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Sizing up the scores: Reviewing the soundtracks of Broadway’s new musicals and revivals

Matthew Mapa, Staff Writer

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   After the Tony nominations were announced on May 1, excitement has been building. Arguably the most important categories, the competition for Best Musical and Best Revival of a Musical, are incredibly tight this year. The nominees for Best Musical include “Frozen: The Broadway Musical,” “Mean Girls,” “SpongeBob SquarePants: The Broadway Musical,” all shows with large fan bases, and “The Band’s Visit,” a smaller show with rave reviews. The competition for Best Revival pits “Once on This Island,” a show from the early nineties revived for the first time, against classic shows “Carousel” and “My Fair Lady.”

   While not everyone can see each of these shows in all their glory on Broadway, anyone can listen to their scores in the form of soundtracks. The score is what gives the actors and actresses their time to shine, and is what makes a lasting impression on critics and the audience alike. Here are reviews of the soundtracks for the nominees of both Best Musical and Best Revival of a Musical (“Carousel” and “My Fair Lady” do not have any songs released featuring their respective revival casts, so they will not be reviewed).

Once on This Island

   While seeming the underdog for Best Revival of a Musical, “Once on This Island” still received 8 Tony nominations, and has an all-star cast that shines on the show’s cast recording.

   One of the best parts of this revival is Hailey Kilgore, an 18-year-old actress making her Broadway debut as Ti Moune, the protagonist. Kilgore shines in her solo, “Waiting for Life,” a song about her longing to follow her dreams and bridge the separation between her people, the peasants, and the social elites called the grand hommes.

   Alex Newell, who played Wade “Unique” Adams on Glee, also makes his Broadway debut as Asaka, the goddess of the earth. He shines in his song, “Mama Will Provide,” belting some of the highest notes in the soundtrack.

   Other members of the cast have their own moments. Lea Salonga, who plays Erzulie, the goddess of love, sings beautifully in “The Human Heart,” while Merle Dandridge, the actress who plays Papa Ge, is equal parts delightful and terrifying in “Forever Yours.”

   However, while each of the main actors and actresses gets their time to shine, some of the show’s songs fall into the trap of being too expositional, due to the show’s plot being the people of the island telling a story to a little girl. As a result, a fair portion of the soundtrack can sometimes feel boring and repetitive for listeners.

   The soundtrack of “Once on This Island” has a colorful cast and beautiful moments that make it worth listening to. Even if it sometimes falls flat, the sound of the show makes it especially appealing to people who have never listened to Broadway.

Recommended Listening: “Waiting for Life,” “Mama Will Provide,” “Forever Yours”

Rating: 3.5/5

 

Frozen: The Broadway Musical

   Though earning only 3 Tony nominations, “Frozen: The Broadway Musical” retains everything that made the animated movie so popular. The show’s score by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez combines both fan favorites like “Let it Go” and “For the First Time in Forever” with newer songs that help expand upon the main characters that everyone knows and loves.

   Some of the most classic songs from the Frozen movie are improved upon in the Broadway adaptation. Caissie Levy, the actress who plays Elsa, does a great job with “Let It Go,” arguably putting on a better performance than Idina Menzel. Levy and Patti Murin, who plays Anna, also share a beautiful duet in “For the First Time in Forever.”

   The new songs are just as good as the old, creating character development for Elsa and Anna that was not as apparent in the movie. Elsa’s songs “Dangerous and Dream” and “Monster” both explore Elsa’s inner doubts, and her character even contemplates suicide to save Arendelle from the monster she believes that she has become. On the other hand, Anna sings a song called “True Love,” which shows how much her character has grown, as she acknowledges her past naivete and inexperience as she freezes after being betrayed by Hans.

   Unfortunately, while the aforementioned new songs are great, some of the new songs just feel unnecessary, and lack anything to make them special. This mostly harms the character of Hans, who only gets to sing a song about how he’s from the Southern Isles, and remains a flawed villain without any sympathizing motives except for hungering for power.

   Even if it received weaker reviews than the other Best Musical nominees, “Frozen: The Broadway Musical” has a surprisingly strong soundtrack that simultaneously improves upon older gems, while adding enough development to fully flesh its protagonists. Fans of the movie should strongly consider listening to it, and more importantly, be open to the changes that the Broadway musical makes to its source material.

Recommended Listening: “Let It Go,” “Monster,” “True Love”

Rating: 4/5

 

Mean Girls

   With an excellent team behind the scenes, including a Tony-nominated book written by Tina Fey, “Mean Girls” is one of the most notable shows of the season, tied with “SpongeBob Squarepants: The Broadway Musical” for the most Tony nominations this season with 12. However, while many aspects of the show are great, the soundtrack is unfortunately disappointing.

   “I’d Rather Be Me” is easily the best song, sung by actress Barrett Wilbert Weed, who plays Janis Sarkisian. Set during the scene when all the girls in the school are brought into the gym to settle their differences, “I’d Rather Be Me” is about Janis’s hurt from being betrayed by both Regina and Cady, but also stresses the importance of honesty and being comfortable in your own skin, which is an important message for high schoolers.

