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Howard Sings Ashman


Critics' Reviews

amg review
On March 14, 1991, the day lyricist/librettist/director Howard Ashman died at age 40 of complications from AIDS, he had been responsible for one long-running off-Broadway musical, Little Shop of Horrors, one Broadway flop, Smile, and one successful animated movie musical, The Little Mermaid, which had brought him an Academy Award for best song for "Under the Sea." By November 11, 2008, the day PS Classics released Howard Sings Ashman, a collection of his demo recordings, Ashman's posthumous career included two more animated movie musicals, Beauty and the Beast (with a second Oscar for the title song) and Aladdin, plus Broadway productions of Little Shop of Horrors, Beauty and the Beast, and (still running) The Little Mermaid, making him one of the most successful musical theater songwriters of his generation, despite his brief life. This album is divided into two parts, each with its own CD. The first disc presents Ashman's own versions of some of his most popular songs, including "Under the Sea," "Part of Your World" (also from The Little Mermaid), "Beauty and the Beast," and "Be Our Guest" (also from Beauty and the Beast), as well as songs from more obscure efforts such as the off-Broadway adaptation of Kurt Vonnegut's God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater. The second disc is entirely devoted to Smile, a show for which no cast album was released (although, as the annotations reveal, one was recorded). In both cases, Ashman is accompanied and joined on vocals by his collaborators. On the first disc, that usually means composer Alan Menken, while Marvin Hamlisch is a full vocal duet partner on Smile, and also the pianist. As a singer, Ashman is as fervent as any lyricist singing his own words. He also shows a good and extremely versatile voice that includes enthusiastic use of accents on selected songs. The accents are part of his characterizations, which find him voicing the man-eating plant that is the center of Little Shop of Horrors ("Bad," written for, but not used in, the movie version) or a French-accented singing candelabra ("Be Our Guest"). One might have hoped for more songs from Little Shop of Horrors ("Somewhere That's Green," although much discussed in the annotations, is missing, as is "Suddenly Seymour"), but the obscure numbers are sometimes real gems, notably the plaintive and highly personal "Sheridan Square," a song not written for any show, but rather a heartfelt reflection on the impact of the AIDS crisis on Ashman's friends. The Smile material is also revelatory, even with just Ashman, Hamlisch, and a piano to musicalize a version of Michael Ritchie's 1975 cult film about a teenage beauty pageant. Smile disappeared after only 48 performances in 1986-1987, but the score comes off as witty and appealing, even with two adult men portraying a bunch of teenage girls. ~ William Ruhlmann, Rovi
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