For the Broadway fan on your holiday list this year we thought we would take a look at a couple of vinyl cast albums recently released by Ghostlight Records: In The Heights and Be More Chill.
Seven years before he rose to superstardom with Hamilton, Lin-Manuel Miranda premiered his first musical on Broadway with In The Heights in 2008. Miranda, who also starred, wrote the music and lyrics with the book written by Quiara Alegría Hudes. The production was directed by Thomas Kail and choreographed by Andy Blankenbuehler – both of whom would go on to join Miranda for Hamilton. The musical was nominated for thirteen Tonys and won four including Best Musical, Best Score and Best Choreography. Warner Bros. recently purchased the film rights and intends to have a movie version out in 2020.
The story takes place in Washington Heights in New York City and concerns the various residents living around a bodega owned by Usnavi (Miranda in the original cast) and his desire to leave the neighborhood. The other major plot revolves around college student Nina (Mandy Gonzalez) who returns from school and is unsure if she wants to continue but is afraid of disappointing her parents. Heatwaves, blackouts, and lottery tickets complicate matters over the course of the three-day story. Other members of the original cast include Christopher Jackson, Karen Olivo, Priscilla Lopez, Robin de Jesus and Andrea Burns.
Miranda’s score is a mixture of styles including Broadway, Latin and hip-hop, all of which often collide in one song. While the subject matter is more contemporary, the music is certainly of a piece with Hamilton although the ensuing years saw Miranda perfect his talent even more and leap to even more grandiose tableaux. Ghostlight first released the score as a 23-track, 2-CD set in 2008 with the original Broadway cast. While not all of the music from the show is presented, the album is a great document of the show and is easy to follow even for those who haven’t seen a production. Now, Ghostlight has brought the original CD to a new 3-LP set. The material is exactly the same as the CD, but the larger LP presentation is far more lavish. The set is housed in a sturdy box with an attractive, new full-color booklet featuring photos and the lyrics to the songs.
Next up is another contemporary musical, but this one hasn’t even opened on Broadway yet: Be More Chill. The show, based on the 2004 book of the same name by Ned Vizzini, features music and lyrics by Joe Iconis and a book by Joe Tracz. It premiered in May 2015 at the Two River Theater in Red Bank, New Jersey. Over the next couple of years, it gained a following through YouTube and social media and premiered Off-Broadway this past July. After that sold-out, critically-acclaimed engagement, it’s finally due to open on Broadway this coming February at the Lyceum Theatre.
The musical’s plot concerns high school junior Jeremy (Will Connolly in the Two River production) who is not high on the social scale and pines for classmate Christine (Stephanie Hsu). With conventional means not working, he soon begins to take a new experimental pill called SQUIP (an acronym for Super Quantum Unit Intel Processor) which basically implants a computer in his head and tells him how to act. This voice in his head takes the form of an on-stage character played by Eric William Morris. Jeremy begins to become more popular, alienating his friend Michael (George Salazar, soon to repeat his performance on Broadway). But things take a darker turn when it becomes evident that the SQUIP has plans of its own.
The musical obviously nods toward Little Shop of Horrors. And just as that show utilized a pastiche of ’60s music in its score, Iconis’ score seems to be riffing on motifs from primarily the 1990s and 2000s. The music has a very pop feel with electronic undertones but not in the most modern sense. There are also some allusions to the 1980s, especially in some of the lyrical references. The 21-track original album does a good job of distilling the score and is a good listen.
Ghostlight recorded the original Two River cast in 2015 and released a CD at the time. When show premiered this year Off-Broadway, the label brought the album to a 2-LP set. It should be noted that while much of the cast is the same, new actors portrayed Michael and The Squip in the 2018 production.
The vinyl edition is presented in a gatefold sleeve. New designs have been incorporated and the cover artwork has even been tweaked. The translucent LPs are each a different color: red and green. A 16-pape, full-color LP-sized booklet is included featuring the full lyrics to the show. The brief text from John Dias, Artistic Director of Two River Theater, and Scott Wittman & Marc Shaiman (the composer/co-lyricists of the musical version of Hairspray among numerous other credits) have been reprised from the CD booklet. A new introduction by Joe Iconis has been added. An MP3 download card is also included.
Both albums’ presentation on vinyl is classier than that of the CDs and would make good gifts for a vinyl and Broadway fan. In The Heights is currently a Barnes & Noble exclusive, while Be More Chill can be purchased at Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K. / Amazon Canada!