The more things change, the more – well, you know the rest of the quotation coined by one Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr in 1849. And here we are seeing a nostalgia for vinyl records in the digital and download era.
In the acclaimed musical The Drowsy Chaperone, its hero, simply known as Man in Chair, tells the audience he’ll play a record and then immediately reiterates, “Yes: record,” in a stern voice that indicates he’s no kid and that he still remembers such an item even if the crowd out there doesn’t. The line got a big laugh when the show opened ten years ago, but now, with a vinyl resurgence raging, it may not.
For those who think of a needle as more than something hard to find in a haystack, Masterworks Broadway has a new stack of Broadway show albums – Chicago, Hairspray, Kinky Boots and Once – now available on 180-gram vinyl.
What is 180-gram vinyl, you non-audiophiles ask? It refers to the record’s weight – and these discs are good and solid, worthy of the heavyweight division. What a contrast to the albums that RCA Victor gave us in the later ‘60s; the vinyl was so thin that we could almost bend each record to form a genuine oval. Not with these, you can’t.
Chicago is the only one of the four that actually had a previous vinyl album, when the original cast album with Gwen Verdon, Chita Rivera and Jerry Orbach emerged as a long-playing record in the summer of 1975. So vinyl is an appropriate way to celebrate Chicago’s recent twentieth anniversary on Broadway and its 8,300-plus performance run, which is far from over. Revel in the original revival cast of Tony winners Bebe Neuwirth and James Naughton as well as Ann Reinking and Joel Grey.
Hairspray will be on TV come December 7, a day that will live in glory for all musical theater lovers. There will be a soundtrack soon available, but here we again go retro with the original cast album of the 2003 Best Musical winner. It’s the only show in Broadway history, be it play or musical, that garnered silver medallions for the entire family: Marissa Jaret Winokur (Tracy), Harvey Fierstein (Edna) and Dick Latessa (Wilbur), Turnblads all, emerged victorious.
Kinky Boots has Fierstein’s name on it, too, albeit as a bookwriter and not an actor. The album of course offers Cyndi Lauper’s Tony-winning score, but the inside of the double-jacket gatefold album reveals something else that we’ve lost since LPs have disappeared from view: Big Pictures. Every one of the seven photos adorning this album has more square inches than the twenty-two-and-a-half square inches in the length and width of an entire CD booklet.
All of the above musicals are on two-record sets, for vinyl cannot accommodate as much as those silver sliver CDs. Although the original cast album of Chicago started its second side with the score’s eighth song (“Roxie”), here the fourth song (“Cell Block Tango”) finishes the first side. So be prepared to get out of your chair and turn over the discs much more frequently than you did in the past. (The exercise will do you a world of good.)
Although Once is a single record, it too got a double-jacket (or “gatefold,” as some like to say) that many associate with the glory days of Columbia Records (although the first such album was an RCA release: Silk Stockings in mid-1955; even Capitol, via The Music Man in early 1958, beat Columbia to the double-punch, for that august company didn’t offer a gatefold until late spring 1958 when Columbia released the double-cover London cast album (and first stereo recording) of My Fair Lady.
As a lyric in Les Misérables reminds us, red is the color of desire, and those who desire red vinyl will find their wishes granted through Chicago and Kinky Boots. The former’s “Hot Honey Rag” could now be called red hot; the latter show is especially at home in red, for its leather-encased-legs logo has always been offered in that eye-catching color. Hairspray and Once have settled for standard-issue black vinyl, making them truly seem like records of yore.
Of all the albums, Once is the one that most resembles an original cast long-playing record from the late ‘40s through the early ‘90s, because the score by Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová fits on one vinyl disc. But that’s not all you find inside the gatefold; Once, as do the other three, offers a twelve-by-twelve inch lyric sheet, which is far easier for the farsighted and presbyopic to read than what they find on much tinier print that CD booklets sport.
But when all is said and sung, the sound’s the thing, isn’t it? If you’ve been one who’s long complained that the digital sound just isn’t as warm as what you used to hear from records, here’s the antidote. Just be very careful when handling the vinyl; we’ve come a long technological way, but records still can get scratched and skip.
Still, if you crave to go back to the audio days of yesteryear, head to your Barnes & Noble or to BN.com, where they have all four albums on vinyl. Once is $19.99 and the others weigh in at $30.99.
If that sounds a bit pricey, consider that Chicago in 1975 – which gave you nineteen fewer minutes of the show — retailed for $6.98. My inflation calculator tells me that figure translates to $31.36 today. Enjoy that extra thirty-seven cents!
Peter Filichia also writes a column each Monday at www.broadwayselect.com and each Friday at www.mtishows.com. His book The Great Parade: Broadway’s Astonishing, Never-To-Be Forgotten 1963-1964 Season is now available at www.amazon.com.