A Catered Affair – Original Broadway Cast Recording

track listing

1. Prologue
2. Partners
3. Ralph and Me
4. Married
5. Women Chatter
6. No Fuss
7. Your Children’s Happiness
8. Immediate Family
9. Our Only Daughter
10. Bridal Scene
11. One White Dress
12. Vision
13. Don’t Ever Stop Saying ‘I Love You’
14. I Stayed
15. Married (Reprise)
16. Coney Island
17. Don’t Ever Stop Saying ‘I Love You’ (Reprise)
18. Coney Island (Reprise)The fact that the new musical A Catered Affair is based on a teleplay – by Paddy Chayefsky at that – is never more obvious than on its Broadway cast album, a humbly satisfying record of a show about a hand-to-mouth Bronx 1950s family and its ambivalence over daughter Janey’s sudden engagement.

The show’s poster and album cover, a Norman Rockwell-style depiction of the family in question, hints at the earnestness of the show, and the music fits with that friendly familial tone. The songs feature plenty of lilting strings, talk of weddings and lovey-dovey idealism, and dramatic spats over wedding details and, on occasion, more significant rifts.

When Janey and fiance Ralph decide to tie the knot and drive across the country to meet their married friends in California, Janey’s parents, her father Tom and especially her mother Aggie, react very differently. Janey’s brother, a soldier, has recently died, and his death benefit check could be used either for Tom to take over the cab he’s been driving for years or for Janey and Ralph to have a big catered affair. Janey wants to avoid a fuss, but her mother doesn’t exactly see eye to eye. Add Janey’s “confirmed bachelor” (read gay) uncle and his exclusion from the wedding into the mix, and things get even more complicated.

John Bucchino’s score sensitively conveys the story while rarely giving in to the satisfaction of more enduring melodies. This makes for a dramatically successful score but not for one that’s always a satisfying listening experience. For the most part, the songs are pleasant enough, but few – with the exception of Janey’s jaunty One White Dress – caught my attention. Lyrically, however, Bucchino’s contributions are successful at conveying the highs and lows of enduring love.

As Janey, Leslie Kritzer sings beautifully, and, instead of playing the stereotypical bubbly bride, she imbues the character with a much-needed emotional gravity. The true highlight of the cast, however, is Broadway veteran Faith Prince. She is given some of the most moving of the musical numbers, and her velvety belt is perfect for the role of the matronly Aggie, overpowering the out-of-place Tom Wopat, who, as her husband – also named Tom – reeks of disingenuousness.

Harvey Fierstein, whose book features prominently on the recording, plays Janey’s uncle Winston. Though his performance in Hairspray was a powerhouse, I’ve never understood the appeal of Fierstein in more dramatic roles, as when he played Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof. His gravely, breathy singing voice is grating, and songs which could otherwise soar are earthbound under his interpretation. One strains to believe he’d ever have scored this part if he hadn’t written the show’s book, even if his written contributions are solid. The disc already short, coming in at 52 minutes, a good amount of dialogue is included, sometimes at the deficit of the overall listening experience.

Still, there are musical themes and moments here to cherish. “As things progress, will we feel less?” Janey asks herself as she contemplates the words, “I love you.” Hers are the concerns of many a woman (and man), and the musical’s ability to tap into that niche that makes this album as pleasing as it is to listen to in spite of its deficits.

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