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A Class Act - A Musical About Musicals (2001 Original Cast) Cast Recording

4.6 out of 5 stars 43 customer reviews

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Product Description

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Genre: Original Cast Recordings
Media Format: Compact Disk
Rating:
Release Date: 20-FEB-2001

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"Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards" runs the famous observation by Kierkegaard, but in a sense it also applies to the making of this "musical about musicals," which draws on the life and work of Ed Kleban. Though already assured of a place in musical theater's pantheon for having written the lyrics to the pathbreaking A Chorus Line, Kleban was far more than a one-hit wonder. In fact he composed both music and lyrics for a variety of musicals that never got produced, leaving a trunk of songs behind unheard at his untimely death in 1987 at age 48 (just a few days off from his "favorite holiday," Valentine's Day). These are the basis for A Class Act, a show put together by Kleban's friend Linda Kline and Lonny Price (best known for the role of Charley Kringas in Merrily We Roll Along). Instead of a posthumous "tribute" simply piecing together unrelated songs willy-nilly, the concept here--first unveiled at the Manhattan Theatre Club before moving to Broadway in February 2001--is far more intriguing. It uses a flashback frame to retrace the high and low points of Kleban's personal and professional life, which is punctuated by several near-breakdowns (and a bona fide one, during college, which led to his epiphany that he was meant to spend his life as a songwriter). The show integrates songs from widely different projects into the narrative, their topics ranging from the tricks of the songwriting trade to divorce and self-scrutiny, as each number crystallizes a particular moment of insight. Kleban's craft, especially when experienced in this context, is imbued with a personal, quirky touch, and it's impressive: there's a Sondheim-like cleverness and poignancy to much of the word play (Sondheim himself reportedly has expressed open envy for "Better," which gives a lift to act 2's opening), an inventive use of conversational rhythms, and a natural flow to the melody that becomes genuinely memorable in songs like "Next Best Thing to Love" (a ballad for Kleban's platonic soul mate, Sophie, movingly performed by Randy Graff) and "Say Something Funny." Ronny Price brings a vulnerable yet likeable demeanor as the Kleban character, thereby offsetting the role's tendency to self-pity and kvetch. By the final summing up of "Self-Portrait," with Kleban's returned ghost surrounded by friends, the payoff feels not sentimental but earned. It's a thoughtful addition to what is after all an impressive line in musical theater--the "meta"-musical--but also a loving, specific portrait of a lost era of show biz in the making. --Thomas May
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Product Details

