Cast recordings are a big part of the merchandising market in the theatre industry; perhaps the biggest part. Some people buy the album of a musical as a means of deciding whether they want to go to see the actual show. Others rush out to buy it the second they’ve seen a musical they loved. They make great gifts and keepsakes and are an effective means of promoting a show – not to mention making a mint of money – yet, there is a great gaping gap in this market that, frankly, I’m surprised isn’t being filled.
The West End has a plethora of musicals currently playing which have transferred from Broadway. Those such as Wicked, Shrek The Musical and Rock of Ages, to name a few, are doing very well and have been a big hit with audiences, if not always the critics. They’re very healthy shows, in all areas, including merchandising – so why don’t these shows have an original London cast recording?
Yes, a show such as Wicked for example does have a cast recording already, but it is with the original Broadway cast. I only recently went to see Wicked at the Apollo Victoria Theatre and thought it was a fantastic show, so I got myself a copy of the album. It’s superb, don’t get me wrong; Idina Menzel is a tremendous Elphaba and that whole cast do a stunning job with the score. Surely there should be a London alternative though? The American accents can sometimes throw you off and, at times, make it seem like a very different show. I’d like to have an album of our cast so that I could enjoy the best of both worlds, something I know I’m not alone in.
Nearly every day I’m hearing calls for a London cast recording for one show or another – the calls for a Rock of Ages one seem to be the most predominant right now. Why shouldn’t there be? There is clearly a demand from theatre audiences and it would also give a nice little nod to the cast themselves. These shows may not be UK-originated, but they are still original to London when they come here. The show still has to be built from scratch: cast, costumes, sets, orchestra and so forth. Just because it was successful on Broadway, there are no guarantees that it will be successful in the West End. I think the hard work that is put in should be reflected and recognised with our own recording.
There is also demand for updated cast recordings. When a musical brings in a particular name or two, straight away the theatre fans are banging on the door for a new album that features them. Les Miserables has had a recent run of strong names in the cast, from Alfie Boe and Matt Lucas to the current Ramin Karimloo. I know that fans were chomping at the bit to get a cast recording with them, but it’s not going to happen. In this instance, I can understand why not. Cast changes occur on a regular basis and if they were to record a new album every time that happened, there would be hundreds of them floating about for the same show. It’s not a feasible concept. I get where the fans are coming from though. I thought Gina Beck and Rachel Tucker were outstanding in Wicked and I would have loved to have been able to listen to their performances again and again once at home. That’s the joy of live theatre though – if you can’t enjoy them at home, you can just go back and relive the experience all over again, which will always be better than a simple recording anyway.
The instances in which I do think there should be an updated cast recording though are on those special milestone moments. Wicked celebrated its fifth anniversary last year which would have been the absolute perfect time to release an OLC recording. But nada. And long-running musicals like The Phantom of the Opera went twenty-five years before giving fans a new album. The original recording, phenomenal as it is, sounds very out-dated now, especially in comparison to the 25th Anniversary recording at The Royal Albert Hall. Ramin Karimloo and Sierra Boggess are just breath-taking on it and it’s just a shame fans had to wait so long.
You can’t please everyone, but you can certainly try to please the majority. No, shows are not going to start releasing new cast recordings for every new cast but what they can do is act on those moments when they should be releasing them. They make a lot of money, the fans get what they want, the profile of the musical is raised… everyone gets what they want.
By Julie Robinson (@missjulie25)
Sunday 12th February 2012