On vacation I took the time to listen to a few versions of Little Shop of Horrors, since I think I’m supposed to be playing it soon. It’s fantastic in all its forms (though what the heck were MD and album producer thinking in the original Broadway recording? Speed everything up so it’ll fit on an LP? Drench it all in reverb and delay?), but it got me thinking about revivals and such.
People get attached to original cast recordings, and I never gravitate to them when another option is available. I’m zeroing in on why I never like them, and I think it comes down to orchestration. When a show is first let into the wild, the emphasis is, and shoul be, on the content itself. The singing, the lyrics, the melodies–the things that make it a show. That’s great, but oftentimes the orchestrations are the afterthought. They’re usually prepared a couple days before they need to be played, and the orchestra is just wallpaper for the singing.
In a revival situation, however, the time that would normally be spent composing or actually changing the show is sent on polishing, like fixing problem areas, and reorchestrating. It happened recently when Les Mis was brought back to New York, and dear God were those orchestrations nice.
The same happened when Little Shop was revived. The band got an additional trumpet and reeds section, the tempos were standardized, and the piano became a little more subdued. And, man, did it sound nice and full. It made the whole thing sound really polished, and this is why it’s my favorite recording of the show now.
There are certainly exceptions, but this is why I favor revivals so much. They get a similar budget and rehearsal time for a work that’s already been through its paces. As long as the casting was done right and the director has some sense, the music and arrangements are really given a chance to mature, and this is what makes them sound so much better.