  • Audio CD (February 20, 2001)
  • Original Release Date: February 20, 2001
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Format: Cast Recording
  • Label: Masterworks Broadway
  • Run Time: 53 minutes
  • ASIN: B000058DWH
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (43 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #173,559 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By D. Clancy on March 5, 2001
Format: Audio CD
"A Class Act" is a small musical with a lot of heart. The story of Edward Kleban, a prolific songwriter who is best known for writing the lyrics of " A Chorus Line", is told through his music. His trunk songs that he always wanted the world to hear. I will be seeing the show on Broadway in May. As one Amazon reviewer noted it is better on CD. This may be, however, I am looking forward to seeing it. Lonny Price is an actor who should be seen with more regularity. As Ed, he embodies the songwriter in spirit and voice. An excellent cast that includes Carolee Carmello, Jonathan Freeman, David Hibbard and Randy Graff are nothing short of marvelous. Ms Graff, as Sophie, Ed's lost love, has some very touching moments that she plays so well. This is one show that lives up to its name. It is truly "A Class Act."
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Although Stephen Sondheim said he wished he had composed the song "Better," this "Musical About Musicals" did not reach out to me. An intimate show based on the work of composer/lyricist Edward Kleban, the tunes seemed a bit on the generic side to me, and reminiscent of other "you and me" musicals such as THEY'RE PLAYING OUR SONG. Kleban, who provided the lyrics for the smash hit A CHORUS LINE in the Seventies, died in 1987; A CLASS ACT consists of what used to be called "trunk material," here arranged in flashbacks. Perhaps a straightforward "tribute show" would have served his memory better. A CLASS ACT played off-Broadway for two months, then went to The Street for 105 performances. It has a bright sound, engaging lyrics, and the CD comes at a good price; those looking for an intimate and fairly modern show might pick up this production for their own listening, or as preliminary research for community/amateur theater. It just isn't for me.
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Format: Audio CD
It's remarkable to think that these are all "trunk" songs from unsuccessful Ed Kleban projects (and one excerpted from his "A Chorus Line") -- ordinarily when songs are taken from other sources and interpolated into a show, even extensive reworking can't hide the fact that they don't fit cleanly. These, though, fit very cleanly even though they haven't been revised very much at all. It's a piece of poetic justice; while Kleban couldn't get a break while he was alive, he effectively managed to musicalize his own life. He never saw "A Class Act", and yet it seems as though his spirit has guided and shaped the entire project.
The disc pays powerful tribute to his talent, reaching peak after peak. Among the highest of these peaks: the instantly memorable "Better", the in-jokey "Charm Song", "Under Separate Cover", "Next Best Thing to Love", and the touching "Self Portrait" finale. Kleban wasn't as strong a composer as he was a lyricist (though it must be said that Stephen Sondheim, often accused of the same fault, reached his peak as a composer when he was much older than Kleban was at his death), but these are some delightful tunes.
The cast (half of which abandoned the show before it reached Broadway) is happily the equal of the material, particularly the women: Randy Graff ("Les Miserables") is tough, sweet and funny as Ed's soulmate Sophie, Carolee Carmello ("Parade") is warm as Lucy, and Nancy Kathryn Anderson and Julia Murney ("The Wild Party") provide solid support. The men are given a bit less to work with, but Jonathan Freeman, Ray Wills and David Hibbard each have a couple of big laugh-out-loud moments.
This kind of intimate chamber musical is seldom seen on Broadway, and seldom realized so brilliantly. Between that and the remarkable circumstances of its origin, it's something that even casual theatre fans should look into.
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Format: Audio CD
Wow. I bought this musical for one reason: to hear "Better," which Stephen Sondheim said he wished he had written. My faith in Sondheim has not been shaken. That song, as well as all of the ones included on this CD, are wonderful. There is something very Sondheim-like in the music, the lyrics, and even Kleban's story (begrudgingly starting out as just a lyricist, moving on to writing music, too, having trouble getting his shows produced). The performers are wonderful, and the songs range from funny to extremely touching. I wouldn't say that Kleban's work equaled the quality of Sondheim's (I don't think anyone's does, so I may be biased), but anyone with half of Sondheim's talent (and Kleban possesses much more than this) is worth checking out.
If you like Kleban's work, buy "A Chorus Line" (for which Kleban wrote the lyrics to Marvin Hamlisch's score) - the Broadway version, because this contains the entire "Hello Twelve, Hello Thirteen" montage, a hilarious and entirely true song about puberty and the teenage years, another very Sondheimesque piece.
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Format: Audio CD
The music in this show consists of a group of unrelated and previously unrecorded songs written by Ed Kleban (the lyricist for Chorus Line, but really a songwriter). The writers have done a masterful job of combining these songs into a show that tells the story of Kleban's life. This is not a musical revue but a fully conceived musical.
One can talk about the individual songs, and many of them are great. The ballad The Next Best Thing To Love is one of the best I've heard in a while. But what really make this work shine is the portrait the show paints of Kleban, a toubled man who had various breakdowns and loves, but for whom songwriting was the real love that made life worth living. You don't always like him, but that only makes him real. By the time you hear the beautiful and heartbreaking last song, Self Portrait, you have come to know and love Kleban through his music, which is exactly what he would have wanted. This album haunts me.
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