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Jan
19

My Favorite Recordings of 2017

I suspect I am not alone in being glad to see 2017 pass into history. That said, a few good things did happen, and as far as theatre-related recordings go, here are 10 of them, in no particular order, plus a bonus.

Kid Victory
John Kander and Greg Pierce’s brave, uncompromising musical about a closeted gay 17-year-old boy from a fervently evangelical Christian family in small-town Kansas who is coping with PTSD after having been kidnapped and held hostage for more than a year by a man who repeatedly abused him sexually was my favorite musical of the 2016-2017 season. However, the fact that its leading character, Luke, doesn’t sing (he’s too traumatized to express his emotions in song), coupled with Kander and Pierce’s sometimes deliberately off-kilter choices about who should sing and where, made me wonder if an OCR could capture the intensely dramatic effect I experienced at the Vineyard Theatre. Fortunately, it does, in producer Michael Croiter’s vibrantly theatrical rendering for Broadway Records that includes just enough dialogue for context. It also preserves some exceptionally fine performances (alas, we only get a taste of Brandon Flynn’s superb work as Luke), particularly those of Karen Ziemba as Luke’s mother (her rendition of “There Was a Boy” is devastating), Daniel Jenkins as his father (his account of the show’s closer, “Where We Are,” is infinitely moving), and Jeffrey Denman as the abuser (his ultimate breakdown, “You, If Anyone,” is riveting). Deeply human, Kid Victory is a stunner from start to finish.

The Band’s Visit
Now an unlikely sell-out show at Broadway’s Ethel Barrymore Theatre, this unassuming musical version of a 2007 indie Israeli film about an Egyptian military band stranded by accident in a backwater Israeli town premiered off-Broadway at the Atlantic Theater Company in December of 2016, which is where I caught it. Itamar Moses’ smart, quietly observant book dovetails neatly with David Yazbek’s soulful score that beautifully blends the sounds of Broadway and the Middle East. It also features a leading man, in this case the band’s conductor, Tewfiq, who doesn’t express his emotions in song (though he does sing one “real” song in Arabic); it’s the cornerstone of his dignified formality. Nevertheless, Tony Shalhoub’s subtle and complex performance comes through, while Katrina Lenk shines as a sexy café proprietor with whom Tewfiq improbably connects. But, really, everyone in this both touching and amusing ensemble piece is terrific. It’s Yazbek’s finest score to date, and Ghostlight Records’ OBCR, co-produced by the composer-lyricist and Dean Sharenow, with Kurt Deutsch executive producing, showcases it very well.

War Paint
Based on the career-long rivalry between cosmetic giants Helena Rubenstein and Elizabeth Arden, this Doug Wright (book)–Michael Korie (lyrics)–Scott Frankel (music) musical never quite solved the dramatic problem posed by the fact that the two women never met in real life. The lack of dramatic conflict, however, is less of a problem on disc than it was on stage, and Korie and Frankel delivered a strong and well-crafted score. What did work like gangbusters were the hi-fi performances from Christine Ebersole (as Arden) and Patti LuPone (as Rubenstein), which album producers Steven Epstein, Kurt Deutsch, David Stone, and Frankel have vividly captured for Ghostlight Records. John Dossett and Douglas Sills do strong supporting work as the men in these ladies lives, especially in an Act 2 comic lament called “Dinosaurs” (guess who they mean). The musical’s last three songs, “Pink” for Arden, “Forever Beautiful” for Rubenstein, and “Beauty in the World,” a duet the women sing in an invented meeting that is the highpoint of the show and Wright’s book, are as good as Broadway songwriting can get. They alone make this recording required listening.

God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater
I missed Alan Menken and Howard Ashman’s debut off-Broadway musical back in 1979 because my work schedule as box office treasurer at Equity Library Theatre matched its performance schedule. Based on Kurt Vonnegut’s novel, the show excited some critics and generated buzz in the theatre community, but it only ran for six weeks and I just couldn’t get there. When I finally was able to encounter it, in a 2003 concert presentation at the Cooper Union, I found it bursting with talent but fatally flawed in its dramatic execution, and I had the same response to a 2016 concert version at Encores!. Nevertheless, Ghostlight Records’ recording, produced by Menken and Michael Kosarin, is a delight, sounding for all the world like a hit. The Ashman-Menken chemistry leaps out at you, aided and abetted by a strong ensemble cast, with Santino Fontana, Brynn O’Malley, and Skyler Austin doing stellar work in principal roles. Finally, this lost score has been found. And who doesn’t need more Ashman-Menken songs?

