Album reviews: Working / Bat out of Hell / 42nd Street

A trio of West End cast recordings (well, one’s off-West-End…) show that it is sometimes hard to recapture the stage magic 

© Robert Workman

Starting off with the best of this bunch, the Southwark Playhouse’s production of Working might not have seemed like the obvious choice for a cast recording but maybe the lure of a couple of new Lin-Manuel Miranda tracks was a real sweetener.

Truth is, it is the quality of the cast’s performances that make this a fantastic addition to the list of albums you need to hear. From Siubhan Harrison’s impassioned ‘Millwork’ to Dean Chisnall’s gleeful ‘Brother Trucker’, and the highly charismatic Liam Tamne nails both of Miranda’s contributions – the wilful ‘Delivery’ and a corking duet (with Harrison) on ‘A Very Good Day’.

Experience pays though, as Gillian Bevan and Peter Polycarpou take the honours with some scintillating work. The latter’s ‘Joe’ is beautifully judged, as is the former’s ‘Nobody Tells Me How’, both demonstrating the uncertainty that can come at the end of a long career, when retirement doesn’t necessarily hold the joyful promise it once did. Highly recommended. 

© Specular

Now back in London and playing the Dominion Theatre, Bat out of Hell is once again proving an unlikely hit, marrying the iconic songbook of Meatloaf with the 80s excess of mega-musicals. And to my surprise, it is something that I have enjoyed a sampling of, albeit assisted with a large amount of white wine on each occasion.

So it is perhaps unsurprising that the cast recording doesn’t really encapsulate much of what worked about the show (for me, at least). So much of the WTFery is down to the staging and without those amusements, you’re left with a set of Meatloaf songs on this record. Which is fine and good if you’re a fan but for someone who isn’t, it’s an awful lot of noisy rock.

Few of the songs here transcend into musical theatre magic, despite the best full-voiced efforts of a talented cast. Even tracks which impressed onstage (‘Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad’, ‘Objects in the Rear View Mirror May Appear Closer Than They Are’) feel thinner here. Once again, it is the Jack and Karen of the show that shine through, Rob Fowler and Sharon Sexton serving character for days on the likes of ‘Paradise by the Dashboard Light’ and ‘It’s All Coming Back to Me Now’.

© Brinkhoff/Moegenburg

There’s lots to enjoy about 42nd Street but you have to admit it is predominantly a feast for the eyes. It is a stunning dance show (Gower Champion’s original choreography enhanced here by Randy Skinner) but stripped of those visual treats, I’m not too sure this latest production really stands out.

The evergreen score (music by Harry Warren and lyrics Al Dubin, and Johnny Mercer) is full of classic songs but on record, this cast recording doesn’t really sparkle as it could. There are no bad performances here and the arrangements sound good, there’s just none of the high-kicking verve that makes the dancing stand out.

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