lackluster.
motorcycle/really cheesy/fake revving sound?

Amy Adams--over-enunciating? Some very BRITISH vowels. Weird.
very artificial sounding background; very synth-y
Any Dream Will Do--weird phrasing, a little too...sweet?

Poor, Poor Joseph -Huh (to ...emphasize the rap?) Honestly, autotune would have been a better choice. :-p