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'Amour's' charm endures offstage

The short-lived Michel Legrand musical specializes in daydreamy solos.

June 29, 2003|Daryl H. Miller | Times Staff Writer


Broadway premiere recording (Sh-K-Boom Records)


This operetta-like musical waltzed onto Broadway last fall and whirled away after just 31 previews and 17 regular performances. Its surreal plot -- about a lovelorn man who gains the ability to walk through walls -- and old-fashioned-sounding score by Michel Legrand (the film "The Umbrellas of Cherbourg") no doubt made it a tough sell on the ultra-commercial Great White Way. But on CD, it's a charmer that seems capable of achieving the cult-like status of such beloved flops as "Anyone Can Whistle" and "Dear World."

A French import with a libretto by Didier Van Cauwelaert adapted into English by Jeremy Sams, "Amour" (in stores July 8) takes place in 1950 in Paris' Montmartre neighborhood. A bland civil servant named Dusoleil (Malcolm Gets) yearns for Isabelle (Melissa Errico), the shut-away, neglected wife of a vengeful, corrupt prosecutor general (Lewis Cleale). When Dusoleil develops his mysterious ability, the walls in his life disappear -- a metaphor that lends some heft to this otherwise slight, offbeat fable.

The choicest tunes are bittersweet, daydreamy solos or duets by the love-starved Isabelle and Dusoleil, carrying such evocative titles as "Other People's Stories," "An Ordinary Guy," "Somebody" and "Special Time of Day." Gets has an earnest voice, full of character, while Errico produces crystalline tones that sparkle with a gentle vibrato. Deepening the pleasure are jaunty, wordless choral passages -- whistled or performed in vocalise -- that seem to skip over Montmartre's cobblestones.

This may not be deathless art, but in its strongest moments it resembles a couple of Stephen Sondheim's intellectual curiosities (his frequent collaborator, James Lapine, directed the Broadway production). Lovers of such work may want to seek this out.

Minus its book, 'Nine' loses points


The new Broadway cast

(PS Classics)

** 1/2

Some cast albums seem to burst from your stereo speakers and frolic about the living room (think anything by Lerner & Loewe or Kander & Ebb), while others sit stiffly in the corner because the music refuses to come to life when removed from its story.

Maury Yeston's "Nine" is among the latter. So even though the revival cast album vividly captures the show's impassioned vocals, along with the lush orchestrations by Jonathan Tunick, it doesn't make for satisfying at-home listening.

The production -- which won this year's Tony Award for best musical revival -- is led by Antonio Banderas as an Italian filmmaker whose head fills with the voices of the many women in his life, all jostling for prominence, as he faces personal and professional crises. Banderas' smooth baritone fills with churning, conflicted emotion as the character plunges ever deeper into his dilemma. Portraying the filmmaker's neglected wife, Mary Stuart Masterson sings with a rich, dark tone that she uses to particularly powerful effect as anger gives way to loss in "Be on Your Own."

Amply living up to her featured actress Tony, Jane Krakowski naughtily whispers and moans through the phone-sex song "A Call From the Vatican," and later lets ache creep into her voice as she delivers the end-of-the-love-affair tune "Simple."

A Yeston cornucopia

"The Maury Yeston Songbook"

Various artists (PS Classics)


You can hear Yeston's curriculum vitae in his music. He studied at Yale, Cambridge and the BMI musical theater workshop, then taught music at Yale before breaking into theater with "Nine" in 1982 -- a background that no doubt accounts for his arty, often classical impulses.

These impulses reach concentrated form in a project that pairs 20 of his songs with 16 musical theater and cabaret performers, including Betty Buckley, Brent Barrett, Christine Ebersole and Liz Callaway.

Sutton Foster, the overnight sensation from "Thoroughly Modern Millie," turns her electric voice to another jumping, flapper-era tune in "I Want to Go to Hollywood," from the 1928-set "Grand Hotel." Laura Benanti, featured in the "Nine" revival cast, and Robert Cuccioli, of "Jekyll & Hyde" fame, convey yearning as they sing about finding "Home" in a powerful segment from "Phantom," while Buckley gets to let her big, dusky voice loose on the outsized emotion in "Be on Your Own" from "Nine."

Overall, however, the album is more intellectual than emotional, in part because the selections include only one song apiece from "Grand Hotel" and "Titanic" and two from "Phantom," while five apiece have been chosen from the more cerebral "December Songs," a song cycle inspired by Schubert's "Die Winterreise," and "Nine."

A mixed bag of compilations

"Broadway Today"

Various artists (Sony Classical)


"Ultimate Broadway 2"

Various artists (RCA Victor)


Compilation discs make perfect sense in the pop world (note the popularity of the "Now That's What I Call Music!" series). But with Broadway music, the idea seems forced, especially when the results have a grab-bag feel.

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