Note: This is just a bargain repackaging of three DVDs that can be purchased independently. There is no quantitative or qualitative improvement to sound or picture quality and no additional bonus features. So if you already own one or more of these DVDs, then a re-purchase is not recommended.
I certainly love Broadway type entertainment and wholeheartedly support any attempt to capture its magic for an audience that might otherwise have no such exposure to the arts. Unless you live in a major marketplace, there's not a lot of opportunity to see high caliber talent putting on live performances. Truthfully, a taped version may be a poor substitute to the magic of being there, but oftentimes it is the only option available. And I, for one, am glad to be able to save and revisit these shows for posterity. This, admittedly, is an odd collection of musicals--perhaps the only thing they have in common is that they are owned by the same DVD distribution company. But still, I love them all for various reasons. As taped versions of staged productions, all three have surprisingly solid (if not spectacular) audio composition so the songs are crisp and clean for home enjoyment.
Putting It Together (5 Stars): I was lucky enough to see this Sondheim production in Los Angeles with most of its principle cast intact. An absolutely delightful time, the show pieces together many of Sondheim's most famous tunes (hence the title) to create an amusing, if somewhat thinly plotted, new show. With Carol Burnett, George Hearn, John Barrowman, Ruthie Henshall, and Bronson Pinchot, the narrative details two couples at different points in their pairings. At a cocktail party, they reflect on the difficulties of maintaining a modern relationship with Pinchot playing the part of an outside commentator. Burnett gets some showstoppers in " Not Getting Married Today" (which brings down the house) and "Ladies Who Lunch." Pinchot is a revelation if you only know him from TV's "Perfect Strangers." But I have a soft spot for Barrowman who should be a much bigger U.S. star. Essential for Sondheim fans, the other stars are his incredible songs, here woven quite expertly together. One of my favorites.
Smokey Joe's Cafe (4 1/2 stars): After saying Putting It Together was thinly plotted, Smokey Joe's Cafe is virtually plot free. A musical revue showcasing the works of prolific songwriters Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, you might be surprised just how many hits this pair contributed to the lexicon of American music. Many of the songs have been reinterpreted from their pop origins into church-like anthems for this production, but their appeal is universal. The show expertly blends these newly imagined versions with terrific choreography and energetic staging. All of the performances are quite strong, but the harmonizing by the men in the cast is especially noteworthy. 39 tracks are incorporated into the musical--some of the most recognizable include Hound Dog, Fools Fall In Love, Kansas City, Trouble, Charlie Brown, Stand By Me, and Jailhouse Rock. These are but a few of the titles that make this a very easy recommendation for lovers of classic rock and rhythm and blues.
Jekyll and Hyde (4 stars): Some people consider this show to be the poor cousin to another monster musical, a Phantom-lite if you will. I, myself, like it better. Jekyll does play to similar themes, but (to my mind) has a stronger overall soundtrack. Instead of a couple of showstoppers like Phantom, Jekyll is filled with memorable power ballads. Perhaps not the most complicated show musically, it is very accessible. And when you have great singers, these simpler and emotionally charged songs become pop opera and quite moving. (Without hesitation, I recommend the original Broadway Cast recording!!! Robert Cuccioli, Linda Eder and Christiane Noll are superb. You couldn't hope for better). But here's the problem with this DVD, it's not this great cast--NO, the star is David Hasselhoff. So you see my problem, don't you? Look, I'm not going to be unkind--it's an easy target. Let's just say this. If you're a fan of the show, he doesn't completely ruin it. And it's not like there are any other versions to add to your collection. If you are new to the show, I'm still recommending it provisionally. I wish there were another option. If you like the show, though--and I think you will--please rush over and buy the 1997 Cast recording. Treat yourself to how "Jekyll & Hyde" should really sound. KGHarris, 2/12.