Iow@
This absurdist musical by Jenny Schwartz (book and lyrics) and Todd Almond (music and lyrics) sharply divided the critics in its 2015 production at Playwrights Horizons. I didn’t catch it because Playwrights didn’t (and usually doesn’t) invite Drama Desk voters, and the reviews, whether positive or negative, didn’t entice me to pay for it. I don’t know if that was a mistake or not, but listening to Yellow Sound Label’s OCR, produced by Almond and Michael Croiter, I found myself increasingly intrigued by its succession of loopy but decidedly listenable art songs that punctuate the tale of Becca, an emotionally mature teenager yanked from her life in New York City by a flaky mother who abruptly relocates them to the titular state to join a man she has been canoodling with online. The show reminded me in its ambitions of a less political version of Al Carmines and Maria Irene Fornes’ 1969 off-Broadway absurdist fable, Promenade, which is a particular favorite of mine. I liked Almond’s music for his and Adam Bock’s equally ambitious but ultimately unsuccessful adaptation of Shirley Jackson’s gothic novel We Have Always Live in the Castle, produced by Yale Repertory Theatre in 2010, which I called “a heartbreaker” in my Backstage review. Schwartz, whose 2008 play God’s Ear made critics stand up and pay attention (alas, I missed it, though the critic I sent for Backstage, BwayTunes editor Andy Propst, loved it), has a refreshingly imaginative way with language, and Almond remains in my view a talent to watch. In Iow@, their 16-minute musical sequence featuring four battling Mormon sister wives shouldn’t work but somehow does. It alone makes the recording, which admittedly is probably not for everyone, more than worth checking out.

Falsettos
This first complete recording of the final combined version of William Finn and James Lapine’s two landmark one-act musicals about a divorced gay man and his extended family in Manhattan in the late ’70s and early ’80s was released digitally in December of 2016, but the handsomely packaged CD didn’t arrive until January of 2017, so I’m including it. I was the assistant box office treasurer at the Westside Arts Theatre for the commercial run of March of the Falsettos, which is now the first act of Falsettos, in 1981, so I go way back with this material. I loved it then, and I love it even more now, as Finn and Lapine have deepened and clarified it over the years. Lapine’s stunning direction of this Lincoln Center Theatre revival completely rethought the piece, and his cast—Christian Borle, Andrew Rannells, Stephanie J. Block, Brandon Uranowitz, Anthony Rosenthal, Tracie Thoms, and Betsy Wolfe—delivered bravura performances filled with psychological nuance. Knowing the originals—and their peerless casts—as well as I do, I was worried that a revival wouldn’t live up to my memories, but I actually found this incarnation the most satisfying of all, and Kurt Deutsch’s two-disc recording for Ghostlight Records captures it beautifully. I’m beginning to think he’s a reincarnation of Goddard Lieberson.

Sunday in the Park With George
I confess that I was a bit underwhelmed when I experienced this revival of Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s Pulitzer Prize–winning musical about Georges Seurat and the process of making art. Having begun life as a benefit concert version for Encores!, it seemed too often to settle for surfaces in a piece noted for its complexity, and I wasn’t wild about the physical production, which is of immense importance to this piece. However, when I listened to the two-disc OBCR, the show’s power was undeniably present, with stars Jake Gyllenhaal and Annaleigh Ashford finally making the roles their own. Perhaps they grew into their parts during the course of the show’s 61-performance limited engagement, or perhaps I was having a bad day when I caught the show. In any event, as produced for Warner Music by Bart Migal with a keen sense of theatricality, this is a recording I will definitely return to in the future as an occasional alternate take to the iconic 1984 original starring Mandy Patinkin and Bernadette Peters.

Through the Years
I am generally a bit leery of studio cast recordings of musicals, mostly because the performances tend to lack the authenticity that comes from having played the role on a stage night after night. Nevertheless, two such recordings have made this list, and this first digital release of a 2001 reconstruction of composer Vincent Youmans’ final complete Broadway score is one of them. With lyrics by Edward Heyman and a book by Brian Hooker, this 1932 show was based on the hit 1919 romantic fantasy Smilin’ Through, and it shows a very different Youmans from the composer of such peppy musical comedies as No, No, Nanette and Hit the Deck. Strongly sung by a five-person cast—Heidi Grant Murphy, Brent Barrett, Hunter Foster, Jennifer Cody, and Philip Chaffin—under the eloquent musical direction of conductor and restorer Aaron Gandy, the recording is a fascinating glimpse of a composer trying mightily to stretch himself and the form in which he’s working. Alas, Through the Years did not succeed with critics or audiences and only ran for 20 performances. Youmans contracted tuberculosis not long after writing it and spent the last 12 years of his life fighting the disease rather than composing musicals. It was a great loss for the American theatre, which makes the existence of this loving restoration, produced by Tommy Krasker and Joel Moss for PS Classics, particularly gratifying.

