Learn more about theatre fans' favorite things - this time, the Original Cast Recording!
My first original cast recording was a four-track version of Salad Days from the 1994 West End revival. Instead of checking out the burgeoning Britpop scene in the country at the time, I was busy pretending to be an Oxford student in the 1940s with a magic piano. It wasn't long before I raided my older brother's cassette tape (remember them?) collection for more; leading to an obsession with Cats, a lifelong love of Joseph and The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, pretending to be a train with Starlight Express, and perhaps a slightly age-inappropriate knowledge of all the words to Chicago and the Rocky Horror Show.
In these tapes I'd be able to create the show in my head, re-living the moments that had brought me so much joy. Even now, some 30 years later, I still get chills when I listen to an Original Cast Album. I know all the nuances between the Broadway and London versions of Kinky Boots, Les Miserables, and Heathers, and Come From Away can bring me to tears on the right day. In fact, about half of my Spotify streams are from musicals. But when we talk about cast albums these days, there really is only one. Lin Manuel's bumper 6-time Multi-Platinum magnum opus, Hamilton.
Like being in the room where it happens
It captured the lightning of Hamilton-mania in a bottle and gave fans the world over a chance to be front row in their own homes.
Released in 2015, this two-hour and 23-minute behemoth offered more than just a preview of the musical, it was the chance to hear the legendary cast, including Manuel, Leslie Odom Jr., Phillipa Soo, Rene Elise Goldsberry, Christopher Jackson, Daveed Diggs, Anthony Ramos, Okieriete Onaodowan, Jasmine Cephas Jones, and Jonathan Groff, at their absolute best. It captured the lightning of Hamilton-mania in a bottle and gave fans the world over a chance to be front row in their own homes. The recipient of a Grammy, it took the top spot on Billboard's Cast Albums chart, Hip Hop chart, and Internet chart, eventually coming in at 10 on Billboard's main year-end chart - a success that hasn't been seen by a cast album in decades. So while this revolutionary record continues to dominate, it got me doing some good old-fashioned research about where these beloved cast albums came from.
The British did it first
Yep, the British got there first, with the very first recording of a cast from a musical, featuring the London cast of 1928's Showboat. America wasn't very far behind, with the first Broadway cast recording thought to be 1931's The Band Wagon starring Fred and Adele Astaire. But it wasn't until 1943's Oklahoma! that we got our first modern cast recording - with both cast and theatre orchestra contributing. The Hamilton of its day, Oklahoma! dominated the charts, selling over a million copies on 78-rpm records alone.
Following on from Oklahoma!'s success, major record labels sprung to action and the 60s saw original cast albums smashing the charts alongside the pop hits of the day. My Fair Lady, Funny Girl, The Music Man, and Hello, Dolly! all hit the top spot, cementing their spot in popular culture.
As of 2019, Hamilton is the No.1 original cast of recording of all time according to Playbill. Behind in spots one to six are Les Miserables (Original Broadway 1987), two iterations of Phantom Of The Opera (Original London Highlights 1988, Original London 1987), My Fair Lady (the 1959 London Cast with Rex Harrison and Julie Andrews hanging in there) and Wicked (Original Broadway 2003).
So to round off this walk down memory lane, I ask what is your number one original cast album? Are you a Hamilton person? Or maybe you're a Kander and Ebb sort of person? What about a Phan of Phantom? Or even a Book of Mormon acolyte? Either way, I'm sure you'll join me in offering up three cheers to these iconic and enriching experiences!