Alan Menken is at his melodic best with this animated feature take on the fairy tale Rapunzel. As the heroine of the tresses, Mandy Moore sounds terrific delivering the movie's pop-folk anthem "When Will My Life Begin," and as the girl's ever-watchful, somewhat vindictive-sounding mother, Tony Award winner Donna Murphy is in grand form, savoring Glenn Slater's playful lyrics with venomous glee. Also on hand are Broadway vets Brad Garrett and Jeffrey Tambor who serve up the rowdy comedy number "I've Got a Dream" with tuneful aplomb.
Once Upon a Mattress (Original London Cast Recording) (Sepia Records)
Jane Connell's performance as Princess Winifred most likely will never eclipse that of this show's original Broadway star, Carol Burnett, but there are joys and subtle nuances aplenty in her sprightly turn as the princess who must attempt to sleep on the wilily hidden pea in Mary Rodgers' giddy musical. As an added bonus, this disc comes with a musical version of Mary Rodgers and Sammy Cahn's musical rendering of the Ali Baba legend that's voiced by Bing Crosby; making the album a two-in-one fairytale treat.
Bastianello/ Lucrezia - Two New Comic Operas (Bridge)
Librettist Mark Campbell brings plenty of linguistic verve to these two short comic operas, written for two pianos, based on Italian stories. And though John Musto's sometimes disjointed melodies for Bastianello may take a few listens before the ear adjusts to their individual accomplishments, the mélange of familiar European musical idioms that William Bolcolm employs for Lucrezia ensures that it's easygoing from the outset. The small company for the two pieces delivers the works with graceful surety and fans of adventuresome new musical work will want to give this two disc set a try.
Midnight Frolic: The Broadway Theater Music of Louis A. Hirsch (New World Records)
This disc sounds like a musical theater time capsule thanks to the exquisite work of The Paragon Ragtime Orchestra, led by director Rick Benjamin, which zestfully recreates the sound of a Broadway pit from nearly 100 years ago. The songs on the disc are long forgotten, but their craftsmanship is unmistakable even at this remove, particularly as rendered by Bernadette Boerckel and baritone Colte Julian. A 40-page booklet provides the background on the music, which listeners will savor for hours.
The Chocolate Soldier (Studio Cast Recording) (Masterworks Broadway/ArkivMusic)
Oscar Straus' remarkably lush score for this operetta of George Bernard Shaw's Arms and the Man certainly takes the sweetness of the show's title to heart, a sense that's only exacerbated by the syrupy quality of Rudolf Bernauer and Leopold Jacobson's libretto as translated by Stanislaus Stange. And yet even with the show's saccharine excesses, this release is strangely satisfying, thanks in no small part to the superb performance from the principals: the graceful Rise Stevens, the stalwart Robert Merrill, and the playful Jo Sullivan.
Lost Broadway and More - Vols. 1 & 2 (Original Cast Records)
There's a low-budget feel to the packaging for these discs, which are a treasure trove of unreleased and previously unrecorded material, but the lack of bells-and-whistles for what accompanies the music doesn't detract from the gems that lurk on these albums, including "All God's Chillun Got Movie Shows" (written for the London production of A Day in Hollywood...) , "Cowboy Take Me Away" (from Urban Cowboy) and "Look for the Happy Ending" (from Helen of Troy, New York). After savoring these two issues, listeners will be eagerly anticipating further releases in this new series.
What I Wanna Be When I Grow Up - The Songs of Scott Alan (www.ScottAlan.net)
The emotional integrity of Alan's work -- both the music and lyrics -- is undisputable on this third collection of his songs. From the disc's opener "Love, Love, Love," delivered with infectious exuberance by Nikki Renee Daniels, to the mournful ballad "I Remember" (hauntingly performed by Christiane Noll), the album displays the work of a songwriter of exceptional range. Other highlights include performances by Christopher Sieber and Bobby Steggert in two songs that sensitively chronicle gay men wrestling with two very different questions of identity.
Love on a Summer Afternoon: Songs of Sam Davis (PS Classics)
Composer Davis' collaborations with lyricist Randy Buck prove this disc's standouts: not only the seductively languorous title track, which is performed with moving nuance by Philip Chaffin, but also the appealing "Greenwich Time," which Gavin Creel imbues with gentle urgency and genuine warmth. Though there are a couple of misfires in comic numbers (notably "A Kilt Is Not a Dress" with lyrics by Mark Waldrop), listeners quickly rebound with songs like "I Dream a World," an artful musical setting of a Langston Hughes text, delivered with finesse by Michael McElroy and Tituss Burgess.
Mutiny! (Original London Cast Recording) (Stage Door Records)
British pop star, performer, and songwriter David Essex displays an uncanny gift for creating period-sounding tunes in this musical version of The Mutiny on the Bounty. In fact, his sea shanties are among the most enjoyable sections of this disc. Equally impressive are the orchestrations from Don Cameron; the music for the dance sequences is exceedingly vibrant. Unfortunately, the show's rather wan ballads derail the piece, but there's enough of note here to make one wonder if a revision and new stage outing might be in order.
Departure Lounge (Original London Cast Recording) (Speckulation Entertainment)
Dougal Irvine's musical about a group of 18-year-olds reminiscing about their vacation has an irreverent quality that initially charms; the songs and vocals bring to mind the youthful verve of groups like The Monkees. Unfortunately, the characters' inherent lack of sophistication can lead to certain banalities, which depending on listeners' tastes, may grate or offend.