You Never Know
The other studio recording on this list also came out in 2001 but wasn’t released digitally until 2017. It’s director-adapter Paul Lazarus’ revisal of a 1938 Broadway flop with a score by Cole Porter. You Never Know was the show Porter was writing when he had the famous horseback riding accident that shattered his legs. It was based on a European chamber musical, an intimate sex farce set in Paris that the Shuberts acquired and turned into a big Broadway extravaganza. The publishing house of Samuel French found the script and score in its files and approached Vermont’s Dorset Theatre Festival for a production. The company turned to Lazarus to direct and told him, “It needs a little work.” Lazarus took a look and decided to return it to a chamber piece, which was mounted in Vermont in the summer of 1982 and was enough of a hit to be brought back the following summer. Further productions and revisions were done, culminating in a well-received 1991 production at the Pasadena Playhouse that starred David Garrison, Harry Groener, Donna McKechnie, Megan Mullally, and Angela Teek. That became the version licensed by French, and I saw a production of it in 1996 at the Paper Mill Playhouse, with a different cast and director. It was, quite frankly, a soufflé that resolutely refused to rise, so when this studio recording came out a few years later, I didn’t bother to buy it, even though it featured the Pasadena cast (with one exception) and Lazarus back directing. Listening to it now, it seems that alchemy is everything. The Porter songs are bright, breezy, sophisticated, and tuneful, and the company (with a young Kristin Chenoweth stepping in for Mullally, who in the interim had become a TV star) delivers them with panache. Steve Orich’s arrangements, orchestrations, and musical direction are spot on, and the interpolation of three better-known Porter songs from other shows is done reasonably unobtrusively. I don’t know if Lazarus’ new book works when he directs it, but we only get the score here, and it’s a lot of fun. Originally produced by Bruce Kimmel for Varèse Sarabande Records, the digital release comes from the ubiquitous (at least on this list) Ghostlight Records. And who doesn’t need more Cole Porter songs?

Hamlisch Uncovered
How did such a talented musical theatre composer wind up with so many unsuccessful shows? Marvin Hamlisch had two hits—A Chorus Line and They’re Playing Our Song—but came a cropper with Jean Seberg, Smile, The Goodbye Girl, Ballroom, Sweet Smell of Success, Imaginary Friends, and The Nutty Professor. Now his lyricist on Success and Friends, Craig Carnelia, in collaboration with musical director Michael Lavine and producer Chip M. Fabrizi, have put together for Broadway Records a nifty collection of songs from Hamlisch’s flops that reminds us just how prodigiously talented he was. Most are newly recorded tracks featuring top Broadway talent such as Kelli O’Hara, Nancy Opel, Randy Graff, and Tony Sheldon singing to piano accompaniment, while some are demos performed by Hamlisch and Carnelia. Rarities include songs from Smile with lyrics by Carolyn Leigh (she died during the writing process and Hamlisch started from scratch with Howard Ashman); a lovely ballad, “Everything You Do,” with a lyric by Carnelia, from the team’s aborted musicalization of Woody Allen’s Bullets Over Broadway; a song from a rewrite of the 1978 musical Ballroom done for Tyne Daly (Hamlisch came on board to write new songs with Marilyn and Alan Bergman after original composer Billy Goldenberg died); and seven delightful vaudevillian comment numbers written for Nora Ephron’s unsuccessful play with music about the feud between Lillian Hellman and Mary McCarty, Imaginary Friends. My single favorite track is O’Hara singing “That’s How I Say Goodbye,” from Sweet Smell of Success, which ended the musical in its Chicago tryout. I saw the show there, and O’Hara was riveting in the song, which should never have been cut. It’s so great to have it preserved here. And who doesn’t need more Marvin Hamlisch songs?

Bonus: The Complete Solo Piano Works of Leonard Bernstein
Strictly speaking, this two-disc collection isn’t theatre music, but it is by my favorite theatre composer, and one of the pieces, “Non Troppo Presto,” composed in 1937, was subsequently used in On the Town as the dance music for “Presenting Miss Turnstiles,” so I’m making the collection a bonus. Leann Osterkamp plays them all with vigor, precision, and flair (she is joined by Bernstein protégé Michael Barrett for “Bridal Suite”), and as they are short pieces, you can sample them at your leisure like little bon bons. It’s interesting to hear what Bernstein comes up with for well-known personages, such as Paul Bowles, Aaron Copland, Sergei Koussevitzky, Stephen Sondheim and more, as well as for his various family members and friends. His melodic gift, rhythmic dexterity, and harmonic invention are amply displayed, and you can hear in these selections both prefigurements and echoes of his theatrical scores.

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Jan
19

2017

So, Andy’s asked me to look back on 2017 and the albums that were released. That’s kind of a rough task for me since last year the label I co-founded released couple. Naturally, I think you should have them: Barnum Backer’s Audition and Burke Beautiful: The Songs of Johnny Burke.

Okay, self-promotion out of the way.

What else was released? Well, we got cast recordings from a bunch of Broadway shows including one for Come From Away. Now, here’s a true sleeper, and isn’t it great to have a show that didn’t come in with a tornado of hype? Instead, audiences could discover for themselves the solid workmanship and honesty of this production. There aren’t great production values. There’s no big theatre or movie star around which the show is created. There’s just a surprisingly terrific idea for a show and it certainly resonates with audiences. With the cast album, you can kind of sense all of this.

