I have read a number of reviews of this recording on various sites and cannot help thinking a few people do miss the point. I have always felt that cast recordings are just that - not an attempt to be the definitive version of the music, but a reflection of the specific production. Some reviewers compare at length this recording with the original Broadway cast recording, weighing up the relative merits of Daniel Evans and Jenna Russell (London) with Many Patinkin and Bernadette Peters (NY). This seems a slightly spurious comparison, as the productions are so different. What works for NY with the 'big' orchestrations, would be nonsense with the small ensemble style of the London production.
I buy cast recordings of shows either as a reminder of productions I have seen or out of curiosity for those I have not, so I shall waste no more of your time with comparisons as I never saw the original Broadway version and anything I have to say about the cast recording can only reflect the recording. But this is where reviewing the London recording becomes interesting for me and may go some way to answering some rather harsh criticism of Jenna Russell's performance on these discs from our cousins across the pond.
This production originated at the Menier Choclate Factory, a small London fringe venue and ran from November 2005 to March 2006. The leads were Daniel Evans and Anna Jane Casey. It subsequently moved into the delightfully intimate Wyndhams Theatre in the West End in May of 2006. Betwen the two incarnations, Jenna Russell took over the part of Dot (and Marie) from Anna Jane Casey and importantly the cast recording was made. The notes by Matt Wolf in the excellent glossy booklet accompanying the twin disc set, state that re-rehearsals for the West End had not begun at the time of the recording, so Jenna Russell had not been able to develop her performance, which to me makes it all the more remarkable.
I was fortunate to see the show in mid June, so it had settled into it's run well. I was absolutely bowled over by the production. If you don't like Sondheim then there is no way you are going to agree with me, so you may as well move on to another review now - but if you do like Sondheim, then I do not think there could be a finer interpretation of this work at this scale. I have to say I prefer Sondheim in an intimate setting - Sweeney Todd for me was drowned by the scale of Drury Lane, but came across brilliantly in the Chris Bond staging seen in Liverpool, Watford and a later production at the Half Moon. Indeed the Watermill production that toured the UK recently was a fabulous ensemble version, albeit of a particular kind. But I digress.
Just as in the work of Seurat, where every dot was important, every colour carefully judged, to get the most from 'Sunday in the Park With George' we need to hear every word, every note and both in this production and the recording we do. For me 'Sunday' was one of those few productions where every aspect of the production came together and created a whole truly in excess of its constituent parts. You can't see it on the CD, but the set, lighting, projection and costume design were completely in tune with the production; the sound was, I think, probably the best musical sound I have ever heard; the performances both in the pit and on stage were extraordinary but the major aspect of this production for me (and many theatre reviewers) was the sheer emotion. I have never spent an evening where I have moved so effortlessly from laughter to tears. Being a repressed British male, my throat ached before the interval from choking back the tears. By the time we got to 'Move On' in Act 2 the tears were flowing freely. Mr Sondheim certainly knows how to pull at the heart strings, musically and lyrically.
This recording is a very good reflection of the production, but Jenna Russell had to try and get up to speed for this recording without the benefit of a rehearsal period, a run and, vitally, audience reaction to help her and my only criticism is that I think this comes across in the early numbers. Her performance on the first disc is not as confident or clear as she was when I saw the production, particularly in the opening sequence. The disc lacks the fine nuances of her stage performance, the charm, the humour and the desire. However, as we move further into the recording, I think she really finds her feet, or should that be voice?
As a record of what was for me a true highlight in a long involvement with theatre, this recording is terrific. It's not Broadway and quite frankly I really would not want it to be, but this is the finest musical theatre, beautifully recorded for posterity.