Theater News

The 12 CDs of Christmas

A dozen theater-related holiday recordings featuring Sting, Brent Barrett, LaChanze, Mary McBride, Constantine Maroulis, Brian Stokes Mitchell, J. Robert Spencer, Patrick Wilson, and more.

Brent Barrett: Christmas Mornings

Barrett displays a showman’s flair and an infectious playfulness on this beguiling CD. “Santa Claus is Coming To Town” is joyful and toe-tappingly ebullient, and he croons “Winter Wonderland” as a sort of latter-day Rudy Vallee. Traditional songs on the CD include a rapturously exultant “O Holy Night” and “Silent Night,” which Barrett and Bernard Blanks sing in both English and German. A couple of original tunes are pleasant, but perhaps the grandest surprise on here is the inclusion of “Lovers On Christmas Eve,” a delightful ditty from Cy Coleman’s I Love My Wife.

Broadway’s Carols for a Cure, Volume 11

This two CD set — which annually benefits BC/EFA — is a swell combination of traditional and specialty holiday music. Sometimes the songs can be a little of both such as the company of The Lion King‘s medley of “Peace on Earth” and “The Little Drummer Boy,” which is infused with African rhythms, and the cast of Jersey Boys‘ hysterical “The 12 Days of Christmas…Jersey Style!” Terri White offers a stirring gospel take on “Joy to the World,” and from Billy Elliot cast members comes a lush Gaelic tune, “Incredible Phat (The Coldest Night of the Year.”

Christmas in New York

Some of the West End’s brightest stars, including Olivier Award winner Leanne Jones and Julie Atherton, join forces for this disc, which has plenty of the usual holiday fare along with a grand sampling of the unexpected. A particular treat is Tim Rice and Mike Batt’s “A Winter’s Tale” which is heard in a medley with “In the Bleak Midwinter.” Samuel Barnett heartrendingly delivers Mariah Carey’s “Miss You Most (at Christmas Time),” Atherton brings almost childlike innocence to “The Perfect Year,” as does Jones in her rendition of “White Christmas.”

Dedicated To You: Allan Harris Sings a Nat King Cole Christmas
Harris spirits listeners back to a time when smoking was cool and everyone played their LPs on the latest Hi-Fi with this deliciously smooth CD. Harris evokes Cole with his silky vocals on “Winter Wonderland” and “Baby It’s Cold Outside.” He also unearths a supremely moving tune that Cole once turned into a hit, “The Little Boy That Santa Claus Forgot,” and the singer even channels Elvis through a Nat King Cole prism for “Blue Christmas.” It’s a grand contemporary time capsule.

Handel’s Messiah Rocks

LaChanze, J. Robert Spencer, and Mig Ayesa are the featured vocalists on this contemporary oratorio, which draws on Handel’s 1742 masterpiece for inspiration and makes the original sound as if it were the prequel to Jesus Christ Superstar, complete with razor-like guitar riffs and electrifying vocalizations. LaChanze’s work is superlative throughout, but her opening number “He’ll Come in Glory” is beyond spine-tingling. Spencer and Ayesa also deliver with passion and soul-stirring intensity, and when this disc, which features orchestrations from Kim Scharnberg and vocals from a 26-member choir, builds to the “Hallelujah” chorus, the effect is aurally dazzling.

John Treacy Egan: On Christmas Morning
Egan uses his sterling tenor to beautiful effect on the 14 tracks on this disc, which range from the gentle pop sounds of the disc’s title track to the gloriously exuberant and jazzy “All I Want for Christmas Is You.” Not only are Egan’s selections diverse, so too are the often ingenious interpretations and combinations of well-known tunes. Egan offers up a gorgeously languorous take on “The Christmas Song” and his medley of David Pomeranz’ “It’s in Every One of Us” and Sarah McLachlan’s “Angel” is a wonderfully warm seasonal treat.

Mary McBride: Every Day Is a Holiday

McBride gives a host of holiday standards earthy and soulful interpretations on this exceedingly enjoyable disc. Her take on “Silent Night” combines a country lilt with the rolling sounds of island music. With “O Holy Night,” McBride’s tremulous vibrato combined with gentle piano accompaniment heightens the impact of this always powerful song. Original tunes, like “Christmastime,” which brings to mind Elvis’ early sounds, make the disc feel even fresher. And when the singer is joined by Broadway and film star Patrick Wilson, the pair’s voices blend to beautiful effect to create a plaintively moving “Do You Hear What I Hear?”

Michael Londra: Beyond the Star

Riverdance‘s Londra uses his delicate tenor to elegant effect on this seasonal disc with a new age and Celtic flair. Perhaps most impressive is the CD’s title track: a thoughtfully conceived song by the performer that relates one of the Magi’s experiences on his journey to the manger. Landra delivers “The Wexford Carol” with ethereally clarion vocals that are almost angelic. His “Silent Night” — in both Irish and English — is simply lovely. The disc is rounded out with a delightful bonus track of him singing “Little Donkey” in a light boy’s soprano when he was 10 years old.

New York City Christmas

This terrific 12-track disc is a studio version of a 2008 fundraising concert for ASTEP. Highlights on the CD include a swing-era take on “Santa Claus is Coming To Town” which Lindsey Mendez powerfully belts out and “O Holy Night,” which Raul Esparza delicately delivers in both English and Spanish. Equally enjoyable are Kenneth Jones and Gerald Stockstill’s witty “Wish for Daddy,” delivered with panache by Sally Wilfert; Constantine Maroulis and Orfeh offer a beautifully conceived medley of “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” and “Christmas in America;” and Sierra Boggess’ immaculately rendered “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.”

Ring Christmas Bells

This recording featuring the Mormon Tabernacle Choir might seem like it would be a stodgy affair, but the presence of Tony Award winner Brian Stokes Mitchell gives the recording a marvelous balance of the sacred and the secular. He offers up a gloriously smooth, jazz-y medley of “The Christmas Song” (sometimes thought of as “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire” and “A Crazy Christmas List.” In “The Friendly Beasts,” the singer proves a gifted comic as he gives voice to the animals in the manger, and perhaps most satisfying is Mitchell’s gorgeous rendition of John Bucchino’s “Grateful.”

Sting: If On a Winter’s Night

Broadway veteran Sting becomes a new age troubadour on this atmospheric disc that seems to transport the listener back four or five centuries. The performer draws on a rich array of source material for the disc. He sets his own lyric to a Bach melody for “You Only Cross My Mind in Winter.” With “Christmas at Sea,” a poem from Robert Louis Stevenson is set to a richly lilting chanty-like tune by the performer and Mary Macmaster. Elsewhere, Sting hauntingly delivers lesser known traditional songs, including “Cherry Tree Carol” and “The Snow It Melts the Soonest.”

That Time of the Year

This cast recording that features over two dozen songs from lyricists Laurence Holzman and Felicia Needleman and a variety of composers captures the season in a variety of ways: from surreally funny, such as when they imagine the wounded feelings around the world in “Holiday Lament,” to the deeply emotional, best heard in “They All Come Home,” in which an empty nest mom preps for a visit from her kids and grandkids. There are some misfires, both in material and performance, but overall, it’s a two-disc set that’s an exceptional alternative to much-recorded holiday music.