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Why London-to-Broadway Transfers Need Two Different Albums

By: Linda Buchwald
Date: Apr 08, 2016

One musical fan makes a case for multiple cast recordings of the same show


The day after American Psycho began previews on Broadway last month, the original London cast recording of the musical was released. But anyone who sees the show and listens to the album will immediately be struck by major differences (beyond the casts), starting with a totally new opening number.

At this time, it's unclear whether the Broadway incarnation of American Psycho will be recorded. But I certainly hope so! The fact is, while musicals frequently transfer between the West End and Broadway, they don't always get two different cast recordings. Broadway's Billy Elliot, Sister Act, and Mary Poppins -- all of which originated across the pond -- weren't rerecorded. It’s more common for shows that transfer the other way, from New York to London, to get two albums. Elf, The Scottsboro Boys, Memphis, and 13 the Musical are recent examples. London has a longer history with the cast recording, dating back to the 1920s. They did not become common on Broadway until the 1940s, which is why a historic American show like Show Boat has a 1928 London cast recording, but not one of the original 1927 Broadway production. Even the Main Stem's longest-running show, The Phantom of the Opera, only has a London album. But since it's the best-selling cast recording of all time, did it really need a Broadway one?

This musical lover says yes!

Listening to the cast recordings of NYC and London versions of the same show back-to-back, I've found plenty of reasons for both to exist. They offer a chance to hear how shows change. For example, Legally Blonde was more critically and commercially successful in the West End than on Broadway, and won the Olivier Award for best musical. The fact that it was recorded in front of a live London audience gives listeners a chance to hear why it worked so well over there. Patrons clearly delighted in the silliness, cracking up during numbers like the courtroom showstopper "There! Right There!," which features the lyric, "Is he gay or European?" Sheridan Smith, who won an Olivier for her lead performance, sounds a bit older and worldlier than one might expect for sorority-girl-turned-law-student Elle Woods, but she is clearly having a ton of fun and embracing the tongue-in-cheek tone that Brits adored.

On the original Royal Shakespeare Company recording of Matilda the Musical, the opening number, "Miracle," has the line, "Not dressed in hospital cotton with a smarting front bottom." For the Broadway album, the lyric was changed to "with an ouchy front bottom," no doubt to make more sense to American audiences. In addition to those linguistic tweaks, the Broadway edition is more complete -- it even includes the stories that Matilda tells in the library, which were omitted from the London recording. It also preserves Gabriel Ebert's Tony-winning performance as the heroine's hilariously awful dad.

And that brings me to the main reason I wish different incarnations of the same show were always recorded: It gives you the chance to hear multiple interpretations of the same songs. Chad Kimball brought a crazed energy to the part of Huey Calhoun, a DJ who introduces R&B to mainstream radio, in Broadway's Memphis. Killian Donnelly, who played the role in London, also displays unwavering charisma, as well as more of an edge. In the case of The Scottsboro Boys, Brandon Victor Dixon played the role of wrongfully convicted Haywood Patterson Off-Broadway and reprised it in London. Even though he sings on both recordings (which are similar but excellent), you can hear how he evolved, making moments like the cautionary tale "Make Friends with the Truth" even more chilling. He certainly makes a good case for two recordings. In fact, considering that Joshua Henry earned a Tony nomination for his take on the same role on Broadway, but was never recorded, maybe The Scottsboro Boys needed three cast albums!

Are there any Broadway musicals that only have London cast albums that you wish had been recorded stateside? Tell us in the comments!


Linda Buchwald tweets about theatre at @PataphysicalSci. Follow TDF at @TDFNYC.

Photo: The Scottsboro Boys on Broadway by Paul Kolnik

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tweets about theatre at @PataphysicalSci. Follow TDF at @TDFNYC.