One several movies that wound up singing on Broadway last year was Groundhog Day. And while it just couldn’t live up to the original it did have some real theatricality and imagination that set it apart from the film. Again, an interesting listen.

Oh, and you may not have heard of a little show that squeaked into town but I hear it’s good. It was this revival of Hello, Dolly! that had someone named Bette Midler (I think?) starring in it? I dunno. I got daunted by the prices I heard folks were forking over for a ticket. Still, it’s great fun to have a new recording of this classic Jerry Herman score on the shelf.

That just scratches the surface of the new music that came out 2017. Erik’s gone a whole lot broader in his column, and well, you know most of everything else. You get our newsletter every other week and Andy’s so good about putting the exciting stuff front and center.

Here’s to a great 2018 of listening and theatergoing!

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Jan
19

Looking Back: 2017

Erik and Ken glance back at 2017 in their columns this week. They're both talking about the theater-related recordings that caught their ears and imaginations. Both guys have gravitated toward a swell and diverse array of albums, and I'm hoping they might point you to a few things that you might not have encountered.

To complement Erik's and Ken's columns, I'd like to offer up the following two albums for your consideration:

  • Don't Monkey With Broadway - The two-time Tony winner surveys an extraordinary array of musical theater (and a number of songs you wouldn't necessarily expect her to perform) on this live recording of a cabaret show. It's a terrific listen and a nifty glimpse of this oh-so-talented performer.
  • Black Manhattan, Vol. 3 - I've found myself playing this compilation of music more than expected. I'm always a big fan of the period sound of Rick Benjamin and the Paragon Ragtime Orchestra. This third installment of music by African-American composers from a century ago has captured my imagination. particularly the song "Love Will Find a Way" and the overture to My Friend From Kentucky.

Remember, if you need to add any of the recordings mentioned here and in the guys' blogs to your collection, you can find links to them in the carousels on the BwayTunes.com homepage. 

<hr>

You get to take a tuneful trip through last year with our newest Spotify playlist. I've included tracks from the albums the guys and I have discussed and tucked in a few more "honorable mentions," just to give you a total sense of what hit our digital and physical musical libraries last year.


Seth Bisen-Hersh and R.C. Staab have written a grand new musical based on F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Diamond as Big as the Ritz. A studio cast album was just released, and we've got a track from it for you as our free song download.


Take a look at the marvelously diverse array of new music that we've gotten for you, particularly:

  • 42nd Street - One of the biggest hits in London right now is a new production of this classic tale about an understudy who becomes a star. The Al Dubin-Harry Warren tunes sound particularly sparkling on this just-out cast recording.
  • Between Yesterday and Tomorrow - Originally created as a song cycle to be performed by Barbra Streisand, this piece by composer Michel Legrand and lyricists Marilyn and Alan Bergman has gone unrecorded for decades. Natalie Dessay has remedied that, performing it with grace and beauty on this sumptuous first-ever recording.

In addition to these albums, you’ll want to check out these new releases, which can be found in the main carousel at the top of the home page and in the “New and Recommended” one at the bottom of the page.

  • The Band's Visit - Just out today is the elegant original cast recording of David Yazbek and Itamar Moses' new hit musical. Fusing sinuous melodies with Middle Eastern-inflected rhythms and harmonies and finished with hints of jazz, Yazbek's superb score is unlike any you've ever heard in a Broadway show.
  • Hamlisch Uncovered - Some never-recorded gems from the late Marvin Hamlisch are collected on this new album. Among the talented performers on the recording are Tony winners Kelli O'Hara and Randy Graff. The songs come from shows as varied as Sweet Smell of SuccessSmile, and Ballroom.
  • Black Manhattan (Volume 3) - Rick Benjamin and the Paragon Ragtime Orchestra shine the spotlight once again on a terrific selection of songs by African Americans from the first part of the 20th century. It's an astonishing collection of material and includes the simply gorgeous overture to My Friend From Kentucky (1913) and the wonderfully exotic "Jewel of the Big Blue Nile" from Baby Blues (1919). This one's a treat from start to finish!
  • Twisted Broadway, Vol. 1 - The a cappella group Blue Jupiter puts a terrific spin on some classic musical theater songs on this new release. Among the shows featured are Pippin,Porgy and Bess, The Sound of Music, and Wicked.
  • The Ballad of Little Jo - The first cast album for this musical by Mike Reid and Sarah Schlesinger preserves its most recent incarnation, the moving production seen at New Jersey's Two River Theater last season.
  • Rearrangements of Shadows - Cheryl Bentyne infuses some Stephen Sondheim favorites ("Send in the Clowns," "Everybody Says Don't") and some of the songwriter's rarities ("Sand," "I Wish I Could Forget You") with a swingin' cool jazz vibe on this terrific new album. 
  • Together Again - Alfie Boe and Michael Ball join forces for a second album that brims with great musical theater songs; they include tunes from shows ranging from Kismet to Hamilton. It's a gorgeous-sounding recording.
  • Richard Rodgers Revisited - Kyle Riabko has created new arrangements for classics like "My Favorite Things," "You'll Never Walk Alone," and "Bewitched," and when they're combined with his soulful vocals the results can often be dazzling.
  • Hadestown - It's taken a while, but there's finally a full cast recording for this tuner that dynamically reframes Greek myth for the 21st century. It's a most welcome new release.
  • Almost Like Praying - Lin-Manuel Miranda brought together a fantastic array of Latin music superstars for this single that's helping to raise money for relief efforts in Puerto Rico. In addition to Miranda, the song features performances from the likes of Gloria Estefan, Marc Anthony, and Ruben Blades. It's a tuneful way to lend a hand.
  • You Never Know - It's been out of print for a while now, so it’s great to have this sterling-sounding recording of a Cole Porter rarity back as a digital download. If you’ve never listened, you should!
  • SpongBob SquarePants, the Musical - Everyone's favorite below the sea ‘toon will soon be arriving on Broadway in a musical and in anticipation of his bow on the Great White Way comes this tuneful and funny original cast recording.
  • Sunday in the Park With George - Jake Gyllenhaal and Annaleigh Ashford delivered marvelously on stage in this Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine tuner, and it's terrific to have their work preserved on this just-released cast album.

