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Marijan Bosnar "(the historian)" (Croatia)

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Whistle Down The Wind (Original Cast Recording)
Whistle Down The Wind (Original Cast Recording)
Price: £12.06

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A HIGHLY UNDERRATED LLOYD WEBBER'S GEM, 21 Nov. 2004
"Whistle down the wind" was Andrew Lloyd Webber's first fresh work after "Sunset Blvd" premiered in 1993. With this musical he decided to get back to his rock and roll roots that made him famous with "Jesus Christ Superstar", after which he was mostly known for his big, soaring and lush scores of "The phantom of the opera" or "Sunset". The result is very satisfying. Jim Steinman, the lyricist of "Meatloaf" is credited with the lyrics and the director is Gale Edwards, who directed a very successful run of "Superstar" in the West End in 1996.

"Whistle down the wind" is based on the original novel by Mary Hayley Bell and the film produced by Richard Attenborough and directed by Bryan Forbes from a screenplay by Keith Water house and Willis Hall. The main plot of the film and the musical coincide: Set in a sleepy backwater town in 1959 Louisiana, three days before Christmas, "Whistle down the wind" tells the story of three children who discover a stranger hiding in their barn. They believe the man to be Christ and in their innocence feel a need to hide him from the adults in the small community. Each child fears he will be harmed as happened once before. At the same time the adults have been hiding the news from the children that a prisoner from a nearby penitentiary has escaped and may be at-large in their town. A wonderful ambiguity then surrounds the remainder of the story and we are never quite sure whether the innocence of the children or the experience of the parents and elders is to be believed. The main characters include a girl named Swallow, her siblings, the mysterious Man and Amos, a teenage rebel.

Setting the story in the above framework was a big advantage for Webber and his score, which matches the time when R'n'R and James Dean were the main subjects among the youth. The score boasts with fantastically orchestrated rock and blues themes as well as ballads. The use of guitars, drums and trumpets in orchestral leads is astonishing. The musical themes itself are very original and new. Some of the songs were released as a very successful singles, most notably "No matter what" performed by Boyzone or "Tire tracks and broken hearts" by Bonnie Tyler. My all time favorite song in this musical is "A kiss is a terrible thing to waste", sung by Swallow, Amos and The Man, because of its haunting melody with beautifully arranged guitar and drums sequence and the brilliant back vocals. But there is plenty of other notable songs here: "The vaults of heaven" is a rocky church hymn; "Whistle down the wind" and especially the instrumental overture of that song is certainly one of the prettiest Webber has ever composed; "Unsettled scores" and "The nature of the beast" are sweeping melodies of The Man's mental state, "If only" is a beautiful ballad with a nice violin and trumpet sequence. One of the things that this show benefits from is the use of the children's quire for two really sweet numbers, "When children rule the world" and "No matter what". Jim Steinman's rocky lyrics are more than suitable to evoke the appropriate atmosphere.

The cast on this recording is comprised of unknown (at least to me) individuals, but this isn't a drawback. Their southern accents don't sound bad to me as some of the reviewers pointed out. Lottie Mayor's Swallow has a beautiful and a gentle voice, at moments almost angelic. Marcus Lovett as The Man has a powerful vibretto and a range that varies from low to high. Dean Collinson is convincing Amos with the much needed touch of teenage mischief in his voice. He is awesome in "A kiss is a terrible thing to waste". Veronica Hart plays his black girlfriend with a wonderful vocal echo.

The show had its first run in 1997 in Washington but it closed soon for some reworking. It opened again in West End in July 1998 and played until January 2001. Some people complain that there is a lot of dialogue on this recording, but it is essential to follow the plot. The underscoring was done neatly during the dialogue sequences. This is one of those Webber's shows that needs a little effort and a couple of listening to get a grip on you. The only bad side of this CD package is its libretto, which comes only with the songs lyrics without any titles or stage actions in the brackets making it hard to follow. Since a synopsis is also missing, it is a good idea to download one from the net. Why do the publishers release such unfinished CD packages is beyond me.

"Whistle" is certainly a positive movement and breaking new grounds for Andrew Lloyd Webber. Although some of the critics weren't too keen on it, it is one of his best scores and will undoubtedly be appreciated by all true musical theatre aficionados.

Cats (Original London Cast Recording)
Cats (Original London Cast Recording)
Offered by westworld-
Price: £18.48

