14 Fall Favorites
New CDs by Melissa Errico, Michael Feinstein, Sean McDermott, and Sandi Patty are among this month's listening highlights.
Musical theater fans will herald the arrival of this recording, which is one of the many fine 1950s studio cast albums from Lehman Engel and represents the first time the classic Rodgers and Hart score was recorded as a piece of theater music rather than a movie soundtrack. Better yet, the disc features the legendary Mary Martin and Jack Cassidy, who sound terrific -- particularly Martin with a delicately lilting "Johnny One Note."
Betty Blue Eyes (Original Cast Recording) (First Night Records)
Composer Georges Stiles offers up a bevy of exuberant period-sounding melodies and Anthony Drewe supplies appropriately zany lyrics for this tuner, which is based on Alan Bennett's daffy film A Private Function. The show, which recently concluded a West End run, focuses on the farcical extents to which a group of people in a Yorkshire village go as they try to celebrate the wedding of Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip in style. The company dives into this choice material with decided relish, particularly Sarah Lancashire Reece Shearsmith, Adrian Scarborough, and Ann Emery.
Broadway Stories (WEA Corp)
Five-time Grammy Award winner and Christian music superstar Sandi Patty turns to the world of musical theater and finds a terrific showcase for her warm soprano. Particularly fine are a medley of songs from The Sound of Music, which proves to be simply sublime as her voice soars alongside the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Jack Everly. Equally enjoyable are the singer's takes on "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man" and "The Man I Love," while a medley of songs made famous by Broadway's leading men may strike some as little more than a curiosity.
Death Takes a Holiday (Original Off-Broadway Cast) (PS Classics)
A top-notch company from the Roundabout Theatre Company's recent Off-Broadway production gives Maury Yeston's richly melodic score a jewel-like quality on this beautiful sounding disc. At the center of the show is Kevin Earley, who brings remarkable warmth to the role of Death who has taken human form to understand why men fear him. Equally impressive is Jill Paice as the young woman who finds herself falling in love with him; her soprano simply glides over Yeston's tunes. Among the large supporting cast are Matt Cavenaugh and Rebecca Luker and each shine with some of the work's more emotionally and melodically complicated material.
Follies in Concert (Masterworks Broadway)
This all-star 1985 concert version of Stephen Sondheim and James Goldman's landmark musical returns to store shelves in a new, handsome eco-friendly package. The joys of the concert are well-known to theater lovers, from Elaine Stritch's savory delivery of "Broadway Baby" to Mandy Patinkin's sterling solo interpretation of "Buddy's Blues." As a special attraction, this recording also contains Sondheim's ravishingly lush score for the 1974 movie Stavisky.
Footloose: The Musical (Original Broadway Cast Recording) (Ghostlight Records)
In a nod to the recently released remake of the 1984 hit film Footloose, Ghostlight Records has reissued this long out-of-print original cast recording of the 1998 Broadway musical. There's little doubt that there is appeal to many of the hit songs from the movie, including the title number and "Let's Hear It for the Boy," but the stage versions invariably pale in comparison to the originals. There is, however, one notable new track on this disc: the infectious "Still Rockin'" (cut from the show prior to Broadway), which is performed with panache by Hunter Foster.
Legrand Affair (Ghostlight Records)
Backed by the 100-piece Flemish Radio Orchestra (now The Brussels Philharmonic), Broadway star Melissa Errico finds a perfect showcase for her gossamer soprano in this collection of songs by Michel Legrand. Errico not only sounds gorgeous, but she uncovers the emotional core of the pieces, both familiar ("The Windmills of Your Mind" and "How Do You Keep the Music Playing?) and relatively unknown ("Dis-Moi" and "Celui-La"). Chances are this disc -- exquisitely produced by the legendary Phil Ramone -- is one that listeners will savor for years to come.
Matilda the Musical (Original Cast Recording) (Royal Shakespeare Company)
Tim Minchin has written one of the most distinctive new musical theater scores of recent memory for this RSC adaptation of Roald Dahl's novel about a little girl with some exceptional talents -- and the disdain that her parents have for her skills. Minchin captures the spirit of the book; the music can be both creepy and warm and the lyrics have just the right tone of genuine heart and satiric bite. After playing this disc, American listeners will likely hop a plane to England or hope for a quick transAtlantic transfer.
Most Likely To: The Senior Superlative Musical (Original Off-Broadway Cast Recording) (broadwayclubhouse.com)
This recording of the new musical, about a group of teenagers' angst-ridden lives, will inspire some chuckles -- and maybe just a couple of groans. Composer/lyricist Michael Tester has written a dozen of earnest pop-infused, mostly retro-sounding tunes that are essentially musical soliloquies for kids like the class nerd and the drama aficionado. The decided highlight on the album is "Emo Spelled Backwards," an ironically discordant duet for a couple of Goths.
Smilin' Through-the Singles Collection 1936-47 (Jazmine)
Impressively curated and annotated by Lawrence Schulman, this four disc set preserves nearly 100 of the legendary Judy Garland's singles. He often places two takes of the same song side by side, giving listeners the exceptional chance to appreciate how nuanced Garland's approach to a number can be. As expected, the discs contain such signature songs as "The Boy Next Door" and "The Trolley Song," as well as numbers that are genuinely unexpected, such as Noel Coward's "Poor Little Rich Girl."
The Sinatra Project, Vol. II: The Good Life (Concord Jazz)
Michael Feinstein turns his attention to a baker's dozen of songs made famous by "Ole Blue Eyes" and his pals for this always satisfying disc. Backed by a 30-piece orchestra, conducted by Bill Elliott, Feinstein swings out with numbers like "Thirteen Women" and "Is You Or Is You Ain't My Baby?" and also finds quieter moments in songs like "I'll Be Around," where his smoky vocals elegantly enhance the tune's bittersweet tone.
Up in Lights (Carl Davis Collect)
Carl Davis conducts the BBC Concert Orchestra on this thoroughly enjoyable retrospective of some of Broadway and Hollywood's biggest hits, including an intriguing suite of songs from Andrew Lloyd Webber's Cats (created by David Cullen and recorded for the first time here), the generally ignored overture to West Side Story (which sounds simply stunning), and a medley of songs from Porgy and Bess (which has at its core moving solo lines played by violinist Matthew Trussler).
With Glee (Original Off-Broadway Cast Recording) (prospecttheater.org)
There's much to recommend this delightful cast recording of John Gregor's musical about a group of teen boys who find themselves becoming unlikely friends at their boarding school. Gregor's tunes are infectious ear-pleasers (particularly the show's opening number "Bad Kids School") and his lyrics, with unexpectedly funny rhymes, frequently induce laughs. The seven-member ensemble performs the work with assurance, and one suspects that this album will do much to ensure future productions of this grandly charming work.
You're Not Alone (LML Music)
Broadway veteran Sean McDermott channels an Irish tenor of both days gone by and the contemporary sort on this often stirring disc. The singer's soulful voice has a chameleon-like quality as he traverses songs that range from the chestnut "Danny Boy" (heard in two incarnations on the disc) to the title track, which sounds as if it might have been inspired by Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata." Two distinct highlights on the album are "Magic of Stars," which has a compelling pulsating intensity, and a deeply emotional interpretation of "You Raise Me Up."