Dandy December Discs
TheaterMania reviews 20 new CDs, including the latest Glee soundtrack, and solo efforts from James Barbour, Adam Lambert, Linda Lavin, and Bebe Neuwirth.
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.
Listeners will find a delightful array of touching and quirky stories unfolding on this compilation of songs from Walker, from a guy attempting to stall a woman's wedding to a woman celebrating her post-divorce freedom to a man extolling the randomness of his journey of self-discovery. And, bringing these rich narratives and melodies to life are such performers as Lisa Howard, Cheyenne Jackson, Andy Karl, Kelli O'Hara and Jim Stanek.
Adam Lambert / Steve Cooke - Paramount Sessions (Gonzo Distribution)
Former theater performer (and American Idol finalist) Lambert serves up some deeply felt rock and roll on the first disc of this pair of CDs. The tracks were recorded prior to his Idol fame and have since been remixed by the producers (who, rather than Lambert, own the tracks), but the singer's displeasure with the release, which has been voiced through Twitter, seems unduly necessary. His soulful and intense interpretation of Dublyn Jones' driving ballads can bring to mind the likes of David Bowie, and makes for an exceedingly enjoyable listen.
Bebe Neuwirth - Porcelain (The Leopard Works Records)
The two-time Tony Award winner serves up some delicately conceived interpretations of some hard-as-nails songs on her debut album. Her smoky tones and thoughtful phrasing are perfect for the disc's opening track, the Brecht-Weill "Bilbao Song," and as one might imagine she infuses Sondheim's "Lucy and Jesse," with a gritty irony. The disc also features a couple of Kander-Ebb tunes, including a zestful rendition of "Ring Them Bells," a pair of Edith Piaf's signature songs (including a lovely version of "Hymn to Love"), and even Sammy Davis' hit "Mr. Bojangles."
Linda Lavin - Possibilities (Ghostlight Records)
Lavin offers this utterly beguiling 12-track disc of standards that demonstrates she's one swell crooner. From the album's opening track -- a disarmingly coquettish take on Rodgers and Hammerstein's "It Might as Well Be Spring" -- to Charles Strouse and Lee Adams' vampy title tune (which Lavin introduced on Broadway many moons ago), the singer sometimes purrs and sometimes belts out the songs with melodious dexterity.
Susan Egan - The Secret of Happiness (LML Music)
Tony Award nominee Egan takes listeners on her journey as a mom with an impressively diverse array of songs on this marvelously touching disc, where Sondheim's "Children Will Listen" (sung with the disc's producer, arranger and songwriting contributor Georgia Stitt) brushes up against Rodgers and Hammerstein's "Cock-Eyed Optimist." Also represented are such contemporary songwriters as Paul Gordon, who's written the title track, and Jason Robert Brown, who provides the arrangement for his thought-provoking song "All Things in Time," which Egan delivers with a tremendously affecting simplicity.
Silence! - The Musical (Original Cast Recording) (Ghostlight Records)
There's no mistaking the gleeful perversity of this parody of Jonathan Demme's modern film classic on this often hysterical cast recording that will be a treasured keepsake for anyone who's seen the show, and will be a great introduction to its unusual charms for anyone who hasn't. Jon and Al Kaplan's songs shine as brightly (if not more so) as they do in the theater. So, too, do the ferociously comic performances of the show's leads Jenn Harris, Brent Barrett and Stephen Bienskie, as Clarice, Hannibal, and Buffalo Bill, respectively. And for anyone who's wondering, the recording, carefully produced by Michael Croiter and Rich Affannato, doesn't stint on the expletives that the Kaplans freely (and appropriately) use in their lyrics.
Soho Cinders (Concert Recording) (SimG Records)
This contemporary Cinderella tale with a gay twist intoxicates from its first notes, as it introduces the seedy milieu from which hero Robbie (Jos Slovick) will rise with his prince. Anthony Drewe's lyrics throughout are witty, ably fitting George Stiles' richly melodic, toe-tapping tunes. Two particular standouts are "Gypsies of the Ether," exquisitely performed by Slovick and Michael Xavier, which hauntingly brings an online meeting to life; and the raucously funny "Who Can Tell?," where Robbie and best pal Velcro (Amy Lennox), grouse about the judging a guy's sexuality. After hearing this concert recording, listeners will eagerly await a full production of this beautifully crafted show.
Songs of the The Blue Flower (2nd Edition) (theblueflower.org)
There are two notable additions on The Weimarband's second release of songs from this groundbreaking show: "Peaceful Your Eyes" (added for the A.R.T. run) ingeniously sets the stage for the sometimes surreal show; and Max's opening number, the painfully haunting "Things Don't Change," has made it to disc for the first time. Further, anyone who's been following the show will note that composer and lead man Jim Bauer's orchestrations have been cleverly tweaked, feeling more full-bodied than ever on this disc. which will fulfill the piece's fans desire for a recording and hopefully also inspire new fans among those who've not seen this work.
Stage Door Canteen: Broadway Responds to World War II (DRG Records)
The songs that helped Americans get through World War II have been carefully curated for this studio recording that's based on a 92Y Lyrics and Lyricists concert from early 2011. Many of the tunes are familiar ones -- from Berlin's "God Bless America," to Rodgers and Hammerstein's "Oh, What a Beautiful Morning," to Bernstein, Comden and Green's "Some Other Time." But there's also a wealth of lesser-known material, particularly two choice tunes from Harold Rome's Call Me Mister and a pair of songs by Kurt Weill. All of the material is delivered with gusto by Anderson Davis, Jeffry Denman, Brandon Victor Dixon, Debra Monk, and Betsy Wolfe.
Barbara Cook - You Make Me Feel So Young: Live at Feinstein's (DRG Records)
The legendary singer (and 2011 Kennedy Center Honoree) is in an impish mood on this disc that was recorded live during an appearance at the famed cabaret venue. The 13 selections include her buoyant delivery of the title track, Nat "King" Cole's hit "The Frim Fram Sauce" (complete with kazoos), and even Stephen Sondheim's "Live Alone and Like It," which she frames with a story about her divorce. These more ebullient numbers are smartly balanced by such selections as a particularly poignant gender-reversed take on Lerner and Loewe's "I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face" and a wistfully ethereal interpretation of Cole Porter's "I've Got You Under My Skin."