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars CATS � NOW AND FOREVER, 21 Nov. 2004
In many ways Cats was a turning point for Andrew Lloyd Webber. At the beginning of the 80-is he was already a hugely successful musical theatre composer, thanks to his work with the lyricist Tim Rice on "Jesus Christ Superstar" and "Evita". In the early 1980-is he decided to part ways with Rice and many people predicted him a quick downfall, even more so when he decided to use T. S. Eliot's book of children's poetry called "Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats" as a basis for his next musical. He used then a relatively unknown musical director Trevor Nunn and Gillian Lynne as a choreographer. Cats was imagined as a mixture of pop songs and ballet; by that time an unseen combination for a musical, so it is no wonder that Webber and his producer Cameron Mackintosh had trouble finding financial backup. The show opened in London and became a phenomenon in its own right. It closed in London after exactly 21 years of running in May 2001. The same thing happened when the show came to Broadway in 1982; it closed after 18 years of running, in 2000. Cats thus became the longest running musical in the history of both West End and Broadway.
So you may wonder what it's all about. It's quite simple really. Many people say that Cats hasn't got a story. It's certainly true that the plot is very simple and that's part of the appeal for the audiences. We are presented with a group of special cats, known as Jellicle cats. They meet once a year to decide who among them is worthy to get a chance to be reborn and start a new life. Since we meet them at that precise night, each of them tells us about their lives and habits through the musical numbers. There is one character among them, Grizabella the Glamour Cat, once of great beauty, but now an ugly and dilapidated thing, because at some point in her life, she decided to leave the others in her tribe and get to know the outside world; a move which eventually led her to prostitution. Because of that she is repeatedly rejected by other cats when she tries to make an entrance and compete as a candidate for a new life, determined to change her life style and pursue a happy life style she once knew. So besides the fact that we meet all kinds of different characters that often have characteristics very similar to human ones, Cats at the same time is a wonderful story of redemption and forgiveness. Besides the story the audiences loved the excellent choreography and dancing together with beautiful and distinctive feline makeup each character of Cats had. It is a show that is suited for the young and the old.
It is surprising that the longest musical in history can boast with only two recordings, the London and the Broadway one. The London recording in question here certainly has its merits after all these years, yet because the show was somewhat changed with time, it can't be considered definite. That honor would go to Cats DVD that was filmed in London in 1997. The song interpretation, orchestrations and the cast are spotless there. The lyrics are included in the booklet.
This recording here is almost complete, with only a short narrative song missing. It is remastered, so the sound quality is excellent. There are many great songs a listener will enjoy. Some of them are: "Old Gumbie Cat", about a nice and warm house cat; "Rum Tum Tugger", a naughty and never satisfied cat played by Paul Nicholas; "Bustopher Jones", an aristocrat among cats, "Skimbleshanks: The railway cat" and many more. Of course, by far the best known of all the songs and melodies from Cats is "Memory", which, I dare to say is among the top five songs Andrew Lloyd Webber has ever written and one of the best known and most beautiful songs ever to be found in musical theatre. It is preformed by Grizabella character, here played by the one and only first lady of the British musical theatre, Elaine Paige. Ms. Paige made her name several years prior to Cats, with her portrayal of Eva Peron in Andrew Lloyd Webber's Evita. She joined the ensemble of Cats at the last minute as a replacement for the badly injured Judi Dench, thus confirming her talent and stardom status. Although many people sung the role after Elaine, Betty Buckley including, her rendition is still considered by many to be definite. That is confirmed by the fact that when the show was filmed for TV and DVD, Ms. Paige was called once again to reprise her role after 16 years. Her performance on this CD from 1981 captures the longing and desperation of the character. With time, Ms. Paige's vocal abilities have matured and her best rendition of "Memory" can be heard in that Cats DVD or in her latest compilation entitled "Centre Stage: The very best of Elaine Paige", which was released in May this year. That recording of "Memory" is for sure the best to date, because of her voice and the fact that the score is played by the 80-piece orchestra. Among other interesting thing in this recording is Sarah Brightman's debut as Jemima; her voice being very young and full of innocence.
Although this recording may sound a bit dated in some aspects, it's nevertheless a gem and should be heard by everyone who have interest in modern musical theatre. But if you want to experience Cats in all its glory, buy yourself the CATS DVD.

Evita - Original Broadway Cast Recording
Evita - Original Broadway Cast Recording
Price: £9.29

