This is a great recording.
Schwartz is a brilliant lyricist and these songs represent a superb body of work. Comparison can obviously be made with the original performances and opinions differ: US reviewers testify to this fact. The Varese Sarabande artists offer outstanding alternatives in almost every case, and the recorded sound is expertly balanced providing a consistently truthful image throughout.
Guy Haines' version of 'Corner Of The Sky' has attracted most debate, but it re-pays repeated listening and creates something very different from the John Rubinstein / Jackson 5 precursors. 'Lion Tamer', a favourite of Leonard Bernstein's, is a simply phenomenal song in 7/4 time; there are precious few available recordings (David Burnham is worth hearing on the Kritzerland label) but Kristin Chenoweth is compelling. 'Meadowlark' is possibly the only disappointment on the disc; Schwartz devotees recognise it as one of his most perfect compositions but Susan Egan sings it without much vocal colour. Patti LuPone is the sine qua non in this repertoire: both her available recordings (Original Cast & Patti LuPone Live) leave Egan standing, the latter album offering superb piano from John McDaniel. Sharon Lee Hill (Original London Cast) is also magnificent and perhaps makes best sense of the emotional subtleties in the score.
'In Whatever Time We Have' comes from 'Children Of Eden' and this is unquestionably the finest performance of the song, bolder and braver than both the Original London Cast and New Jersey Recording. Brian D'Arcy James's vocal is arguably the best on this disc. 'Children Of Eden', now somewhat outshone by 'Wicked', is a first-rate musical in its own right and one day an enterprising producer will see the sense in a London West End revival.
The three songs here for which Alan Menken wrote the music are no less captivating; 'Out There' is thrillingly performed by Jason Daniely and Christiane Noll makes a good job of 'Just Around The Riverbend'. The stand-out, however, is the award-winning 'Colors Of The Wind'. Judy Kuhn sang this on the 'Pocahontas' soundtrack, and brilliantly so, while Vanessa Williams' splendid cover did well in the US charts; but Sara Ramirez brings wonderful shape to the vocal line and the accompaniment is crisper than on the other versions.
All told, this is a scintillating product which grows upon the ear with each new listening. The American Musical, in all its glorious colours and contexts, captured so adeptly that zeitgeist of 'searching out a path' in the late twentieth-century consciousness, and Stephen Schwartz was the man who found the words and penned the tunes. The coda of 'Children Of Eden' says it all:
'Our hands can choose to drop the knife
Our hearts can choose to stop the hating
For every moment of our life
Is the beginning...
We cannot know what will occur
Just make our journey worth the taking
And pray we're wiser than we were
In the beginning
NOW WE BEGIN.'