Christine Andreas: Here's to the Ladies
(PS Classics)

Apparently, there was as much drama behind the release of this new recording as there is in Christine Andreas's magnificent, passionate, beautiful voice. The CD was to have been released by Jerome Records until that company's founder, John Jerome -- a.k.a. John Loan -- was imprisoned for embezzlement. (As far as I know, he's still in the slammer.) Fortunately, PS Classics eventually came through in the clutch and has now issued the album, a first-class effort with a 45-piece orchestra that boasts arrangements by Doug Besterman, Michael Starobin, Chris Boardman, Larry Blank, and Lee Musiker.

One can only hope that, after all this tsuris, the album will meet with the success it deserves. In a tribute to the great ladies of the American musical theater, Andreas soars through 14 smashing cuts. Among the highlights of this consistently beautiful disc are "Moonshine Lullaby" and "They Say It's Wonderful" from Annie Get Your Gun (first made famous by Ethel Merman), "I'm Flying" from Peter Pan (Mary Martin), "I Could Have Danced All Night" from My Fair Lady (Julie Andrews), "Don't Rain on My Parade from Funny Girl (you know who!), "Bill" from Show Boat (Helen Morgan), and "My Ship" from Lady in the Dark (Gertrude Lawrence).

Beloved for her performances in Broadway revivals of My Fair Lady, Oklahoma! and On Your Toes -- and, much more recently, for her role in The Scarlet Pimpernel -- Christine Andreas is one of the finest singer/actresses in musical theater. The fact that she's not a bigger star is due only to the vagaries of show business and some challenges in her personal life, certainly not due to lack of a supreme talent. If you are unfamiliar with the lady's art, this CD is an excellent place to start exploring.

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Shirley Jones and Jack Cassidy: Speaking of Love and With Love From Hollywood
(DRG)

Though Shirley Jones is best known for her work in movies (Oklahoma!, Carousel, The Music Man, Elmer Gantry) and television (The Partridge Family), she started out on Broadway in the ensemble of South Pacific in the early 1950s. She returned in 1968 to co-star with Maggie Flynn with her then-husband, Jack Cassidy, who separately starred on the Main Stem (as it was then called) in such musicals as Wish You Were Here and She Loves Me. Now, DRG has released, on one CD, two albums of love songs that the pair made in the late '50s for Columbia Records.

The first album of the two, Speaking of Love, is in mono and features Percy Faith and his Orchestra, while the second is in full, gorgeous, early stereo and has Frank DeVol and his orchestra. The duets and solos on these discs -- ranging from "Vienna, My City of Dreams" to "You Are Love" to "Cheek to Cheek" to "Let's Face the Music and Dance" -- confirm the impression I've always had that Jones sounded so warm and lovely when singing in her middle and lower registers that a certain thinning out on high notes was always forgivable. And though the prominent vibrato in the late Cassidy's tone seems to have bothered some people, this was a strong, semi-legit baritone that you're likely to appreciate once you get used to it.

Now, when is DRG going to resurrect Jones and Cassidy's mid-'50s Columbia album of Brigadoon -- also starring the fabulous Susan Johnson -- which happens to be the best recording of that score to date? Here's looking forward!

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Movin' Out: Original Broadway Cast Recording
(Sony Classical)

It's hard to imagine who will want to buy this album. As you may have heard, Movin' Out is a dance show, now playing on Broadway, with choreography by Twyla Tharp set to the hits of pop singer/songwriter Billy Joel. The production's dancing corps includes John Selyea, Elizabeth Parkinson, Keith Roberts, Ashley Tuttle, Scott Wise, and Benjamin G. Bowman, but the lead singer for all of the show's songs is Michael Cavanaugh. (At Wednesday and Saturday matinee performances at the Richard Rodgers Theatre, Wade Preston is spelling Cavanaugh and some of the lead dancers are also yielding to alternates.)

With the exception of recordings of one-person shows like Elaine Stritch at Liberty, this must be one of very few original Broadway cast albums on which only one solo singer is heard. (Of course, no live vocalists were heard in Contact or on the CD of music from that show, but that's another story...) What we have here are more-or-less sound-alike versions of Joel's songs, often in strangely edited versions. For example: Cavanaugh and the backup vocalists and the band begin "The Longest Time" but the song soon cuts off in mid-phrase and segués (if that's the word) into "Uptown Girl." Presumably, this abrupt switch has to do with what's going on in the choreography -- I haven't seen the show yet, so I can't say -- but it makes no sense when you're just listening to it. Nor do we get to hear the second verse of the beautiful "Just The Way You Are"; this is the AM-radio version, folks!

Because Movin' Out's arrangements ape the original versions of these songs to the last detail (a wise move), listening to the cast album is like going to a karaoke bar and hearing an 80-minute medley of Billy Joel's most popular tunes -- plus a few lesser known items, like "James" and "Shameless" -- sung by a talented young man who possesses a voice that is similar to B.J.'s but sweeter and fresher. It would seem to go without saying that anyone who doesn't specifically want an aural souvenir of Michael Cavanaugh in Movin' Out should opt instead to purchase a greatest hits album by Billy Joel himself.