2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Evita was the second and to this date the last collaboration between Andrew Lloyd Webber and his best lyricist Tim Rice. Like their previous work, Jesus Christ Superstar, it was released as an album, after which it was put on the stage. The subject matter is the life story of Eva Duarte Peron, wife of post-World war two president of Argentina, Juan Peron. However, the musical is very loosely based on the actual life of the real Evita. The story follows Evita from the day of her death in July 1952, and then we have flashbacks until that moment, covering her coming to Buenos Aires, alleged love affairs, meeting Peron, being the first lady and dying of cancer at 33. The original album was a huge hit, the British theatre actress Julie Covington sang the main role and the chart topping numbers were "Don't cry for me Argentina", "Buenos Aires", "I'd be surprisingly good for you", "Another suitcase in another hall". In 1978 the London production of Evita began, starring Elaine Paige, who overnight became a star, David Essex as Che, the character Tim Rice used as an antipode to Evita, who comments and criticizes her actions throughout the show. The show was a smashing hit and it was transferred to Broadway the following year.
This recording is realized by that 1979 Broadway cast. The leading lady here is Patti LuPone, who was the perfect choice for the role. She portrayed Eva Peron as Tim Rice's lyrics intended it: big, egocentric and full of passion. I first heard her in the London recording of Lloyd Webber's Sunset Blvd and was amazed and thrilled with her performance and vocal abilities and have been a fan ever since. LuPone's main asset is her voice, capable of hitting the highest of notes and showing incredible range and ability to portray various emotions with it, which is even more evident in Sunset Blvd than in Evita. Sure, she screams a lot on this recording, but that's how the authors wanted Evita to be. Only in "Don't cry for me Argentina" and "Lament" does her voice become sad and vulnerable. She remains, with Elaine Paige, the best interpreter of the role so far. She well deserved her Tony Award for her performance as Evita in 1979. She sings Evita as it is intended, since the key had to be lowered for Madonna in the movie version, due to her limited vocal abilities.
Mandy Patinkin as Che is not so bad, although I must say his voice sounds to me a little bit weak and too high. David Essex in the London highlights album was much stronger. Bob Gunton (who superbly played the crooked warden in "The Shawshank redemption" TV movie) was a perfect match for the role of Peron. His voice has a much needed sinister touch, even though it took me a while to get used to his Spanish pronunciation of the letter R.
The score is simply wonderful, varying from Latino rhythms ("On this night of a thousand stars"; "Buenos Aires") to beautiful ballads ("I'd be surprisingly good for you", "Another suitcase in another hall") and powerful ensemble numbers like "A new Argentina", "Peron's latest flame" or "Santa Evita". Of course, the absolute showstopper is one of the best songs Lloyd Webber has ever written, "Don't cry for me Argentina", performed beautifully by LuPone. If you've heard the movie version with Madonna first, you might be slightly disappointed with the orchestra on this recording, since it is much smaller and therefore lacks the epic sound of the movie soundtrack. One of my main complaints about this CD is its sound quality, which isn't too great since it was made in 1990. They could have remastered it by now.
The lyrics of Tim Rice are some of his best work ever; however the problem is the lack of historical accuracy. As a historian I became very interested in Eva Peron's life story so I did some research after seeing the movie. As one of the reviewers here mentioned, the authors based their entire work on a single book called EVITA: THE WOMAN WITH A WHIP by Mary Main. It was based on rumors, lies and myths, written with the single purpose of slandering Eva Peron as much as possible. It contains no footnotes and no bibliography. The authors used it mainly because it was one of the few books available on the subject in the English language during the 70-is. So one should be very careful in making any conclusions based on the musical or the movie alone.
I recommend this recording to anyone who wants to hear how Evita was intended to sound on stage and, naturally, to all the people interested in quality musical theatre. If you are looking for the definite stage recording, this is the one to get.

Jesus Christ Superstar: 1996 London Cast Recording
Jesus Christ Superstar: 1996 London Cast Recording

10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
Jesus Christ Superstar was Andrew Lloyd Webber's first big success and the second musical he did with, in my opinion, his best lyricist, Tim Rice. The show evoked much controversy when it first appeared in 1970, since the story of the Christ's final days is mainly told from the Judas' point of view and not always according to the Gospels. Hence Mary Magdalene mentions that she is in love with Jesus and after the last supper the Apostles are a bit drunk.
Jesus Christ Superstar is considered as a turning point in modern musical-theatre. It presented something entirely different from past musicals: the plot was new and distinct, the lyrics did not sound shallow and the characters were precisely defined. Also, the piece was entirely sung-through so that the music and the plot became one. All the new musicals afterwards will use some of the new characteristics Superstar introduced leading to almost complete abandonment of the styles that the 50-is and the 60-is used in musicals.
Over the years there were quite a few recordings, however, this one can be considered definite. Both Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice overlooked its making acting as producers, Lloyd Webber making the orchestrations. The cast was mainly assembled from the revival production that run in London from 1996 until 1998, but this recording is known as the studio cast, since Alice Cooper was called in for the role of King Herod. The score is certainly one of the best Webber has ever written; the pure rock sound of the orchestra is simply amazing. When compared to the older recordings, this one has a more polished score and the sound, i.e., the use of the guitars, drums etc, sounds more modern and appropriate. Tim Rice's lyrics are suitable and witty, fitting perfectly with the score.
The cast on this recording made a fantastic job. Steve Balsamo as Jesus is a perfect match in both physical and vocal sense. His voice range is amazing and ranges from smooth and soft to extremely high. The way he holds his voice and hits the notes in "Gethsemane" left me with my mouth opened. One can feel the pain, sadness and unwillingness to finish his task and be crucified. His performance is absolutely amazing. The same thing can be said for Zubin Varla, who plays Judas. His voice is appropriately husky and his solos bring the house down. A clear distinction can be seen between his and Balsamo's voice. Joanna Ampil as Mary Magdalene is reasonable, although she sounds a bit too pathetic for my taste. Alice Cooper is hilarious in his "King Herod's Song", exactly as it is meant to be. The supportive cast was also wisely chosen, David Burt is strong and yet uncertain Pilate, the malice felt in Peter Gallagher's Caiaphas is just perfect. The orchestral performance is spotless. The score ranges from rock numbers to wonderful and touching ballads. The full libretto with cast photographs is included in the booklet.
In the end, I would recommend this recording of Jesus Christ Superstar not only to anyone interested in the very best that the modern musical-theatre has to offer, but also to fans who are looking for the definite recording.

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