The high-octane mix of dance hits from the disco era and beyond that have been stirred together for the American version of Priscilla Queen of the Desert the Musical comes to disc marvelously on this 22-track cast recording.
The album doesn't only preserve the dynamic work of the show's Broadway cast, namely principals Nick Adams, Tony Sheldon and Will Swenson, but also of Stephen "Spud" Murphy and Charlie Hull, who have created the orchestrations for the production, which are a grand blend of pulsating pop beats and Broadway razzamatazz.
Whether it's the shrewd revisions and dance bridges that have been added to The Weather Girls' hit "It's Raining Men" or the way in which Donna Summer's "Hot Stuff" has been reconceived to support the show's story, Murphy and Hull's work helps make the songs sound as if they might have been written not just as chart-climbers, but also for use in the theater. Indeed, both the Communards' "Don't Leave Me This Way" and Alicia Bridges' "I Love the Nightlife" begin in disconcertingly nontraditional ways before segueing into versions that sound more like the tunes that most listeners will know by heart.
Given that as the CD's producers, Murphy and Frank Filipetti, have worked to ensure that these songs replicate the theatergoing experience, it's curious that the disc has rearranged the running order of the show. For instance, Swenson's fine interpretation the Burt Bacharach hit "I Say A Little Prayer" comes much earlier in the production than it does on disc. Ultimately, though, the ordering of the tracks (and the absence of a couple of songs heard in the show) are small quibbles.
Moreover, this effervescent album is accompanied by a booklet with just enough full-color photographs to help remind theatergoers of the visual splash that is so much a part of this tuneful theatrical dance-party.
This live recording of Tony Award winner Foster's cabaret show might very well prove to be the most charming album to reach listeners' CD racks and digital music libraries this year. The disc also proves Foster's diversity, as she more-than-ably offers up both pop tunes from Carole King and John Denver as well as ones from the world of musical theater, ranging from Noel Coward to Stephen Schwartz.
Foster's fans will be pleased to find that she has included many of the songs that she's delivered on Broadway. Music director Michael Rafter has cunningly arranged "Not for the Life of Me" from Thoroughly Modern Millie, "NYC" from Annie, and "Astonishing" from Little Women, so that they fit together beautifully and seamlessly. The recording also features "Show-Off," her stand-out number from The Drowsy Chaperone, as well as "More to the Story," a lovely ballad cut from Shrek, which Foster delivers with assured grace.
When she looks backward into the music theater classics, she infuses Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg's "Down With Love" with an amusing country twang and brings a child's wide-eyed innocence to Coward's "Come the Wild, Wild Weather" that's tremendously moving. Similarly, there's a simple pungency to the thoughtfully conceived and delivered medley of Stephen Sondheim's "Anyone Can Whistle" and "Being Alive." At the other end of the spectrum are songs like Schwartz's "Defying Gravity," which give the singer the chance to use her famed belt to impressive effect.
The disc contains not only the songs from the act, but also Foster's patter -- which is so utterly without artifice that listeners can't help but feel as if they're sitting in the same room as the performer.
This compilation contains many of the songs that theatergoers hear as preshow music for Leguizamo's current Broadway show. It's an intensely personal collection, as is made clear from the liner notes by Ernesto Lechner, which contextualize not only the songs in their own right, but also their importance to the performer. The album contains such classics as Celia Cruz and Johnny Pacheco's "Quimbara" and Willie Colón and Rubén Blades' "Pedro Navaja," and for anyone unfamiliar with Latin music, this disc serves as a terrific primer.
Gone With the Wind (Original London Cast) (Kritzerland)
Harold Rome and Horton Foote's tuner, based the Margaret Mitchell's epic tale, has become something of a cult classic. Now, with this first-time CD release of the London cast recording of the show, a new generation of musical theater fans will discover the score, Rome's last. While the work is not always completely satisfying, it's a highly intelligent piece of writing, filled with gorgeous melodies and some deft lyrics that do, indeed, bring Mitchell's iconic characters to life.
Inner City (Original Broadway Cast) (Masterworks Broadway/ArkivMusic)
Based on poet Eve Merriam's Inner City Mother Goose, this 1970 musical, which is making a very welcome debut on CD, takes listeners back to a time when New York's fairy tales did not come from Disney. The infectiously gritty rock score comes from Helen Miller and the piece's short tunes often bring to mind the episodic nature of Hair, as do the cutting observations about urban life of the period. "Fee Fi Fo Fum," for example, is followed by "I smell the blood of violence to come." It's not necessarily pretty, but it satisfyingly intrigues.
Sara Ramirez (Atrevida Records)
Tony Award winner Ramirez has released this four song EP digitally in anticipation of the musical episode of her hit show, Grey's Anatomy, which is airing on March 31. The recording includes one song that she'll perform on the show, the rock anthem "The Story," which she delivers with both power and tenderness. Ramirez' supple voice is in fine form on the other tracks, particularly the blue grass infused "Break My Heart" and the R&B-laced "Waitin." It's a brief play that should have listeners eagerly anticipating a full album.
Charlie Haden Quartet West - Sophisticated Ladies (Emarcy)
A host of contemporary female singers join the incomparable Charlie Haden Quartet for this sumptuous selection of jazz age hits and forgotten gems. Each of the 12 tracks on the album, whether instrumental or vocal, is choice, but there are some decided highlights, including Melody Gardot's breathless take on Edgar De Lange and Josef Myrow's "If I'm Lucky," Norah Jones' purring vocals for Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler's "Ill Wind," and Cassandra Wilson's wispy and willowy interpretation of David Raskin's "My Love and I," with some newly found lyrics by Johnny Mercer.
Twang! (Original London Cast Recording) (TER)
There's nothing in the way of liner notes for this goofy musical take on the legend of Robin Hood, but it doesn't really matter. The tunes on this delightful cast recording of a 1965 show from Lionel Bart (the man who wrote Oliver!) entertain even when one's uncertain of their context. James Booth makes for a buoyantly boyish Robin and Toni Eden uses her delicate soprano to create an appealing Maid Marian, while some top-tier British comic talent, including Ronnie Corbett and Howard Goorney, make Robins' friends truly merry men.
Michael Bruce: Unwritten Songs (Speckulation Entertainment
British songwriter Bruce's versatility is handsomely showcased on this 13-track album. Whether he's writing a lush romantic ballad such as "Even Then" (touchingly delivered by Paul Spicer) or working in a contemporary rock vein (as with the haunting "Away" performed by Alex Jessop), there is an ease to the songs that make them instantly accessible and ear-pleasing. There's also an exceptional wit to be found in Bruce's work, particularly in the retro girl-group-sounding "I Want a Man" (delivered with flair by Sarah Lark and Sarah Barnshaw) and the Sondheim-inspired "The Musical Theater Song" (breathlessly performed by Anna-Jane Casey).
Claire Martin & Richard Rodney Bennett - Witchcraft (Linn Records)
Listening to this smooth and sophisticated compilation of songs by Cy Coleman, it's rough not to think of the legendary collaboration between cabaret greats Mabel Mercer and Bobby Short. Martin's intelligent, playful, and emotional phrasing expertly mines the lyrics of Coleman's many collaborators, including Dorothy Fields, Carolyn Leigh and Michael Stewart, even as her smokey voice caresses the composer's melodies. Two particular highlights are "Everybody Today Is Turnin' On" (from I Love My Wife) and "With Every Breath I Take" (from City of Angels).