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Various Artists 100 Greatest Musicals Review

Compilation. Released 2010.  

BBC Review

Prospective buyers need have no worries over the quality of these performances.

Adrian Edwards 2010

Maybe the title of this six-CD blockbuster box set should read, to be precise: "A hundred of the greatest songs featured in musicals". But what’s in a title when there’s so much on offer? Four songs are featured from one of the greatest musicals, West Side Story; a lesser-known show has just one entry, If I Ruled the World from Pickwick.

Disc one begins in 1927 with Show Boat, a sensible starting point since it is the earliest musical still performed today; come disc six we’re right up to date with two songs from Love Never Dies, Lloyd-Webber’s latest production. The songs on the first three CDs, taking listeners up to 1967, reflect the dominance of American shows with Lionel Bart’s Oliver!, as the UK’s sole entry. Titles like Oklahoma! and Carousel are classics of the genre with rich pickings, but in selecting a preponderance of ballads, one can sometimes be overwhelmed by the feast.

The tables turn for the second half of the set, though, with 16 songs from Lloyd-Webber appearing amongst a wide variety of pop genres. Featured are numbers from shows like Hairspray, Wicked, Chess, and Jersey Boys – and there’s even space contributions from television and cinema, too, with Glee and High School Musical rubbing shoulders with a couple of cuts from Grease.

Though Silva Screen is somewhat coy about the provenance of these recordings, prospective buyers need have no qualms about the performances. Lesley Garrett may be the one household name, but all the other singers are top West End artists and very accomplished in their own rights. The versatile Helen Hobson makes many appearances and characterises each one so well, from Annie Oakley to Sally Bowles. There is the odd quirky balance – High Society’s True Love drowns in a wash of accordion and the voice of Tanya Williams, all doubts disappear when the admirable Crouch End Festival Chorus join her for The Sound of Music’s Climb Ev’ry Mountain.

With at least three leading symphony orchestras supporting this fine cast, nobody receiving this set as a present this Christmas will feel less than happy, and it will offer much long after the festive season is over.

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