All of this emotional baggage didn’t really come into play until the end of the experience of listening to the cast recording for the latest Broadway revival of the show. Specifically, it’s the ghost of the Baker’s Wife singing a reprise of “No One Is Alone” to the Baker:
“Sometimes people leave you
Halfway through the wood
Do not let it grieve you
No one leaves for good.”
It was during this stanza when I started crying. The weight of this album had finally revealed itself.
This is not only a fantastic, definitive recording of one of Sondheim’s finest works. It is also the first recording he didn’t get to hear.
Although we had the gender-bent production of Company last year (Sondheim saw a preview, but didn’t live to the opening), the relationship a composer has to a cast recording is a very different animal. Sondheim was very involved with every preservation of his music, coaching and offering advice to actors during the recording process. The stage production might be headed by the director and producer, but in the recording studio, Sondheim was king. What happens when the king is no longer with us?
Like the Baker’s Son, the performers were left in a scary world without the most important of guiding voices. And they did what the Baker’s Son will likely one day do. They will listen to other trusted voices, they will rely on the advice that was offered during the departed’s life, and they will go forward trusting that their own sense of intuition won’t let them down.
In the case of this new cast recording, that new independence paid off in spades.
I know that calling this album definitive will be deemed as sacrilege by many musical theatre lovers, with the legacy of the original cast recording looming over it, but this version is set apart by the fidelity of the recording and the completeness of the artists’ original vision.
Between this new production and the upcoming Josh Groban-led revival of Sweeney Todd, I’m so thankful that producers are finally appreciating the importance of Jonathan Tunick’s full orchestrations to Sondheim’s scores. While I’ll always defend certain reinterpretations of Sondheim’s shows (don’t fight me on the John Doyle productions of Sweeney and Company), it’s an undeniable fact that no orchestrator understood Sondheim’s compositions better than Tunick. The fifteen-piece orchestra, conducted by Rob Berman, is lush, moving, and incredibly complementary to the singers’ voices.
Speaking of, there is not a weak performer in this ensemble. Sara Bareilles continues to wow us all with her seemingly endless talents. Being a songwriter herself, she plays the Baker’s Wife with a respect for the text I’ve never seen before in a Sondheim interpreter. She recognizes and showcases the value of every word she sings, making every line purposeful. Brian d’Arcy James plays her Baker, and his big-as-all-outdoors voice is a perfect pairing with hers on “It Takes Two”.