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Show Music Direct: New Broadway Cast Recordings

Show Music Direct: New Broadway Cast Recordings

By ANDY PROPST

JUN 3, 2014

It's been a rich season for musicals on Broadway. And now, with Broadway Direct's new partnership with our official online music store BwayTunes.com, it's easier than ever to add to your collection. Just click on the links below to learn more and purchase these hot new recordings. 

It’s been a rich season for musicals on Broadway. We’ve gotten a dozen new tuners and a quartet of terrific revivals. Recordings of some of the earliest shows from the season, like A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder and First Date, have been out for a while, and now, thanks to a host of spring openings, we’ve just gotten a slew of new releases. 

Working in alphabetical order, we start with the cast recording for Aladdin (Walt Disney Records), a stage incarnation of Disney’s hit animated feature with music by Alan Menken and lyrics by both Howard Ashman and Tim Rice. It goes without saying that all of the tunes you know and love from the movie are in the show, including the Academy Award–winning ”A Whole New World,” and there is a quartet of new ones with lyrics by Chad Beguelin. Of these, the real standout is ”A Million Miles Away,” a lovely anthem for the title character and Princess Jasmine. At the New Amsterdam Theatre, where Aladdin is playing, everything is sparkling on stage, and you’ll find that there’s a shimmer to this recording too, particularly when the winning Adam Jacobs is singing as Aladdin and the Tony-nominated James Monroe Iglehart turns on his innate charm as the Genie.

There’s a different kind of magic at work in Beautiful: The Carole King Musical (Ghostlight Records), where hits from the late ’50s through the early ’70s help chart the life and career of Grammy-winning songstress King. There’s an undeniable appeal to returning to tunes like ”Will You Love Me Tomorrow,” ”On Broadway,” and ”I Feel the Earth Move,” but the joy in the show is Tony nominee Jesse Mueller’s compelling turn as King, as well as sparkling performances from Liz Larsen and Jarrod Spector, who play King’s fellow songwriters Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann, and Josh Davis and Kevin Duda, with vibrant turns as the Righteous Brothers for ”You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling.”

At the other end of the musical spectrum is Jason Robert Brown’s The Bridges of Madison County (Ghostlight). Brown’s ravishing music fuses the Italianate sensibilities of the show’s heroine with the more down-to-earth vibe of the all-American man she falls in love with, creating something that sounds a bit like a pop opera (as compared to one of the British poperas). As the central couple, Tony nominee Kelli O’Hara and Steven Pasquale are in top form, and there’s also some fine work from Cass Morgan and Whitney Basher. 

There’s a compendium of hits from years past to be found on the cast album of Bullets Over Broadway (Masterworks Broadway), the musical version of Woody Allen’s film of the same name. It’s a great mix of the well-known (Cole Porter’s ”Let’s Misbehave“) and the not-so-familiar (“There’s a New Day Coming“), and all 22 tracks surge with a brashness that perfectly fits Allen’s antic comedy about a playwright’s travails in getting a show to Broadway. Marin Mazzie impresses with her over-the-top performance as a semi-washed-up diva, and Zach Braff, in his musical comedy debut, charms as the writer.

Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey, the men behind the Pulitzer Prize–winning Next to Normal, have returned to Broadway with If/Then (Masterworks Broadway), a look at two different paths a woman’s life could take. As with the previous show, Kitt’s music traverses a wide variety of contemporary styles, infusing them with a theatrical sensibility, and given the superlative cast that delivers them, from Tony winners Idina Menzel and LaChanze to Broadway faves Anthony Rapp, Jenn Colella, and Jason Tam, you can be sure that they’re delivered with passion and power.

To get a sense of one of the most talked about musicals on Broadway right now, take a listen to the original cast recording of Rocky. Some people love this stage version of the 1976 Sylvester Stallone movie. Others dismiss it. I fall into the former category. Stephen Flaherty’s music for the show captures not only the period, but also the characters; Lynn Ahrens’ well-crafted lyrics are equally apt. In the title role, Andy Karl gives a vocally fierce performance, and as his love interest, Adrian, Margo Seibert proves absolutely beguiling. So try this one; I bet you’ll like what you hear.

