This compilation of tunes from shows written by the man behind Departure Lounge grandly showcases his talent for crafting theater songs with a decided pop flair, particularly in gentle ballads like "Silence and the Rain" (gracefully delivered by Cassie McIvor and Daniel Boys) and the more rock-infused "Do You Want a Baby Baby?" (performed by a powerhouse Julie Atherton). His lyrics can have a colloquial quality that cuts straight to the emotional core of his serious numbers, but his comic lyrics are often strained. An exception is the disc's opener, which amusingly integrates famous musical show titles into the tune's narrative.
James Barbour - Bring Me Giants (GlobalVision Records)
Barbour, soon to return to Broadway in Rebecca, uses his powerful baritone to splendid effect on this album, which contains a quintet of songs from Frank Wildhorn, including "I'll Be There" (a knockout duet with Morgan James) and the number that gives the disc its title (from the composer's aborning musical version of Cyrano de Bergerac). Elsewhere, Barbour proves that he can deliver a ballad with moving tenderness (including Lerner and Loewe's "If Ever I Would Leave You" from Camelot and "Bring Him Home" from Les Miz) and his rendering of "The Impossible Dream" (from Man of La Mancha) combines both bombast and delicacy to terrific effect.
The Burnt Part Boys (Yellow Sound Label)
The combination of Chris Miller's infectious bluegrass and honky tonk melodies, deftly outfitted with Nathan Tysen's lyrics, and the spirited work of a fine ensemble make this one of the most exciting new cast recordings of recent memory. Even the show's fantasy sequences -- in which a young man imagines his screen heroes coming to life -- seem to spark to life on this recording of the short-lived Off-Broadway show about a group of boys attempting to reconcile themselves to their dads' deaths in a mining accident. It's an album that musical theater fans will savor and one that hopefully might spur further productions (and even refinement) of this charming tuner.
Do Re Mi (Original London Cast) (Sepia Records)
Even though music theater aficionados will probably have at least one if not two copies of this Jule Styne, Betty Comden and Adolph Green show about a huckster's misbegotten attempts to break into the jukebox business, there's one compelling reason to add this London cast recording to shelf: Max Bygraves' zealously funny performance. Also notable is Steve Arlen, who delivers the show's two big love songs (including "Make Someone Happy") with superlative smoothness. The highlight among the six bonus tracks is the inimitable Beatrice Lillie's cover of "What's New at the Zoo?"
Glee: The Music 7 (Columbia Records)
This seventh installment of albums featuring highlights from FOX's hit show turns out to be a real treat for music theater lovers, featuring not only an exuberant take on "You Can't Stop the Beat" (from Hairspray), but also two fine West Side Story selections, "Tonight" (with Lea Michele and Darren Criss) and "Somewhere" (movingly performed by Michele and Idina Menzel). While Cory Monteith's overly somber interpretation of Cyndi Lauper's "Girls Just Want to Have Fun" fails to click, it's hard to beat the incredible mashup of Adele's "Rumor Has It" and "Someone Like You" or Criss' sauve take on the Tom Jones hit, "It's Not Unusual."
Hugh Martin: Hidden Treasures (Harbinger Records)
This compendium of songs from the man behind such musicals as Best Foot Forward and Meet Me in St. Louis culls together 29 tracks of demos and other obscure recordings to create a winning portrait of an artist over the course of more than half a century. There are a few tunes listeners may recognize, but more often than not, the CD features work that never made it to stage or screen. Alongside the disc is an annotated 88-page booklet that is just one more reason this CD is a must-have for the true music theater fan.
Marigold/Melvillainy: Original London Cast (Must Close Saturday Night Records)
This disc pairs composer Charles Swar and lyricist Alan Melville's long-forgotten 1959 musical Marigold alongside a baker's dozen of the team's songs for the revue Melvillainy. The musical, which is set in Scotland during Queen Victoria's reign and filled with frilly melodies, will be a quaint listen for contemporary musical theater lovers as it sounds like a latter-day operetta. More accessible are the wonderfully whimsical tunes from the revue, which seem to transcend period, including a giddy parody of a Noel Coward song and a daffy look at an imagined revival of a Restoration comedy by a second tier theater troupe.
Mrs. Santa Claus (Original Television Soundtrack) (Masterworks Broadway/ArkivMusic)
Just in time for the holidays comes this re-release of the soundtrack for this Jerry Herman television musical that stars Angela Lansbury in the title role. It's a delightful confection, filled with Herman's signature melodiousness, as it charts Mrs. C's journey through early 20th-century New York after a spat she's had with her husband just before the holiday. Lansbury sounds particularly vibrant as the spunky heroine, and for anyone who's feeling at all Scrooge-like this season, this disc should help take away that "Bah, humbug!" feeling.
The Muppets (Original Movie Soundtrack) (Disney)
It's difficult to go wrong with a new recording of the classic "The Rainbow Connection," which can be found on the soundtrack for this new movie featuring Jim Henson's beloved creations. Indeed, listeners will find both a loving interpretation of the award-winning tune (led by Steve Whitmire, who makes an excellent Kermit), and a hilarious rewrite of it (for Eric Jacobson's Fozzie Bear). There's also a bevy of other delights including the giddily bouncy "Life's a Happy Song" (by Bret McKenzie), and the faux disco-era "Me Party," (by McKenzie and Paul Roemer), delivered to smile-inducing effect by Amy Adams and Miss Piggy (also voiced by Jacobson).
My Lifelong Love (Sh-K-Boom)
Georgia Stitt's diverse accomplishments as composer, lyricist and arranger are amply displayed on this 13-track disc. And while the album is never anything less than a fascinating listen, there are times when its breadth can be problematic, as there are not only songs which Stitt alone has written, but also collaborations with other composers, other lyricists, and even settings of poetry. Nevertheless, given that each number -- from a boy's discovery of his love for music to a mother's care for her child -- has a certain jewel-like quality, it's little wonder that the likes of Kate Baldwin, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Anika Noni Rose, and Laura Osnes are all featured.