Original Broadway Cast

1968/1992: Capitol/AngelZDM 7 64665 2

  1. Life Is
  2. The First Time
  3. The Top of the Hill
  4. No Boom Boom
  5. The Butterfly
  6. Goodbye, Canavaro
  7. Grandpapa (Zorba’s Dance)
  8. Only Love
    The Bend of the Road
  9. Entr’Acte
  10. Y’Assou
  11. Why Can’t I Speak
  12. The Crow
    Happy Birthday (Medley)
  13. I Am Free
    Life Is (Reprise)

I remember clearly the unlikely circumstances in which I first encountered this album: Anchorage, mid-winter, 1986…about as far from the setting and mood of the musical as possible without actually being in an arctic wasteland.

“Life is what you do while you’re waiting to die…”

Nonetheless, it found me, reached me, touched me, and changed me. I can’t say with any authority that the musical as a whole would do so, as I’ve never seen it staged, but I know what effect this recording had on me. The funny part is that now I cannot recall with certainty which came to me first, this or the book. I’m pretty sure it was this that I first found, leading me to Nikos Kazantzakis’s book and its profundity.

“Life is how the time goes by.”

The recording is far from perfect—the excessive emphasis on thick accents is unnecessary considering that all of the characters except Madame Hortense are Greek, and I think that handicaps the album terribly. But so much of this is so immediate and touching that it’s impossible for me to be unmoved by it and caught up in it even after all these years (but not ALL of it, I hasten to add).

“Life is where you fly and fall….”

Certain bits remain dismissibly fluff, yet somewhat endearing—“No Boom Boom” for example—but it’s the opening and closing tracks that deliver the story’s theme, which is heavily underlined in the penultimate medley of “The Crow”/“Happy Birthday,” with life and death so immediately intertwined. I love the throaty vitality of the Narrator’s singing, and in fact that’s a part I’d love to play someday.

“Life is where you stand just before you are flat….”

Is it true to the book? Yes and no…mostly it’s a selective representation of aspects of the text, which is really all you can ask of a musical. It conveys the urgency of life as something to be lived, although the message is clearer when the script is there between the songs. Still, the musical simplifies so much of the book’s macrame-thick character complications that it’s hard to finally approve of the result. Really all I can say is “enjoy it, but read the book and enjoy THAT even more viscerally.”

“This…is how the time goes by.”