Our next newsletter will arrive a little over a week before Valentines Day. 

As musicals, generally, are all about love, I'm going to throw it wide open to Erik and Ken, and let them have their way with a "Valentine Salute."

I'm pointing you toward Fade Out-Fade In because it's a show that gets the romantic ball rolling for its heroine with a savagely funny (pun fully intended) song. So this could be the beginning of a column or song list about comic love songs.

No clue as to where the guys will go with all of this. Just know I'm anxious to read what they come up with.

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Jan
05

Let's Start at the Beginning...

Happy New Year! 2018 has begun, and while we've started previous years with looks at resolutions and other such timely topics, we've never gone to something as simple as what we're doing this week. Erik and Ken are looking at songs that are, in their own way, about new beginnings.

Both are great reads, and I'm pretty sure you'll have a good time with them, maybe even pulling out some recordings you haven't listened to in a while.

To complement Erik's and Ken's columns, I'd like to offer up the following two albums for your consideration:

  • She Loves Me -  Ilona Ritter has a new start in this delightful confection from Jerry Bock, Sheldon Harnick, and Joe Masteroff. She lays out her plans in "I Resolve," delivered most recently (and charmingly) on Broadway by Jane Krakowski.
  • Bat Boy: The Musical - For reasons way too complex to go into here, a woman decides that it's time that she, her daughter, and the titular boy-beast go into hiding from her husband. The song in which she announces her plan, "Three-Bedroom House," is one of the most joyously funny ones I know of, particularly when delivered by Kaitlin Hopkins and Kerry Butler.

Remember, if you need to add any of the recordings mentioned here and in the guys' blogs to your collection, you can find links to them in the carousels on the BwayTunes.com homepage. 


We're starting off 2018 with songs about beginnings, and you'll find a trove of terrific melodies and clever lyrics in the complementary Spotify playlist I've put together. It's an hour of pleasure, I think, and hope you agree.


Chip Deffaa recently released another in his ongoing series of recordings celebrating Irving Berlin. This new one toasts the legendary songwriter's ragtime melodies, and we're delighted to have one of them for you as our free song download.


Take a look at the marvelously diverse array of new music that we've gotten for you, particularly:

  • 42nd Street - One of the biggest hits in London right now is a new production of this classic tale about an understudy who becomes a star. The Al Dubin-Harry Warren tunes sound particularly sparkling on this just-out cast recording.
  • Between Yesterday and Tomorrow - Originally created as a song cycle to be performed by Barbra Streisand, this piece by composer Michel Legrand and lyricists Marilyn and Alan Bergman has gone unrecorded for decades. Natalie Dessay has remedied that, performing it with grace and beauty on this sumptuous first-ever recording.
  • In addition to these albums, you’ll want to check out these new releases, which can be found in the main carousel at the top of the home page and in the “New and Recommended” one at the bottom of the page.
  • The Band's Visit - Just out today is the elegant original cast recording of David Yazbek and Itamar Moses' new hit musical. Fusing sinuous melodies with Middle Eastern-inflected rhythms and harmonies and finished with hints of jazz, Yazbek's superb score is unlike any you've ever heard in a Broadway show.
  • Hamlisch Uncovered - Some never-recorded gems from the late Marvin Hamlisch are collected on this new album. Among the talented performers on the recording are Tony winners Kelli O'Hara and Randy Graff. The songs come from shows as varied as Sweet Smell of SuccessSmile, and Ballroom.
  • Black Manhattan (Volume 3) - Rick Benjamin and the Paragon Ragtime Orchestra shine the spotlight once again on a terrific selection of songs by African Americans from the first part of the 20th century. It's an astonishing collection of material and includes the simply gorgeous overture to My Friend From Kentucky (1913) and the wonderfully exotic "Jewel of the Big Blue Nile" from Baby Blues (1919). This one's a treat from start to finish!
  • Twisted Broadway, Vol. 1 - The a cappella group Blue Jupiter puts a terrific spin on some classic musical theater songs on this new release. Among the shows featured are Pippin,Porgy and Bess, The Sound of Music, and Wicked.
  • The Ballad of Little Jo - The first cast album for this musical by Mike Reid and Sarah Schlesinger preserves its most recent incarnation, the moving production seen at New Jersey's Two River Theater last season.
  • Rearrangements of Shadows - Cheryl Bentyne infuses some Stephen Sondheim favorites ("Send in the Clowns," "Everybody Says Don't") and some of the songwriter's rarities ("Sand," "I Wish I Could Forget You") with a swingin' cool jazz vibe on this terrific new album. 
  • Together Again - Alfie Boe and Michael Ball join forces for a second album that brims with great musical theater songs; they include tunes from shows ranging from Kismet to Hamilton. It's a gorgeous-sounding recording.
  • Richard Rodgers Revisited - Kyle Riabko has created new arrangements for classics like "My Favorite Things," "You'll Never Walk Alone," and "Bewitched," and when they're combined with his soulful vocals the results can often be dazzling.
  • Hadestown - It's taken a while, but there's finally a full cast recording for this tuner that dynamically reframes Greek myth for the 21st century. It's a most welcome new release.
  • Almost Like Praying - Lin-Manuel Miranda brought together a fantastic array of Latin music superstars for this single that's helping to raise money for relief efforts in Puerto Rico. In addition to Miranda, the song features performances from the likes of Gloria Estefan, Marc Anthony, and Ruben Blades. It's a tuneful way to lend a hand.
  • You Never Know - It's been out of print for a while now, so it’s great to have this sterling-sounding recording of a Cole Porter rarity back as a digital download. If you’ve never listened, you should!
  • SpongBob SquarePants, the Musical - Everyone's favorite below the sea ‘toon will soon be arriving on Broadway in a musical and in anticipation of his bow on the Great White Way comes this tuneful and funny original cast recording.
  • Sunday in the Park With George - Jake Gyllenhaal and Annaleigh Ashford delivered marvelously on stage in this Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine tuner, and it's terrific to have their work preserved on this just-released cast album.

When you get our next newsletter you'll find that Ken and Erik are casting backward glances at 2017.

They'll be considering the shows that opened during the year and the recordings that we've gotten from them.

Of course, one of the most visible productions and cast albums has been the new staging of Hello, Dolly! that stars Bette Midler. It's a grand listen (as if you didn't already know that).

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Jan
05

Sweet (and a Few Not-so-Sweet) Beginnings

In honor of the start of 2018, we here at BwayTunes are looking at songs that involve beginnings. I’ve broken my list down into four categories: diegetic songs, songs that come at or near the beginning of a show, songs that change a show’s course and begin something new, and concluding songs that carry within them the promise of a beginning after the curtain comes down. I’ve ended up with 20 songs from 19 shows.

Diegetic Songs

Perhaps because I am a plot and character kind of guy, I had the hardest time thinking of songs that fall into this category, that of actual performance numbers rather than songs that express feelings or move the story forward. Here are three.

“Begin the Beguine,” from Jubilee
I knew this Cole Porter standard long before I made my acquaintance with the 1935 musical from whence it sprang, especially from Eleanor Powell’s energetic tap version in the film Broadway Melody of 1940, where it is indeed a performance number. When I finally did see a concert version of Jubilee, I discovered that it’s diegetic there as well. A prince on the run from a revolution sees a nightclub singer performing it and falls in love.

“It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas,” interpolated into Here’s Love
Songwriter Meredith Willson quite naturally wanted to use his 1951 Christmas standard in his 1963 musicalization of the Yuletide-themed Miracle on 34th Street. But he didn’t want to look crass about it, so he composed a countermelody to the song called “Pine Cones and Holly Berries” and had Santa Claus sing that first as a Christmas tune before sneaking his hit in as a counterpoint. Indeed, the title was never even mentioned in the song listing in the program or on the LP.

“First Steps First,” from Bandstand
When Julia Trojan sings this supposed World War II standard with Donny Novitski’s band, it marks the beginning of their professional collaboration in Richard Oberacker and Robert Taylor’s sadly underappreciated musical from last season. Fittingly, the nifty lyric employs the kind of snappy wordplay and inventive rhyming characteristic of the Great American Songbook while also commenting on the dramatic situation.

In-the-Beginning Songs

These were the easiest to think of, probably because it makes sense that songs about beginnings would come at or near a musical’s beginning. I’ve whittled them down to seven from six shows.

