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  • A Chorus LineAnyone who's ever used a copy machine knows that a reproduction never looks quite as good as the original. One can only assume that Bob Avian and Baayork Lee, respectively the director and choreographer of the current Broadway revival of A Chorus Line, have devoted so much of their lives to the theatre that they've never learned this simple lesson. In attempting to recreate the landmark work of the show's original director-choreographer-conceiver, Michael Bennett, they constructed something that, like a photocopy, is all visible pieces and no fine detail. However, there was no reason to believe that the revival's cast recording would necessarily suffer from the same problems. But suffer it does.

    Ultimately, the Masterworks Broadway recording is much like the production that spawned it: polished, efficient, but no substitute for the original. From orchestrations that have been reduced in some places (why is the harp always the first thing to go?) and unwisely modified in others (the exciting, brassy build of the opening number is spoiled by giving away too much too soon; "What I Did For Love" has been denuded of much of its immediacy) to a cast full of too many singing mannequins, this recording never capitalizes on the energy and excitement that have always defined this musical about dancers putting their lives on the line to do what they love for as long as they can.

    For every Jeffrey Schecter, who finds the right kind of witty show-offishness for "I Can Do That," there's a Chryssie Whitehead to make "Sing!" more about smarmily creative nonsinging than a codependent couple struggling to keep themselves together while forced into the spotlight, as well as a Deidre Goodwin, a Charlotte D'Amboise, and a Natalie Cortez to make great roles like bitch-on-wheels Sheila, faded star Cassie, and eternally optimistic Diana fade into the background. If you find yourself hearing things you've never heard before in their big showstopping numbers, it's probably not because they're illuminating things the roles' originators missed.

    No, what impresses most here is the score by Marvin Hamlisch and Edward Kleban, one of the musical theatre's rawest and most distinctive. Hamlisch's tunes perfectly capture the twinkling and burned-out lights of Broadway, in all its faux-glitz glory; Kleban's intricate, emotionally naked lyrics delight in their alternately high-minded and guttural perspectives on everything from plastic surgery ("Dance: Ten, Looks: Three') to desperation of the heart and career ("The Music and the Mirror") and Broadway pastiche ("One"). You also get to hear more of them than ever before, with the full "Hello, Twelve, Hello Thirteen, Hello montage," running over 20 minutes, recorded for the first time, in its proper running order.

    You don't, however, get to hear everything: "The Tap Combination," a brief collection of exhausted one-liners for the penultimate scene, and "And...", about the dancers' uncertainty about sharing their life stories, is still gone. The latter is a particularly egregious omission, as it was the only full song not recorded by the original cast in 1975, and it was recorded by the revival cast, but left off the album so it could be made available as an exclusive download on a certain online music store I won't dignify with a mention here. As the disc runs barely an hour, there was no lack of space, but the desire to give people a fresh, full product was as unmistakably absent here as it was from the revival itself.

    Irving Berlin's White ChristmasBy contrast, the producers behind the everywhere-but-New York spectacle White Christmas, adapted from the classic 1954 film, set out to give audiences everything and the kitchen sink, at least in terms of a Great Big Musical Experience. While I haven't seen the show in any of its incarnations, Ghostlight’s new recording of the stage score suggests a walloping entertainment success.

    If this gloriously glitzy undertaking doesn't offer much in the way of nutrition, listening to some of today's top musical talent rattling off a catalog of some of Irving Berlin's finest songs at least ensures a sumptuous feast of empty-calorie goodness. From "Happy Holiday," sung by Jeffry Denman and Brian d'Arcy James, through "Sisters" (attractively melted through by Anastasia Barzee and Meredith Patterson), "Blue Skies," and the one-two-punch finale of the title song and "I've Got My Love to Keep Me Warm," every song has the outsized feeling of a titanic production number. One can easily imagine watching each new musical wonder unfold on a giant stage, with a veritable army of dancers and singers ripping up the joint.

    Such uncorkable energy is almost the undoing of the recording (and, one suspects, the show itself): Even the relatively laid-back offerings are of the hard-sell variety, and the contrast of quiet, wistful, ruminative explorations of the heart and soul that truly make any great musical are missing. True, Berlin's having died 17 years ago makes that an unlikely proposition, but wall-to-wall-to-wall roof-raisers can't help but lose their punch after a while, regardless of how good the performers are. And every one of them here is a gem.

    The one exception is Karren Morrow, who proves herself a pearl of even greater price: Former Broadway headliner Morrow, playing former Broadway headliner Martha Watson, blasts Barzee and Patterson (and half the orchestra) out of the arena with her trombone-like belt. It has, as far as I can tell, lost practically none of its estimable luster in the nearly 42 years since Morrow recorded I Had a Ball, in which she delivers some of the most exciting singing of the '60s theatre scene. Morrow, sadly, doesn't sing much here: She's prominently featured in only two numbers, though she makes a lasting impression in both: "Falling Out of Love Can Be Fun" and "Let Me Sing and I'm Happy." As long as Morrow's singing, I'm Happy, but the rest of White Christmas is almost as good a cure for the rainy-day blues.

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