Sixteeen Superb September CDs
Reviews of new recordings by Barbra Streisand and Barbara Cook, Nice Work If You Can Get It, Carrie, Bring It On, Jekyll & Hyde, and 10 more must-haves.
Nice Work If You Can Get It (Original Broadway Cast Recording) (Shout! Factory)
The care that's gone into this new cast album is apparent as soon as it begins playing and an overture, expanded from the music heard in the Imperial Theatre where the show is playing, strikes its first big, brassy, notes. This is an old-fashioned recording – in the best sense – that's chockfull of great Gershwin songs like "Someone to Watch Over Me," "S'wonderful," and "Fascinating Rhythm," each sounding exceptionally crisp and vibrant while also freshly minted thanks to Bill Elliott's orchestrations. And while the music sparkles, so too, do the performances. Both Matthew Broderick and Kelli O'Hara, playing, respectively, the oft-married playboy and the gun-toting bootlegger he falls for, give their vocals exceptional shading on the recording, and turns that are hysterical onstage are equally funny on disc, particularly Judy Kaye (whom one can sense swinging back and forth during "Looking for a Boy") and Jennifer Laura Thompson who sends "Delishious" to heights of squealing vanity.
Bring It On (Original Broadway Cast Recording) (Back Lot Music)
This new cast recording will send a burst of contemporary energy into musical theater lovers' collections. Lin-Manuel Miranda and Tom Kitt's music for this show, playing at the St. James Theatre, set in the world of competitive high school cheerleading, zings with the sort of sounds typically heard in today's top hits, and their tunes are outfitted with frequently wry, smile-inducing lyrics from Miranda and Amanda Green. The youthful cast delivers the score with panache, particularly principals Taylor Louderman, who belts out a couple of anthems with gusto, Adrienne Warren, whose stylings have a sassiness that's remarkably appealing, and Elle McLemore, whose over-the-top comic turn is as funny on disc as it is in the theater.
A Christmas Story - The Musical (World Premiere Recording) (Masterworks Broadway)
After demonstrating their felicity in melding the sounds of the 1960s with musical theater vernacular in the off-Broadway musical Dogfight, Benj Pasek and Justin Paul show that they can also emulate sounds of an earlier era with this tuner, soon to open at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, that's based on the ever-popular holiday film. The show's awash in tunes that evoke the sounds of the 1940s, from the kinds of driving tunes that underscored Wild West movies to jingles that played on the radio. This album features the show's appealing touring cast, along with special guests Liz Callaway and Tom Wopat, and their work is superbly supported by Larry Blank's spot-on orchestrations.
Carrie: The Musical (Premiere Cast Recording) (Ghostlight Records)
As if owning – at long last – a legitimate recording of the infamous Broadway flop based on Stephen King's teen horror tale Carrie were not enough, this album that preserves the revised version of the show that played off-Broadway features the uncompromisingly dynamic performances of Marin Mazzie and Molly Ranson, as mother and daughter Margaret and Carrie White, whose powerhouse voices send songs like "When There's No One," "And Eve Was Weak," and the musical's title number soaring. There's solid supporting work, too, particularly from Christy Altomare as "good girl" Sue, and while not all of the material from composer Michael Gore and lyricist Dean Pitchford is sterling (notably one of the new numbers, "The World According to Chris"), the album has been given a first-class packaging and it's a disc that will be savored and debated for years to come.
Listeners get the chance to reencounter this singing legend at several points in her extraordinary career with this 11-track disc, compiled of previously unreleased tracks that have been taken from her private stash of recordings. From her relatively early career, there's Jimmy Webb's "Didn't We," which was recorded for an unreleased album and from later in her career come tracks like a passionately considered medley of "How Are Things in Glocca Morra" (from Finian's Rainbow) and "Heather on the Hill" (from Brigadoon) that was arranged to perfection by Rupert Holmes. There's even a duet – one that she shares with herself – on the beautifully mixed, deeply moving track "Mother and Child." Fans with turntables will have bought this one on vinyl already – those with only CD equipment will need to wait until October 2 to add this one to their collections. It's an album that's worth the wait.
Barbara Cook - Loverman (DRG)
On the eve of Cook's 85th birthday comes a new album which finds the singing great still in peak form. The recording is a gentle jazz collection, tinged by melancholy blues. And yet, even as the stylings are something of a departure, listeners will find that this 15 track disc also bears the hallmarks of Cook's perfect phrasing and glistening soprano. Among the choicest selections are her delicately exultant and slightly earthy take on "New York State of Mind," a medley of "House of the Rising Sun" and "Bye Bye Blackbird" that sounds almost like a legato spiritual, and an achingly ethereal rendition of the album's title song.
Heather Headley - Only One In the World (In:ciite Media)
Tony Award winner Headley will soon be returning to the stage in the West End production of The Bodyguard — in a role originated on film by the late Whitney Houston — and on this immensely satisfying album, Headley showcases her remarkable ability to deliver a tune with silky, soulful passion, which, eerily, can sometimes echo the late singing star's finest work. The 12 track disc's a a combination of contemporary R&B and gospel songs, and among the attractions are her fierce, yet vulnerable, interpretation of the rueful ballad "Run to You," the shrewd sultriness that she brings to a tune about a woman's bitter feelings about her partner, and, in a nod toward Broadway, a moving rendition of "Home," from The Wiz.
Renee Fleming - The Art of Renee Fleming (Decca)
Opera star Fleming's lustrous soprano glistens on this 18 track disc with arias ranging from "Costa Diva" (from Bellini's Norma) to "Vissi d'arte, vissi d'ammore" (from Puccini's Tosca). With each, listeners will find that the vocals are not only beautiful, but exceptionally dramatic. The genuine treat on this album are a quartet of simply glorious "crossover" tracks, including such standards as "Summertime" (Porgy & Bess) and "Somewhere" (West Side Story), as well as Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens' "Wheels of a Dream" (Ragtime), delivered as a rousing duet with baritone Bryn Terfel, which was previously released on the pair's album Under the Stars.
