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Bacharach and Sondheim and Webber, Oh My!

TheaterMania reviews 20 recent releases, including three S.T.A.G.E. concert recordings, the latest Glee CD, and new discs from Rachel Potter, Dee Snider, and Rufus Wainwright.

Blame It on Bacharach - The 24th Annual STAGE Benefit Concert (Kritzerland)
This disc, one of many that preserves the annual concerts benefitting S.T.A.G.E., has its hits and misses as a starry crew celebrates the work of noted composer Burt Bacharach. Fortunately, there are some great surprises, notably Jai Rodriguez's sensitive rendering of "Go Ask Shakespeare" and a superlative medley offered by Melissa Manchester.

By Side By Side By Side By Side by Sondheim - The 23rd Annual STAGE Benefit Concert (Kritzerland)
Another recording of the S.T.A.G.E. concerts, this two-disc set overflows with many of Stephen Sondheim's best-known songs, in a variety of interpretations. Among the standouts are Lisa Vroman's soaring take on the movie version of "The Glamorous Life" (from A Little Night Music), Betty Garrett's utterly merry delivery of "Broadway Baby" (from Follies), Alice Ripley's rousing "Me and My Town" (from Anyone Can Whistle), and brothers Patrick and Shaun Cassidy, who tear into two versions of "Agony" from Into the Woods with comic elan.

Mark Nadler - Crazy 1961 (
Part autobiography, part history lesson, and part overview of the hits of 1961, this album is all Nadler -- a flamboyant showman, gifted lyric interpreter, and superb pianist. The fact that he can dash off a melodramatically over-the-top "Cruella De Vil" (from Disney's 101 Dalmatians) and follow it with ingenious rethinkings of both Noel Coward's "Sail Away" and Frank Loesser's "I Believe in You" (from How to Succeed...) is all one needs to know about the eclectic nature of this disc, that ends with a marvelously witty medley of "50 Hits from 61."

Dee Snider - Dee Does Broadway

(Razor & Tie)
Initially, the Twisted Sister frontman's use of heavy metal guitar riffs, pounding rhythms and wailing vocals for this unusual CD of Broadway classics may strike listeners as curious, perhaps even unfortunate. But ultimately, there's a decided allure to this album; his take on The Ballad of Sweeney Todd is undeniably creepy, there's an unquestionable sexiness underlying "Big Spender" (from Sweet Charity, which he shares as a duet with Cyndi Lauper, and his moving medley of "Tonight" and "Somewhere" (from West Side Story) with Patti LuPone is a genuine stunner.

Carrie Manolakos - Echo

This seven-song EP from Manolakos, a one-time Mamma Mia! star, beats with a folk/rock pulse; and her vocals, which combine sweet softness with an electrifying urgency, consistently capture the listener's ear. The songs range from the inspirational "In Your Own Grace," which she delivers with unquestionable vibrancy, to the gently melancholy ballad "Red," which she imbues with a keen sense of vulnerability and hopefulness, to the country waltz "The Best One," where her delivery segues from a light, jaunty bounce to an impassioned, longing wail.

Glee: The Music, Season Three - The Graduation Album

There's a mixture of pensiveness and ebullience running through the selections on this album of songs from the hit FOX series, which proves to be one of the most satisfying recordings in the Glee series. Among the CD's particular pleasures are Matthew Morrison's take on Rod Stewart's "Forever Young," Lea Michele's rendition of Room for Two's "Roots and Branches," and Cory Monteith and Mark Salling's cover of the Bruce Springsteen classic "Glory Days."

Lost Broadway and More 4 (Footlight)
Listeners should have patience with the first eight tracks of this disc -- a hefty set of selections from Judith Shubow Steir's musical about the romance between Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson, Only a Kingdom -- because it's only after these songs that one hears the album's many gems. Highlights include several utterly endearing tunes from a musical version of National Velvet a pair of tunes from The Little House on the Prairie musical that toured the country, and a delicious medley of Kay Swift songs performed by cabaret favorites Steve Ross and KT Sullivan.

Louise Dearman - Here Comes the Sun

(Big Hand Recordings Ltd.)
On this 10-song disc, the strong-voiced Dearman surveys a wide range of modern pop songwriting, reinterpreting songs associated with the likes of The Beatles, Alison Moyet, and Randy Crawford. Among the disc's most satisfying tracks are an exquisite version of Cyndi Lauper's "Time After Time," which she sings with Steve Balsamo, and an extraordinary version of Annie Lennox's "Little Bird" that captures its bluesy, rock essence with aplomb.

Peggy Herman - Herman on Herman-Peggy Sings Jerry

Listeners will find a broad selection of Jerry Herman's songs rendered with care on this remarkably intimate disc. Her somewhat smoky vocals waft over the songwriter's signature melodies with ease, and often, with the help of Alex Rybeck's arrangements, cast them anew. Some of her strongest selections include a sultry rendition of "It's Today" (from Mame), a plaintive take on "The Best in the World" (from A Day in Hollywood), and a jazzy version of "World, Take Me Back" (performed by Ethel Merman in Hello, Dolly!).

john and jen (Original Off-Broadway Cast Recording) (GhostlIght Records)
Andrew Lippa and Tom Greenwald's 1996 musical enters the iTunes era with this most welcome digital release. Carolee Carmello and James Ludwig deliver instantly appealing performances in this show that looks at the legacy that a father's violence has on a brother and sister and ultimately the impact that the Vietnam War has on the siblings. Lippa's music gently evokes the period and Greenwald's lyrics fit his melodies to both moving and amusing effect, notably in "Dear God," which chronicles the teenage kids' dislike of each other.

