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Family Album

Jamie deRoy and friends gather for a new CD that celebrates the holidays by celebrating family. logo

As far as I know, there weren't any new, theater-related Christmas albums released this season -- unless you count La Bohème, the first two acts of which take place on Christmas Eve. But since the holidays are a time when so many people reconnect with mom and dad and the siblings, not to mention aunts and uncles and cousins, Jamie deRoy and friends, Volume 4: Family (Harbinger Records) certainly seems appropriate for release at this time of year.

One of the most valued and ubiquitous figures in NYC cabaret, deRoy is noted for putting together live performances and recordings that spotlight up-and-comers as well as established artists, all wonderfully well matched to the material they perform at deRoy's behest. The Family album includes a number of stellar solos plus five duets that are particularly enjoyable for their combinations of talent.

The CD represents "family" in the broad context of that word. It begins with the traditional husband-wife team of Sal Viviano and Liz Larsen, who offer "A Mother and a Father's Prayer" (by Karen Taylor-Good and Melissa Manchester) in honor of their children. Jeff McCarthy sings Stephen Schwartz's "The Hardest Part of Love" (from Children of Eden) as a presentiment of what he expects to feel when the time comes for his own kids, Anna and Juliet, to leave the nest and begin their adult lives. Loni Ackerman (a memorable Broadway Evita) offers "Stop Time" -- the best song from the Maltby-Shire musical Big -- as a heartfelt comment on her fast-growing sons, one of whom has now gone off to college while the other is in his sophomore year of high school.

The Hod David-Gloria Nissenson song "Harry," about a guy whose aspirations for a career as a musician are flummoxed by the realities of life, is sung by Penny Fuller for her mother, who had a similar experience. Emily Loesser and her mom, Jo Sullivan -- respectively, the daughter and widow of the great Broadway composer-lyricist Frank Loesser -- duet on "Dear Mom" by deRoy, Lanny Myers, and Jane R. Snyder, a song that avoids sentimentality by dint of its sense of humor and Myers's upbeat arrangement. Barbara Walsh -- who sang "Stop Time" for all its worth in the ill-fated Broadway production of "Big" -- here performs "I Have a Garden" (Kim Oler-Allison Hubbard) as a paean to her mom, who managed to be emotionally supportive of eight children. This is followed by the cutest song on the album: Dar Williams's "The Babysitter's Here," sweetly and humorously delivered by Broadway baby Daisy Eagan.

The bouncy "Little Brother" (Neil Sedaka-Philip Cody) features attractive and lively vocals by deRoy and Rick Skye, not to mention a terrific arrangement and orchestration by Rod Hausen. Melanie Vaughan indulges in nostalgia via Buddy Sheffield's "Sittin' on the Front Porch Swing" and Mercedes Hall extols her son Michael in John Lennon's "Beautiful Boy," while that precocious Aussie Tim Draxl dedicates "I Won't Last a Day Without You" (Roger Nichols-Paul Williams) to his mum. Two of the most underappreciated talents in musical theater, Anne Runolfsson and Jonathan Dokuchitz, duet on Billy Joel's "Goodnight My Angel"; Runolfsson explains in an accompanying note that she and Dokuchitz met in the early '90s in the Broadway production of Aspects of Love and now consider each other part of a family that includes her husband, Tony, and Dokuchitz's partner, Michael.

The home stretch of the CD is highlighted by Tovah Feldshuh's excellent choice of "Pink Taffeta Sample, Size 10" (by Cy Coleman and Dorothy Fields, cut from Sweet Charity) as a loving nod to her late father, Sidney. Emily Skinner sings one of Judy Collins's loveliest pieces, "My Father." Kerry Butler offers Amanda McBroom's "The Portrait," which she and her mother have loved ever since they heard it performed in one of Kerry's high school shows. Finally, Brad Oscar does the Barry Kleinbort-Neil Kleinbort song "Family" with his sister, Victoria.

Just about the only germane song that seems to be missing from the album is the Henry Krieger-Tom Eyen "Family" from Dreamgirls, but there are so many other enjoyable selections here that you won't mind having to go to the original Broadway cast recording for that one.

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