This disc, one of many that preserves the annual concerts benefitting S.T.A.G.E., has its hits and misses as a starry crew celebrates the work of noted composer Burt Bacharach. Fortunately, there are some great surprises, notably Jai Rodriguez's sensitive rendering of "Go Ask Shakespeare" and a superlative medley offered by Melissa Manchester.
By Side By Side By Side By Side by Sondheim - The 23rd Annual STAGE Benefit Concert (Kritzerland)
Another recording of the S.T.A.G.E. concerts, this two-disc set overflows with many of Stephen Sondheim's best-known songs, in a variety of interpretations. Among the standouts are Lisa Vroman's soaring take on the movie version of "The Glamorous Life" (from A Little Night Music), Betty Garrett's utterly merry delivery of "Broadway Baby" (from Follies), Alice Ripley's rousing "Me and My Town" (from Anyone Can Whistle), and brothers Patrick and Shaun Cassidy, who tear into two versions of "Agony" from Into the Woods with comic elan.
Mark Nadler - Crazy 1961 (MarkNadler.com)
Part autobiography, part history lesson, and part overview of the hits of 1961, this album is all Nadler -- a flamboyant showman, gifted lyric interpreter, and superb pianist. The fact that he can dash off a melodramatically over-the-top "Cruella De Vil" (from Disney's 101 Dalmatians) and follow it with ingenious rethinkings of both Noel Coward's "Sail Away" and Frank Loesser's "I Believe in You" (from How to Succeed...) is all one needs to know about the eclectic nature of this disc, that ends with a marvelously witty medley of "50 Hits from 61."
Dee Snider - Dee Does Broadway (Razor & Tie)
Initially, the Twisted Sister frontman's use of heavy metal guitar riffs, pounding rhythms and wailing vocals for this unusual CD of Broadway classics may strike listeners as curious, perhaps even unfortunate. But ultimately, there's a decided allure to this album; his take on The Ballad of Sweeney Todd is undeniably creepy, there's an unquestionable sexiness underlying "Big Spender" (from Sweet Charity, which he shares as a duet with Cyndi Lauper, and his moving medley of "Tonight" and "Somewhere" (from West Side Story) with Patti LuPone is a genuine stunner.
Carrie Manolakos - Echo (CarrieManolakos.com)
This seven-song EP from Manolakos, a one-time Mamma Mia! star, beats with a folk/rock pulse; and her vocals, which combine sweet softness with an electrifying urgency, consistently capture the listener's ear. The songs range from the inspirational "In Your Own Grace," which she delivers with unquestionable vibrancy, to the gently melancholy ballad "Red," which she imbues with a keen sense of vulnerability and hopefulness, to the country waltz "The Best One," where her delivery segues from a light, jaunty bounce to an impassioned, longing wail.
Glee: The Music, Season Three - The Graduation Album (Columbia)
There's a mixture of pensiveness and ebullience running through the selections on this album of songs from the hit FOX series, which proves to be one of the most satisfying recordings in the Glee series. Among the CD's particular pleasures are Matthew Morrison's take on Rod Stewart's "Forever Young," Lea Michele's rendition of Room for Two's "Roots and Branches," and Cory Monteith and Mark Salling's cover of the Bruce Springsteen classic "Glory Days."
Lost Broadway and More 4 (Footlight)
Listeners should have patience with the first eight tracks of this disc -- a hefty set of selections from Judith Shubow Steir's musical about the romance between Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson, Only a Kingdom -- because it's only after these songs that one hears the album's many gems. Highlights include several utterly endearing tunes from a musical version of National Velvet a pair of tunes from The Little House on the Prairie musical that toured the country, and a delicious medley of Kay Swift songs performed by cabaret favorites Steve Ross and KT Sullivan.
Louise Dearman - Here Comes the Sun (Big Hand Recordings Ltd.)
On this 10-song disc, the strong-voiced Dearman surveys a wide range of modern pop songwriting, reinterpreting songs associated with the likes of The Beatles, Alison Moyet, and Randy Crawford. Among the disc's most satisfying tracks are an exquisite version of Cyndi Lauper's "Time After Time," which she sings with Steve Balsamo, and an extraordinary version of Annie Lennox's "Little Bird" that captures its bluesy, rock essence with aplomb.
Peggy Herman - Herman on Herman-Peggy Sings Jerry (PeggyHerman.com)
Listeners will find a broad selection of Jerry Herman's songs rendered with care on this remarkably intimate disc. Her somewhat smoky vocals waft over the songwriter's signature melodies with ease, and often, with the help of Alex Rybeck's arrangements, cast them anew. Some of her strongest selections include a sultry rendition of "It's Today" (from Mame), a plaintive take on "The Best in the World" (from A Day in Hollywood), and a jazzy version of "World, Take Me Back" (performed by Ethel Merman in Hello, Dolly!).
john and jen (Original Off-Broadway Cast Recording) (GhostlIght Records)
Andrew Lippa and Tom Greenwald's 1996 musical enters the iTunes era with this most welcome digital release. Carolee Carmello and James Ludwig deliver instantly appealing performances in this show that looks at the legacy that a father's violence has on a brother and sister and ultimately the impact that the Vietnam War has on the siblings. Lippa's music gently evokes the period and Greenwald's lyrics fit his melodies to both moving and amusing effect, notably in "Dear God," which chronicles the teenage kids' dislike of each other.