Next page: Discs from Rachel Potter, Julie Reiber, Rufus Wainwright and more...
Rachel Potter - Live the Dream

Potter, who is currently appearing on Broadway as The Mistress in Evita, displays her talents as both a singer and a songwriter on this six-song EP, where country meets rock and roll. Each of the tunes has a twangy zest, and Potter belts them out with warmth and deep feeling, particularly "Just a Show," an excellent reimagining of the "my man's done me wrong" narrative, and "Never You Mind," which, with a more crashing heavy metal sound, similarly revisits a tale of love gone wrong.

Julie Reiber - Love Travels

Reiber offers up a combination of pop hits, original songs and a few numbers from musicals with a mixture of a rocker's intensity and stage artist's vulnerability on this genuinely enjoyable disc. The recording is particularly special when she puts imaginative spins on her song choices: Jason Robert Brown's "Still Hurting" (from The Last 5 Years) unexpectedly soars, Burt Bacharach's "Walk on By" has a contemporary electronic edge, and Stephen Schwartz's "Defying Gravity" (from Wicked) begins with a lovely acoustic vibe.

Dave Willetts - Once in a Lifetime-the 25th Anniversary Collection

(Stage Door Records)
West End star Willetts surveys a grand array of musical theater fare on this disc, comprised of studio session and live performance tracks. There's little question that the singer has the power to make anthems like the title track (from Stop the World…) and "This Is the Moment" (from Jekyll and Hyde) surge into the listener's ear. He also can shrewdly moderate his delivery, and his take on "Not While I'm Around" (from Sweeney Todd) has an almost ethereal quality.

Rufus Wainwright - Out of the Game

(Decca Records)
Wainwright blends an exceedingly pleasant retro sound with a decidedly contemporary one on his newest CD, which aurally shuttles between mid-1950s sounds, early 1980s new age styles, and more modern electronica with exceptional ease. As always, his vocals beautifully fit the subjects of his tunes, particularly "Montauk," a bittersweet tune about two men raising a child; and "Perfect Man," a dreamlike reverie that's strangely infectious.

Over The Moon: The Broadway Lullaby Project
(Entertainment One)

This two-disc set (replete with illustrated book) of 26 new lullabies thoroughly enchants, thanks to work of some of theater's top songwriters (including Stephen Sondheim, Maury Yeston, and Michael John LaChiusa) and such wonderful performers as Will Swenson, Laura Osnes, Victoria Clark, Kelli O'Hara, and Raul Esparza. Each track is a charmer in its own way, most notably, "Onesie," by Wayne Barker and B.D. Wong, which is heartrendingly delivered by Michael Cerveris, and the folksy "Poppy, The Little Brown Bear," by Jeff Bowen and rendered sweetly by Janet Dacal.

The Perfect Year - The 20th Annual STAGE Benefit Concert (Kritzerland)
The third recent S.T.A.G.E release, which celebrates the work of Andrew Lloyd Webber, is particularly worthwhile for its inclusion of songs that rarely get anthologized, such as "Other Pleasures" (from By Jeeves) in a lovely rendition by Lee Lessack; Leslie Jordan's spit-take inducing patter during "Capped Teeth and Caesar Salad" (from Song and Dance); and Tyne Daly's fiercely felt a cappella performance of "If This Is What We Are Fighting For" (from The Beautiful Game).

Richard Beadle - Songs

(Beadle Music Ltd.)
British songwriter Beadle's felicity with a wide variety of musical genres is splendidly showcased on this 12-track disc. The compilation includes six songs from Beadle's tuner about marriage, Today Is the Day, all of which pulse with a contemporary sound that's melded with a musical theater vernacular, notably "1967," stirringly delivered by Hannah Waddingham. The balance of the numbers, where Beadle sometime forces his rhymes, including the art song "Invincible" (sensitively rendered by Stuart Matthew Price) and the pop/gospel "Tell the World" (performed with soulful flair by Landi Oshinowo).

A Song Cycle for Soho (Original London Cast Recording) (SimG Records)
Numbers by established British songwriters like George Stiles and Anthony Drewe mingle with ones by emerging talents like Dougal Irvine and Andrew Brinded in this decidedly contemporary revue. Performed with gusto by Micheal Cantwell, James Gillian, Claire Moore, and Niamh Perry, the material ranges from Tony Award winner Douglas Hodge's edgy, bluesy "Fade to Black," and Stuart Matthew Price's delicately melancholy "If Nobody Knows Your Name," which gives personality, if not name, to people marginalized or simply forgotten by society.

Time - The Musical (Dave Clark Productions)
Dave Clark's semi-obscure mid-1980s musical enters the 21st Century with the digital release of this newly remastered concept recording. As it turns out, the songs from this British science fiction tuner sound terrific, particularly given the work of performers Ashford and Simpson, Murray Head, Julian Lennon, Freddie Mercury, Cliff Richard, and Dionne Warwick -- not to mention Sir Laurence Olivier who plays an intergalactic judge.

Victor Herbert: Collected Songs

(New World Records)
Over 100 of Herbert's songs are collected on this four-disc set that features performances by such Broadway stars Sara Jean Ford, Aaron Lazar, Rebecca Luker, and Ron Raines, all of whom sound ravishing as they deliver Herbert's sumptuously rich tunes. And while some of the early German-language numbers might be a bit obscure for today's listener, once the collection has moved to his English-language creations, the music has an almost magical pull, particularly with silky waltzes like "Kiss Me Now" and lightly lilting tunes like "The Lady of the Lantern."


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