“What If?,” from If/Then
In Brian Yorkey and Tom Kitt’s 2014 contemporary NYC–set musical, Idina Menzel and company opened the show by wondering about beginnings, specifically how random, chance events can substantially alter the course of our lives. I found the premise too obvious to support an entire evening, but there was much to be enjoyed in the score along the way.

“In the Beginning, Woman,” from Timbuktu!
This 1978 musical comedy adaptation of the 1953 hit Kismet transplanted the story from ancient Persia to long-ago Africa and had an all-black cast. As a result, the introductory song for Lalume, wife of wives to the exalted Wazir of Baghdad, had to go, as it was titled “Not Since Nineveh.” Songwriters Robert Wright and George Forrest wrote this feminist cry of woman’s superiority over man expressly for star Eartha Kitt, and she spat it out with vigor eight times a week after being escorted onto the stage of the Mark Hellinger Theatre by a cadre of bodybuilders (watch her entrance and performance of the song on YouTube). Alas, there was no cast recording, but you can get Rosemary Ashe singing it on Jay Records’ complete studio recording of Kismet, which has all four of the new songs penned for Timbuktu!, including “Power,” which got cut pre-Broadway, largely because star William Marshall, who also got cut pre-Broadway, couldn’t really sing at all.

“Anything for You,” from A Family Affair
In the first song out of the gate for this 1962 John Kander–James Goldman–William Goldman musical about a wedding, Larry Kert and Rita Gardner both charm and soar as she accepts his wedding proposal while warning him about her faults. The original Tony from West Side Story and Luisa from The Fantasticks make a great team, and though the show only managed 65 performances, this delightful debut score from Kander abundantly showcased his talent and promise. It’s not available digitally, but you can get a used CD for as low as $3.97 on Amazon. Considering Kander’s importance to the form, if you are a serious devotee of musical theatre, you should know this score.

“A Terrific Band and a Real Nice Crowd,” from Ballroom
Dorothy Loudon gives a master class in vulnerability in her opening song from this Jerome Kass–Billy Goldenberg–Alan and Marilyn Bergman 1978 Broadway adaptation of their acclaimed original 1975 TV musical Queen of the Stardust Ballroom. Recently widowed, middle-aged Bea Asher is timidly venturing back out into the social world by going to a local ballroom and looking for a dancing partner. Loudon gets up the nerve to enter in this ultimately hopeful soliloquy that very effectively introduces us to Bea.

“Who Gave You Permission?,” cut from Ballroom
Out of town, however, the show began as the film did, with Bea at home alone and expressing her confusion and anger at her husband’s early death, which is its own unwanted beginning. Maureen Stapleton was marvelous on screen in the song, and the great Carmen McRae is quite persuasive on her 1975 album I Am Music, choosing to largely talk it, as Stapleton did. I don’t know how Loudon performed it, but producer, director, and choreographer Michael Bennett decided it was too much of a downer and cut it. Indeed, he cut a number of book songs before the show reached Broadway, which was, I believe, its downfall. I saw it from standing room at the Majestic Theatre. The performance numbers in the ballroom were wonderfully choreographed (Bennett won a Tony for them) and brilliantly executed by a company of older Broadway veterans, but with the characters insufficiently dramatized in song, the dances overwhelmed the delicate story.

“Polishing Shoes,” from Yank!
Stu is a closeted gay soldier during World War II, and here he meets fellow soldier Mitch, who teaches him the military way to polish his shoes, a process that’s freighted with double entendres. Authors David and Joseph Zellnick (brothers, David does words and Joseph music) use this musical sequence to set up the various members of Stu’s unit while also dramatizing the beginning of Stu and Mitch’s romance. In its 2010 off-Broadway production at the York Theatre Company, the show had much promise but needed a strong hand to focus it. Director David Cromer was brought in to be that hand and take the show to Broadway, but somehow it never happened. Too bad, because the promise was real, and Bobby Steggert’s sensitive performance as Stu is one I’ll always remember.

“The Bench Scene,” from Carousel
This 12-minute sequence from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s 1945 adaptation of Ferenc Molnár’s Liliom is, for my money, one of the greatest achievements in the history of musical theatre. New England millworker Julie Jordan has fallen in love with troubled carousel barker Billy Bigelow and impulsively decides to give him her virginity. The seamless interplay of music, dialogue, and singing, the brilliant exposition of character, and the delicate dance of human emotions combine into a work of genius. And, of course, a relationship begins. My favorite recording (not available digitally, alas) is of Michael Hayden and Sally Murphy’s stunning work 24 years ago at Lincoln Center, but I look forward to seeing what director Jack O’Brien and actors Joshua Henry and Jessie Mueller mine from it later this season in producer Scott Rudin’s Broadway revival. Originators John Raitt and Jan Clayton never got to record the whole thing, but they re-created it on TV in a 1954 salute to Rodgers and Hammerstein. As directed by the great Rouben Mamoulian, the sexual energy is palpable even in a much more socially conservative era. Clayton’s slowly ascending hand reaching to caress Raitt’s neck as he kisses her, carefully timed to a swelling musical climax, told everything 1945 audiences needed to know. Watch it on YouTube.

