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THEATER | ALBUM REVIEWS

Broadway magic -- it's so elusive

July 15, 2007|Daryl H. Miller | Times Staff Writer

The Tonys didn't exactly shower these musicals with love. Why?

"Curtains"

Original Broadway cast

(Broadway Angel/Manhattan Records)

* *

WITH such shows as "Cabaret" and "Chicago," John Kander and Fred Ebb conditioned us to expect scores loaded with hits. Sadly, these songs, which Rupert Holmes helped Kander finish after Ebb's death, don't have the old razzle-dazzle.

The biggest buzz is generated by "Show People," an exuberant ode to the showbiz life that, like all of the songs for this 1950s-set story, tries to evoke the energy of that era's golden moment for Broadway musicals. The song is triggered by a musical-theater-loving police detective who lands the assignment of a lifetime when a homicide occurs onstage at a musical. The role suits David Hyde Pierce to a T, allowing him to be goofy and dashing at the same time.

The best of the rest: the theater producer's ode to the bottom line, "It's a Business," assigned to Debra Monk, and the paired, bittersweet ballads "Thinking of Him" and "I Miss the Music," given to Karen Ziemba and Jason Danieley, as a divorced husband-and-wife songwriting team. Speaking of missing the music: With Ebb's passing, we will.

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Some clever takes on bubblegum pop

"Legally Blonde"

Original Broadway cast

(Ghostlight Records)

* *

THE moral is delivered in the very first song: "See? Dreams really do come true. / You never have to compromise." The heroine sings it in reaction to something that, for her, is truly momentous: finding just the right dress.

Elle Woods, the preternaturally chipper central character of the 2001 movie, is now the star of her own musical (album available Tuesday). So she's back at Harvard Law School, attempting to prove that someone beautiful, fashionable and blond can compete with brainiacs.

Feel-good but featherweight, the story is fortunate to have "Bat Boy" songwriter Laurence O'Keefe in charge of its music, in partnership with his wife, Nell Benjamin. The score is wryly inflected with idioms keyed to the characters' tastes. For Elle, that includes exercise videos and sorority hymns.

There is, of course, a "Bend and Snap" song, further developing the closest thing to a musical number in the movie, and, cleverly, Elle heads to Harvard with a "Greek" chorus of former sorority sisters singing in her head.

Mostly, though, the music chirps along in a bubblegum pop that's not terribly conducive to dramatic complexity. Even the big anthems fail to generate much spine-tingle, though Laura Bell Bundy, as Elle, and company deliver a focused, sunny sound.

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Speak loudly, carry on is Short's big shtick

"Martin Short: Fame Becomes Me"

Original Broadway cast

(Ghostlight Records)

* *

LISTENING to this stage memoir made me realize how much I didn't know about Martin Short: The verbal abuse he suffered as a boy, the spiral into drugs and liquor, the death by lightning strike.

Hmm. Perhaps some of that is made up. It appears that this ever-mutable clown can't play it straight even when attempting a Broadway tell-all, in the mode of Elaine Stritch and Billy Crystal. He's selling a pack of lies here, in cahoots with "Hairspray" songwriters Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman. The material lets Short trot out his 1,001 character voices, from scarily mature baby to jaded, nasty celebrity. The mock-epic tone is matched by a score that roots through musical theater history, appropriating songs helter-skelter. The sound-alike tunes are easily traceable to such shows as "Jesus Christ Superstar," "Company," "Dreamgirls" and "Wicked."

Short morphs into his popular Jiminy Glick and Irving Cohen characters. When other celebrities are needed, they're impersonated by the multitalented supporting cast. The result often sounds like an installment of "Forbidden Broadway."

Problem is: Once this album is listened to, it'll likely sit on the shelf. As with any joke, it doesn't bear much repetition.

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An Irish pirate boards 'Les Miserables'

"The Pirate Queen"

Original Broadway cast

(Masterworks Broadway)

*

THE promotional come-on plastered onto this CD's cellophane wrapper declares: "From the creators of 'Les Miserables' and 'Miss Saigon' and the producers of 'Riverdance.' " The marketers know their audience. Fans of those shows are among the likeliest buyers of this disc. Chances are they'll also be the most disappointed.

Producers Moya Doherty and John McColgan wooed '80s epic-makers Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schonberg into this pet project about Ireland's Grace O'Malley, a 16th century clan chieftain and piratical scourge of English and Spanish ships. The $16-million Broadway production opened to punishing reviews and closed June 17, having played just a bit more than three months of previews and regular performances.

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