Sometimes it's easy to fall in love with a cast recording of a show. From start to finish you're riveted by the lyrics, the music, and the story that it tells. Sometimes you don't even have to see the show first. I fell in love with the Wicked cast recording years before I actually saw the show. Same thing for the RENT cast recording. Ditto for Avenue Q and Spring Awakening.
For some of these cast recordings, it doesn't seem like you need to see the show to love and understand the music. Each of these show have become favorites of mine over the years. Each of them I knew the music before I knew the show.
But sometimes I find it hard to listen to a cast recording before I've seen a show. For instance, I downloaded the cast recording from In the Heights months before I saw the show. While the music was catchy, I just couldn't get into it. Maybe it was because my Spanish stops at the local restaurant menu, giving me difficulty understanding all of the lyrics. Maybe it's just because I couldn't get an idea for the story in my head. I'm not sure. But after seeing the show and LOVING it, the cast recording has become one of my favorites. Songs from the show randomly pop in my head (in fact, I woke up with "Blackout" stuck in my head this morning), making me smile.
I had a similar experience with Next to Normal. I had a vacation planed to New York, and pre-purchased tickets to see the show. I also purchased the cast recording. I listened to it a couple of times, but the same thing happened to me that happened with In the Heights. I just couldn't get into it. With Next to Normal, I truly believe that it was seeing the songs in context that helped me. Next to Normal is also a favorite cast recording of mine.
I believe that some of the reason I have different experiences with cast recordings before shows is because of the ways in which the shows were written. Not that any way is bad. But I think some shows have so much of their story in the music that you can imagine the show through the songs. Other shows tell a great deal of their story through the music, but parts of it are not in the songs, making it harder to "see" the story before you actually see the show.
It makes for an interesting study of new cast recordings though. Being so far from New York makes it hard to see shows before the cast recording comes out. So many times I download a cast recording first, and see the show later. There are times I have to remind myself that the show may still be fantastic, even if I have a hard time with the music.
Have you ever listened to a cast recording before a show and been unable to get into the music or get a good feel for the show? Do any of you actually listen to a cast recording before seeing a show?