January's Collectible CDs
Reviews of Godspell, The People in the Picture, Treemonisha, and 13 more recent recordings.
Two shows from the 1920s get a big band spin put on them on this release of two studio recordings from 1953. Cab Calloway and Thelma Carpenter sound absolutely terrific as they offer up a quartet of familiar Jimmy McHugh and Dorothy Fields' songs from Blackbird, including "I Can't Give You Anything But Love" and "I Must Have That Man," while Carpenter, Louise Woods, and Avon Long are on hand for the four tunes from Eubie Blake and Noble Sissel's Shuffle Along, including the rarely heard "Bandana Song" and "Gypsy Blues."
Darkling (Albany Records)
At first, some of the soundbites that make up vast stretches of Anna Rabinowitz's libretto for this unique music-theater piece may strike listeners as unbearably pretentious. But stick with this two-disc recording and allow Stefan Weisman's haunting score for strings wash over you. Indeed, you'll find that these snippets are the way in which the work gives voice to the lives and memories of Europeans who lived between the first and second World Wars, and before the recording has ended, you may be taken off guard by the surprisingly powerful cumulative effect of the words and music.
Emily Bergl Live at the Algonquin: Kidding on the Square (On the Square Productions)
Bergl (familiar to many from her work on Desperate Housewives) turns back the figurative clock to channel her inner Betty Boop, Gertrude Lawrence and Beatrice Lillie as she uses her pleasant voice and genuinely bubbly demeanor to glide through tunes by the likes of Noel Coward, Rodgers and Hart, and Fats Waller. Along the way, she throws in a curveball or two -- such as the Roy Orbison hit "Crying" -- but this CD is mostly an affectionate, tuneful trip back to the early years of the 20th Century.
Godspell (New Broadway Cast Recording) (Ghostlight Records)
There's a delicious and undeniably youthful verve that courses through this new recording of the beloved Stephen Schwartz musical (now on view at Broadway's Circle in the Square). At its center is the golden-voiced Hunter Parrish as Jesus; however, the ensemble is also sterling, particularly Lindsay Mendez, who offers up a powerful "Bless the Lord"; Telly Leung, who delivers beautifully on "All Good Gifts"; and Morgan James, who brings sizzling sultriness to "Turn Back, O Man." The entire company is ably supported by Michael Holland's new orchestrations and arrangements.
How to Survive The Apocalypse: A Burning Opera (burningopera.com)
The classic rock musical Hair seems to have sired a grandchild in this show, which is inspired by the annual event in Nevada known as "Burning Man." (One character snidely refers to it as a "Mad Max sock-hop in a dustbowl.") Mark Nichol's score pulls from an ambitious grab bag of styles: metal brushes up across the operatic; while funk and rock rests pleasantly by relatively traditional musical theater-style writing. Interestingly enough, it all works, and there's an exuberance in both the performances and in Erik Davis' lyrics that make the recording rather infectious.
Johnny the Priest (London Cast Recording) (Must Close Saturday Night Records)
Antony Hopkins' melding of late 1950s pop sounds (for the younger characters) and operetta (generally for their elders) proves to be a remarkably shrewd choice for this long-forgotten musical. The work is based on an equally obscure play by R.C. Sherriff about aimless London teens and the young vicar (sung soulfully by Jeremy Brett) who hopes to help them. The show itself may not be producible today, but there are some genuinely charming tunes in the piece, particularly a specialty number for Hope Jackman, who plays the vicar's mum with decided earthiness.
Marcy in the Galaxy (Original Off-Broadway Cast Recording) An aspiring artist finds herself confronting both her past and future in this beguiling and poignant contemporary chamber musical set in a New York City diner. Composer, lyricist, and bookwriter Nancy Shayne's heartfelt work springs to life effortlessly thanks to the central performance of Donna Lynne Champlin, who glides effortlessly over even the spikiest of Shayne's melodic lines, making the character's neuroses seem infinitely lovable. Also on hand are Teri Ralston as Marcy's concerned mom, along with Janet Carroll and Mary-Pat Green, who provide easily recognizable color as two of the diner's older denizens.
The Music Box - The music & songs of Gareth Peter Dicks (Escape Records)
Dicks' gifts as composer, lyricist -- as well as orchestrator/arranger -- are amply represented on this disc that showcases songs from several of his musicals (including a new one that centers on the infamous case of Jack the Ripper). Impressively, he has an ear for both soaring power ballads and more gentle tunes, and with the lush "The Long Journey Home," he displays his abilities as writer of extended instrumental pieces. Among the particular highlights on the album are Liam Tamne's assured delivery of the uptempo "When Will I Know Your Name?" and Gemma Sutton's rendition of the country-infused "Simple Words."