Just months before this Frank Wildhorn and Leslie Bricusse tuner returns to Broadway with a cast headlined by Constantine Maroulis in the title roles, comes this concept recording, with not just the new production's star, but also his leading ladies, Deborah Cox and Teal Wicks, along with other notables such as Corey Brunish and Tom Hewitt in cameo appearances. Maroulis often sounds persuasive, but he also sounds as if he might still be finding his way with the dual roles. More successful are the women, who deliver familiar tunes like "Someone Like You" and "Once Upon a Dream" with gusto.
Calvin Berger (Original Cast Recording) (Ghostlight Records)
Book writer, composer and lyricist Barry Wyner offers up a charming look at the awkwardness of teen romance in this tuner that's a riff on Edmond de Rostand's Cyrano de Bergerac. It'a vest pocket version of the tale about a guy wooing a girl on another's behalf, performed by a winning quartet, Noah Weisberg in the title role, along with Krystal Joy Brown, David Hull and Dana Steingold. Wyner's richly melodic songs have a dissonant edginess to them that perfectly underscores the seesawing emotions of adolescence, and his lyrics are playfully colloquial particularly in "We're the Man!," in which the guys come to realize that they should combine their looks and wits to create the perfect dude.
35mm: A Musical Exhibition (Ghostlight Records)
This recording takes listeners through a gritty urban art gallery of sorts, provocatively dropping them into snapshots of lives, emotions, and ideas. Ryan Scott Oliver's songs, inspired by photographs by Matthew Murphy, are a mix of contemporary rock sounds that are delivered with intensity by the likes of Broadway vets Alex Brightman, Lindsay Mendez, and Betsy Wolfe. Among the albums standouts are "Caralee," a curiously infectious tune that takes its cue from a couple of pictures of a doll; the invective-filled "Make Me Happy," which has its basis in a somewhat surreal photo of a couple brandishing smiley face masks; and the southern-fried "Leave, Luanne," written to match a snapshot of a guy with a deer head on his torso.
Next Thing You Know (Yellow Sound Label)
The aspirations, loves, and disappointments of a quartet of four thirtysomething New Yorkers come poignantly to life in this decidedly hip tuner from the team that also penned I Love You Because. Composer Joshua Salzman's tunes, a mix of pop, country, and Latin sounds, have both a jaunty twang and an air of melancholy to them while Ryan Cunningham's lyrics offer up both keen observations about hitting one's 30s (Lauren Blackman's performance in one song about becoming inured to the city is heartbreaking) and some comic gems, notably in a guy's paean to himself and the way he treats his pickups the morning they've connected, delivered with preening flair by Jay Armstrong Johnson.
After receiving a 2008 Drama Desk nomination for Outstanding Revue, this song cycle welcomely arrives on CD. Composer Christopher Miller's country-infused melodies capture both the highs and lows of living somewhat apart from the world and are outfitted with often pungently observed lyrics by Nathan Tysen. The first-rate ensemble includes Tony Award winner Karen Olivo, and Tony nominees Gavin Creel and Joshua Henry, along with Matt Caplan, Alysha Umphress and Berrett Wilbert Weed. Among the album highlights are Henry's sly delivery of a paean to Washington Heights and Creel and Olivo's heartfelt rendition of "Wildflowers," a cunningly abstract song about a couple's mixed feelings about their relationship.
That's Entertainment - A Celebration of the MGM Film Musical (EMI)
The spirits and talents of artists such as Fred Astaire, Arthur Freed, Gene Kelly, and Judy Garland are evoked and glorified on this aurally opulent album from The John Wilson Orchestra. It doesn't hurt that alongside the 84 piece ensemble are singers such as Kim Criswell, Matthew Ford, Sarah Fox, Seth MacFarlane and Curtis Stigers, who lends their fine voices – as well as their evident love of the material – to tunes such as "The Trolley Song" (from Meet Me in St. Louis) and "Well, Did You Evah?" (from High Society). Among the standouts of the 14 ebullient tracks are McFarlane's "Singin' in the Rain" and Criswell's "I Got Rhythm" (from Girl Crazy).
The Desert Song (Studio Cast Recording) (Masterworks Broadway/ArkivMusic)
Chances are there aren't many people who have been pining for a release of this 1926 operetta in 2012, but this new release of a 1958 studio album, produced by Lehman Engel, and featuring Giorgio Tozzi and Kathy Barr, displays the show's myriad joys so splendidly that it may well become a "must have" for musical theater lovers. Both Tozzi's warm vocals and Barr's pristine trills thrill and when they're used for songs like "The Sabre Song" and the title song (sometimes thought of as "Blue Heaven"), which contemporary listeners will recognize even if they don't "know" them, is simply sublime.
Stacy Sullivan - It's a Good Day: A Tribute to Miss Peggy Lee (LML Music)
Sullivan channels the essence of the great singer/song stylist Lee on this stylish recording that never veers into crass imitation. The disc includes both songs that Lee co-penned during her career, such as "It's a Good Day" and "You Was Right Baby," and some of the classics that she covered like Irving Berlin's "Cheek to Cheek" and Rodgers and Hart's "Nobody's Heart Belongs to Me." Sullivan's arrangements, created with Jon Weber and Steve Doyle, take some terrific flights of fancy as they muse on Lee's legacy, perhaps no more so than in a medley of "I Got Rhythm" "My Romance" and "One Kiss."