Just like the source material, the soundtrack also can be pretty funny. Songs like “Meet the Plastics,” “Sexy” and “Stop” are especially entertaining, performed by Kate Rockwell, who plays Karen, and Grey Henson, who plays Damian and is nominated for a Tony award for Best Featured Actor.

However, humor is the only thing that the soundtrack of “Mean Girls” has going for it. The rest of the songs are otherwise unremarkable, and the only thing the soundtrack does to improve upon the source material is by adding a song about both Gretchen and Mrs. George’s feelings of inadequacy. And while characters like Regina are still delightfully mean, the songs are exactly like the movie, with no major changes building up the characters.

   While “Mean Girls” does not have the best soundtrack, fans of the movie will still thoroughly enjoy it. The soundtrack does retain much of the movie’s hilarity and charm, including lines such as “You go, Glen Coco!” Overall however, the soundtrack is disappointing for its massive hype.

Recommended Listening: “I’d Rather Be Me,” “Stop,” “Meet the Plastics”

Rating: 2.5/5

 

SpongeBob SquarePants: The Broadway Musical

   “SpongeBob SquarePants: The Broadway Musical,” the other musical with 12 Tony nominations, has one of the most unique scores to date, with around 17 different contributors who each wrote a song. Encompassing several styles, the diversity of songwriters makes the soundtrack a worthy listen.

   Part of the appeal of the musical is how it brings complexity to the simplicity of the source material.

   For example, in the song “Hero is my Middle Name,” written by Cyndi Lauper, SpongeBob, portrayed by Ethan Slater, who is nominated for Best Actor in a Musical, is trying to convince Sandy to help him and Patrick stop a volcano from erupting.

   However, the song also encourages digging in and persevering over wallowing in sorrow and complaining when faced with a difficult task. And while stopping a volcano may not be on a Trinity student’s everyday agenda, people do constantly complain about school

   Another example of this is “I’m Not a Loser,” which is sung by Gavin Lee, another Tony nominee who portrays Squidward. While the song itself is funny, it’s also the moment when Squidward is able to overcome his own insecurities and achieve self-acceptance.

   “SpongeBob SquarePants: The Broadway Musical” also makes sure to have fun, and the soundtrack is no exception. The song “Best Day Ever,” which originated in the cartoon, makes its appearance in the musical moments before the volcano is set to go off. One of the songs, “Poor Pirates,” even includes a kazoo.

   The score of “SpongeBob SquarePants: The Broadway Musical” is easily one of the best this season, and is easily one of the main contenders for Best Score. The soundtrack is definitely a must-listen, and is perfect for both fervent Broadway fans and the general person.

Recommended Listening: “Hero is my Middle Name,” “I’m Not a Loser,” “Poor Pirates”

Rating: 4.5/5

 

The Band’s Visit

   “The Band’s Visit” is essentially The Little Show That Could, starting Off-Broadway before transferring to the Ethel Barrymore Theater. Of the four nominees, the show has the best reviews, and is considered the favorite to win Best Musical. Its soundtrack makes it easy to see why: while straying from more traditional Broadway styles, the soundtrack of “The Band’s Visit” is absolutely stunning.

   One of the highlights of this soundtrack is Katrina Lenk’s Dina. Lenk, who is nominated for Best Leading Actress in a Musical, excels at exhibiting both sides of Dina’s character. In songs such as “Welcome to Nowhere” and “It Is What It Is,” Dina is sarcastic and aloof, while in the songs “Omar Sharif” and “Something Different,” Dina shows a more sensitive and tender side to her personality. These changes help make Dina a full, fleshed-out character with a varied personality.

   The small town setting of “The Band’s Visit” also allows each character to be completely fleshed out, giving additional meaning to already beautiful songs. Itzik, played by John Cariani, shows a caring, fatherly side in “Itzik’s Lullaby,” and Papi, played by Etai Benson, gets to sing about his lack of experience with women. Haled, a womanizer played Ari’el Stachel, shows a surprisingly mature side by singing about his understanding of how people are ultimately the same, no matter their place of origin. And Tewfiq, played by Tony Shalhoub, an actor without any singing experience, entrances in the song “Itgara’a,” which is entirely in Arabic.

   Even the instrumental pieces of the soundtrack are amazing. Pieces such as “Afifi” and “The Concert” draw the listener in and bring them into Beit Hatikva.

   “The Band’s Visit” is completely deserving of all the praise it receives. It has arguably the best soundtrack this season, and a win for Best Score would be unsurprising. Every song in the soundtrack is enjoyable to listen to, and is a great listen for anyone.

Recommended Listening: “Welcome to Nowhere,” “Omar Sharif,” “Haled’s Song About Love”

Rating: 5/5

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About the Writer
Matthew Mapa, FOCUS Editor
Matthew Mapa is a sophomore entering his second year on staff as FOCUS Editor. Whether he is on Facebook figuring out how to run a social media account (for debate?) or in class CONSCIOUSLY placing his head on his desk, feel free to poke him. Contact Matthew Mapa at [email protected]
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Sizing up the scores: Reviewing the soundtracks of Broadway’s new musicals and revivals