An unexpected pleasure from start to finish, this Broadway cast recording preserves Donna Murphy's bravura dual turn as Raisel, a Polish actress who bravely navigates her world as the Nazis rise to power, but also as Bubbe, the woman she becomes some 30 years later. Mike Stoller and Artie Butler's zestful score is a deft combination of Klezmer and Broadway traditions, and while Iris Rainer Dart's Borscht Belt rhymes might initially cause cringes, they are entirely (and merrily) appropriate. Alongside Murphy are a host of flavorsome performances, particularly from Chip Zien as one of Raisel's compatriots and Rachel Resheff as Bubbe's tween granddaughter.
Dorothy Provine - Songs from the Roaring Twenties (Sepia Records)
Two LPs from the early 1960s celebrating the giddy effervescence of the 1920s (as well as a little bit of the era's more serious side) are put together to delightful effect on this disc. Provine offers up such standards as the Gershwins' "Do Do Do," and Cole Porter's "Let's Do It" alongside the long-forgotten (and hysterical) "O-Oo Ernest" and "Singing in the Bathtub." She's backed by a tartly perky group of female singers and a swell Dixieland Band that offers up some terrific instrumentals, including Rodgers and Hart's "Mountain Greenery" and "The Girl Friend."
The Sound of Music (Original Australian Cast) (Stage Door Records)
June Bronhill's turn as Maria may be a bit more operatic than most listeners are accustomed to hearing, but there is also an inordinate amount of warmth in her soaring vocals, particularly during Rodgers and Hammerstein's lighter tunes in this musical classic. The recording comes from a live performance, which means that all of the performances, including Peter Graves' as Capt. Von Trapp, seem to burst with color. As if having this lovely recording on CD for the first time were not enough, there's ample bonus material of studio covers of songs from the show, including Petula Clark's sparkling rendition of "My Favorite Things."
Stand Tall (London Cast Recording) (SimG Records)
Lee Wyatt-Buchan and Sandy & Aldie Chalmers' musical reimagines the biblical story of David and Goliath as a battle between an established rock star and an unlikely up-and-comer. The eclectic score encompasses everything from bubblegum pop to rap and metal -- all delivered with aplomb by the company. While the show's message about bullying can be unfortunately heavy-handed, this album nonetheless has a dandy verve that often brings to mind another biblically -inspired tuner: Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.
Geri Reischl - 1200 Riverside (Telegraph Hill Records)
Perhaps best known for assuming the role of Jan Brady from Eve Plumb for The Brady Bunch Variety Hour, Reischl revisits the 1970s with this collection of covers of songs made famous by Lynn Anderson ("Rose Garden"), Anne Murray ("Killing Me Softly With His Song"), Yvonne Elliman ("If I Can't Have You"), and Glen Campbell ("Southern Nights"). There are a couple of missteps, particularly her overly forced take on Carole King's "I Feel the Earth Move," but it's a mostly genuinely pleasant retro musical trip.
Treemonisha (New World Reocrds)
The 11-piece Paragon Ragtime Orchestra brings this much-neglected 1913 piece gracefully and joyously to life on this two-disc set that's bound as a small tome with 86 pages of biographical and historical detail along with complete lyrics. Scott Joplin's ability to fuse African-American musical traditions such as spirituals, "field hollers," and fiddle tunes with opera and operetta continually astonishes, thanks to the fine work of the musicians and the principals, particularly Anita Johnson in the title role. This is one recording music lovers should cherish for years to come.
Tears of Heaven - The Concept Recording (Global Vision Records)
Composer Frank Wildhorn recruited some powerhouse performers for this concept recording of a musical set in 1967 in Vietnam -- and later the U.S. -- about an ill-fated love affair between a Vietnamese woman (voiced with deep emotion by Linda Eder) and a Korean man (a forceful Robert Evan). Also featured on the CD are Broadway stars James Barbour, who brings menace to his vocals, Morgan James, and Christiane Noll. Wildhorn's ear-pleasing music never attempts to pastiche the sounds of the place or period; yet, thanks to David Weiss' contributions on wood flutes, the piece does pulse with a certain Eastern exoticism.
Voca People (Life Is Music) (vocapeoplenyc.com)
Listening to this 10-track disc, it's easy to understand why the vocals of this septet have been drawing crowds off-Broadway all season. There's a wit to the group's medleys, which are fashioned with just their voices as the instrumentation. Their "History of Music" includes the likes of Joplin and Irving Berlin as well as hits from The Beatles and The Eurythmics. And in the just-under-five-minute "Classical Times" track, they squeeze together portions of 11 instantly recognizable tunes by the likes of Beethoven, Mozart, Rossini, and Bizet to gleeful effect.