Fans of Tony Award nominee Laura Osnes' silky vocals have two new reasons to celebrate: her debut solo CD, Dream A Little Dream: Live at the Café Carlyle (Broadway Records), and the New York City Center Encores! live cast recording of Rodgers and Hammerstein's Pipe Dream (Ghostlight Records) hit store shelves and digital download outlets (like iTunes) on Tuesday, September 18. Both albums are remarkably satisfying and demonstrate this beguiling singer's charm and the decided versatility of her enchanting voice.
Osnes' repertoire for her set at the Carlyle, which she debuted there in June, encompasses both the worlds of musical theater and pop. From the former, she revisits a couple of the songs from her brief – yet impressive – five years in New York, starting with "How ‘Bout a Dance?" from the Broadway musical Bonnie and Clyde. Frank Wildhorn's melody for this bluesy tune has a subtle seductiveness that takes on a bit of sexy fire thanks to Osnes' smooth delivery, and her performance on this disc demonstrates why she garnered a Tony nomination for her work in it last season.
Osnes also delivers "I Have Confidence" (amusingly refitted for her cabaret debut) from The Sound of Music, which she performed (as originally written) as part of a concert version of the show at Carnegie Hall last spring, and as a special bonus, she previews one tune she'll be delivering on Broadway in early 2013 – "In My Own Little Corner" from Cinderella.
Her musical theater selections also extend to one show that she'd like to do, The Music Man, and she delivers a sterling rendition of "Till There Was You" from this classic tuner. In addition, she offers a couple of songs that were part of her life prior to her days in New York. Listeners will first encounter one of these, "Don't Rain on My Parade," as a bit scratchy – it's a delightful recording from her childhood – prior to experiencing the exuberant power that the adult Osnes brings to the Barbra Streisand standard.
Another tune from her pre-Broadway days is one of three duets on the disc, "A Whole New World" from Aladdin, which she sings to splendid effect with her husband – and one-time onstage partner – Nathan Johnson. Osnes' other guests on the disc are Tom Wopat -- who joins her for a joyous take on the classic "Baby It's Cold Outside" -- and her former Bonnie and Clyde co-star Jeremy Jordan, with whom she sings a giddily playful "Anything You Can Do" from Annie Get Your Gun.
From the realm of pop music, she surveys songs ranging from Peggy Lee's hit "Fever," which turns white-hot in Osnes' smoldering performance, to Norah Jones' "Sunrise," which becomes a twangy joy in the singer's delicately conceived performance.
The CD also preserves the patter from the show, which gives a sense of actually being serenaded by the singer, and the recording comes with an amply illustrated booklet that feels like a keepsake for anyone who was lucky enough to catch the show at the Carlyle earlier this year.
In Pipe Dream, Osnes is surrounded by a terrific company, including Wopat, Will Chase, Leslie Uggams, and Stephen Wallem, all of whom are in top form. And the combined work of these artists along with the Encores! orchestra, led by Rob Berman, makes this little-known musical sparkle brightly.
The show, which is based on a pair of novels by John Steinbeck, centers on the lives and loves of a group of misfits in a small California seaside town, specifically, Doc (Chase), a biologist, who's a bit more interested in the creatures he studies than other people, and Suzy (Osnes), a young vagrant who comes to town.
An awkward romance soon develops between Doc and Suzy, and with the help of Fauna (Uggams), the owner of the local brothel where Suzy takes up residences, as well as town locals Mac (Wopat) and Hazel (Wallem), the pair eventually find their happy ending.
Rodgers' score is filled with tunes that beautifully bring the period and color of the place to life, even as it soars with the sort of melodiousness that listeners expect from more familiar shows like Oklahoma! and South Pacific.
One particularly lovely selection is the lush romantic ballad, "All at Once You Love Her," that Chase croons to perfection, and the plaintive "Everybody's Got a Home But Me," a tune that expresses how Suzy longs to put down roots, and which Osnes fills with deeply felt emotion.
Among the show's other highlights is the sweet, yet somehow melancholy, "Suzy Is a Good Thing," in which Fauna attempts to get Suzy to see her own worth -- a tune that Uggams and Osnes deliver with moving finesse -- a couple of more raucous tunes for the guys, particularly the daffy "A Lopsided Bus," and "Thinkin'," a comic song for Hazel that Wallem fills with sweetness.
Berman's direction of the orchestra has a remarkable precision, and the musicians' work supports the vocalists to perfection. Also notable is the balance and clarity of this live recording, which includes just enough dialogue to help listeners follow the story and just the right levels of audience reaction to create a sense of being present at City Center for one of the Encores! performances.
The CD's full-color booklet features not only a slew of photos and a synopsis, but also essays by Ted Chapin (president of Rodgers and Hammerstein) and Jack Viertel (artistic director of Encores!), which help to contextualize the show and assist listeners in understanding why this recording is both a musical and historic triumph.