If you're looking to put some invigorating spark into your holiday playlist this year, consider the 14th edition of Broadway's Carols for a Cure. The two-disc set features cast members from Broadway shows offering up reimagined classic tunes in addition to original seasonal material. This year, the collection bursts with freshness.
Your ears will certainly perk up with the first track – "Los Tres Reyes Majos" – the offering from the Evita company, which takes the tune from Ariel Ramirez and Felix Luna and puts it into a mashup with the very familiar "We Three Kings." It's a heavenly aural experience, which sinuously sizzles with the tango rhythms that pervade Evita. The song features some dazzling work from the production's principals: Elena Roger, Ricky Martin, Michael Cerveris, and Max Von Essen.
"Los Tres Reyes Majos" is just one example of how the artists in this collection band together to create seasonal music that pulses with the feel of their respective productions, all in the name of a good cause – the charity Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. For instance, Richard Rockage's arrangements for "You Don't Have to Be Alone on Christmas," performed by members of the Chaplin company, gently evoke the sounds of the silent film era. Similarly, the harpsichord that backs The Mystery of Edwin Drood track, "Good Queen Wenceslas," along with Chita Rivera and Stephanie J. Block's flamboyant turns, makes it sound like it might have been pulled out of the music hall where that show unfolds.
Given the joyful silliness that's inherent in Peter and the Starcatcher, it's little wonder that they chose the comic "Dominic the Donkey," just as it is unsurprising that the folks at Bring It On chose to record a rendition of "Angels We Have Heard on High," which, as arranged by Alec Lacamoire and Will Wellis, could become a halftime staple at places like SMU.
The set even includes an instance of a show's "characters" making an appearance: Fred Berman and Ben Jeffrey dive into their roles as meercat and warthog duo Timon and Pumbaa for The Lion King number, an exotic-sounding rendition of "The Wreath of Kindness." This tune (about simply being good and charitable) is one of two that expand the set's appeal beyond the Christian celebrations for this time of year; The other is Lisa Yaeger's movingly somber rendition of "For My Child's First Chanukkah."
But while some ensembles work to evoke the sensibilities of their productions, others use the time in the studio to move outside of the musical styles they live with eight times a week. Nowhere is this truer than with Norman Weiss' amusing "Outside the Box" for The Phantom of the Opera company. Weiss' lyrics actually reference how good the performers feel not having to sing in the opera buffo style of the show.
You'll also find that the gang from Newsies shifts from the late 19th century to today's musical world with a hip-hop-infused "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen," while the Wicked company brings 1940s swing to Oz with a take on "O Holy Night" that would make Benny Goodman proud.
Alongside such group numbers are two solos. Perez Hilton, who has made his off-Broadway debut with NEWSical, brings comic flair to "A Perez Hilton Christmas," about the backstage intrigue involved with getting Santa Claus to town, and Cyndi Lauper, who'll soon hit Broadway with Kinky Boots, uses her signature vocal stylings to make the Elvis Presley hit "Blue Christmas" decidedly sensual.
Over the years, cast members from regional theaters around the country have also gotten into the Carols spirit. This year, cast members from I Love You You're Perfect Now Change at the Engeman Theatre on Long Island deliver Kate Wetherhead's laugh-out-loud funny revision of "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing," and some of the folks performing Miracle on 34th Street at the Arvada Center in Colorado put on tap shoes and channel The Andrews Sisters for a delightful take on "Jolly Old St. Nicholas."
The 21-track set concludes with a tune from Broadway's Jersey Boys, a rousing gospel choir medley of "Have You Heard About the Baby" and "Glory to the Newborn King." This final track – as well as Carols as a whole -- could very well have listeners shouting "Amen!"
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