TunesIt’s been a good year for composer Jeanine Tesori. Her newest musical, Fun Home, debuted Off-Broadway last fall, garnering raves, and this spring, it’s picked up a slew of awards. Now, her 1997 musical Violet has reached Broadway in a Tony-nominated revival. The sumptuous-sounding new cast recording of the show from PS Classics demonstrates why. It’s a grandly melodic tuner, filled with toe-tapping tunes, that charts a young woman’s journey from her rural North Carolina home to Oklahoma, where she hopes to have a facial scar removed by a televangelist. Two-time Tony Award winner Sutton Foster stars and sounds superb, and there’s superlative work too from her castmates, notably Annie Golden, Joshua Henry, and Colin Donnell. Check out this two-disc set. Chances are you will be thoroughly charmed.

Beyond Broadway’s current offerings, there are four albums that turn the clock back, starting with a stunning recording of One Touch of Venus (JAY Records). The show centers on what happens when a barber mistakenly animates a statue of the goddess Venus. Until now, musical theater fans have only had the abbreviated 1943 cast album, with original star Mary Martin. Now, Kurt Weill’s rich, soaring score and Ogden Nash’s laugh-out-loud funny lyrics are available in their entirety on this release that features a sublime-sounding Melissa Errico. The ”hits“ from the show — “Foolish Heart,” ”I’m a Stranger Here Myself“ — are here, but there’s much more, including the wonky ditty ”Way Out West in Jersey.” The two-disc set comes with a terrific booklet with synopsis, lyrics, and background information so you can savor this one on repeated listens.

Ever wonder how songwriters come up with a musical? You get a fantastic glimpse into the process with Sheldon Harnick: Hidden Treasures (1949–2013) from Harbinger Records. Culled from Harnick’s personal archives, this two-disc set covers his career from his early days when he was contributing material to Broadway revues to his later big hits, like Fiorello! and Fiddler on the Roof. A lot of the tracks are of songs that went unused or were cut from musicals, such as one that Harnick wrote with his partner Jerry Bock to open ”Fiddler“ (hint: It's not ”Tradition“) and a beautiful ballad that the men wrote for Tenderloin, ”I Wonder What It’s Like.” The CDs are complemented by a substantial booklet with notes written by Harnick himself, making it feel like you’re sitting down for a one-on-one with a great man of the theater while you’re enjoying this splendid collection.

It’s hard to believe that it’s been 50 years since Barbra Streisand knocked Broadway for a loop with her performance as Ziegfeld Follies funnywoman Fanny Brice in the classic musical Funny Girl. To celebrate the show’s anniversary, Universal Music has released a remastered version of the cast album and packaged it in a swell box set that includes an actual LP, a CD, and a 50-page book that’s the size of the LP, chock full of rare photos (the pic of Streisand backstage in her dressing room is a fave). The recording sounds better than ever and Jay Landers’ notes can’t be beat.

Universal has also brought Diana Ross and the Supremes Sing “Funny Girl” into the digital age, a collection of covers of the show’s big hits, some of its many lesser-known gems, and a couple of songs used only in the film version of the musical. Certain tunes fare better than others in the pop group’s renditions, but when they shine, they gleam beautifully (I happen to be really fond of ”I’m the Greatest Star“). Making the release all the more notable is Universal’s decision to give the listener a choice between the original recording and a set of remixed versions that have additional background vocals.

Moving back to contemporary recordings, there are another two to consider, starting with Tony nominee Ramin Karimloo’s new EP The Road to Find Out: East (Big Hand Recordings). It’s the first in a promised series of four EPs, and this one has two songs from the realm of musical theater, along with a pair of original songs, written in the emerging Broadgrass style (Broadway crossed with bluegrass). Karimloo’s vocals are impeccable throughout, and you’ll want to pay careful attention to the swell orchestrations for the Les Mis standard “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables.”

And finally, you will certainly want to check out Billy's Back on Broadway (Concord). On this one, Tony winner Billy Porter (Kinky Boots) channels his inner Liza, Ethel, Barbra, and Sammy Davis Jr. as he performs familiar tunes ranging from “Everything’s Coming Up Roses“ to “On the Street Where You Live,” infusing each with a true showman’s jazzy razzmatazz. He’s even joined by Cyndi Lauper (who wrote Boots) for a medley of “Happy Days Are Here Again“ and “Get Happy.” It’s a disc that induces both smiles and repeated plays.

Joan Marcus ... BwayTunes.Com Lau...

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