Songs That Change Course

“What'd I Miss?,” from Hamilton
Thomas Jefferson’s return to America from France opens Act 2 of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s massive hit musical from the 2015-16 season and changes the course of its characters lives and America’s history. This jazzy explosion of interest is given a joyously caffeinated performance by Daveed Diggs and artfully combines the dramatization of character with plot narration and the energy of a musical showstopper.

“The Seven Deadly Virtues,” from Camelot
In another second-act game changer, the evil Mordred, unacknowledged bastard son of the otherwise childless King Arthur, arrives at his father’s court with the intention of spreading dissension among the knights and ultimately usurping the crown. Mordred’s arrival heralds the beginning of the end of Arthur’s dream of peace and a just society. Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe wrote this song while out of town in 1960 to replace a reprise of “Fie on Goodness” that went as follows: “Tell me, Mordred, you marvelous boy,/Doesn’t Camelot warm your heart?/Lolly lo! Lolly lo!/It’s so pregnant with possible mis’ry/One hardly knows where to start./Lolly lo! Lolly lo!/Arthur, Guenevere, Lancelo’....!/Melancholia where e’er you go….!/Oh, my head’s in a spin,/How shall I begin/Unstatusing the quo?” Clearly, a complete song was needed to give the moment proper punctuation, but Lerner managed to salvage his play on “status quo.”

“You Are Woman, I Am Man,” from Funny Girl
Performer Fanny Brice and gambler Nick Arnstein have been dancing around each other for a while in Isobel Lennart, Bob Merrill, and Jule Styne’s 1964 musical biography of the Ziegfeld Follies star when Arnstein finally decides to pounce. This restaurant seduction in a private dining room initiates a sexual relationship. In the very next scene Fanny bolts from the Follies national tour to follow a suddenly penniless Arnstein to Europe, on a quest to replenish his bank account. Sex, sex changes everything.

“Ring of Keys,” from Fun Home
Lisa Kron and Jeanine Tesori’s 2014 Tony-winning musical adaptation of Alison Bechdel’s memoir in the form of a graphic novel eschews linear storytelling in favor of an impressionistic assortment of scenes in differing time frames. Alison is played by three actors, and it’s the youngest of the Alisons, her prepubescent incarnation, who sings this impassioned song, in which, while sitting in a diner with her father, she spots a butch deliverywoman and experiences a thrilling sense of connection. It comes late in the show, but it is a potent dramatization of the beginning of Alison’s self-acceptance as a lesbian, vitally affecting how she will live her life.

“Loving You,” from Passion
Stephen Sondheim provided a missing puzzle piece when he wrote this song during Broadway previews of his and James Lapine’s 1994 musical adaptation of Ettore Scola’s film Passione d’Amore. Hysterical, unattractive Fosca’s obsessive pursuit of handsome soldier Giorgio was alienating audiences, so Sondheim gave her this heartfelt, straightforward explanation of why she has no choice but to pursue her passion. In hearing her out, we see the first glimmers of the most unlikely love that Giorgio comes to feel for Fosca. It is, indeed, the moment when the entire musical shifts.

Concluding Songs That Are Also Beginnings

“It Only Takes a Moment,” from Hello, Dolly!
Jerry Herman’s touching ballad doesn’t conclude this 1964 musical version of Thornton Wilder’s The Matchmaker, though it comes very late in the game, but it does put a button on the growing relationship between grocery store clerk Cornelius Hackl and milliner Irene Molloy by describing the moment in which it all began. And its final words, “It only took a moment to be loved a whole life long,” are actually the beginning of a lifelong journey. Gavin Creel and Kate Baldwin currently give it justice eight times a week at the Shubert Theatre.

“Being Alive,” from Company
In Stephen Sondheim and George Furth’s 1970 musical about Manhattanites and marriage, we spend the whole evening watching swinging bachelor Robert avoid commitment. However, once the older, much married and much divorced Joanne puts the moves on him, something snaps, and Robert gingerly opens himself up to the possibility of love in this iconic closing song. The character makes an emotional breakthrough, and it leads, as breakthroughs are wont to do, to a new beginning. In director John Doyle’s 2006 Broadway revival, it even led to Raúl Esparza’s Robert learning to play the piano.

“Sweet Beginning,” from The Roar of the Greasepaint – The Smell of the Crowd
This Anthony Newley–Leslie Bricusse rouser brings the curtain down on their 1965 fable (the setting is “a rocky place”) about the battle between the upper and lower English classes. Sir and Cocky realize that they can’t do without each other and so pledge to work together to make a better life. I’ve always been partial to the double-edged line “Let’s see this sweet beginning through to the bitter end.” Is this the way to get single-payer health care?

“I’ll Begin Again,” from Scrooge
Here’s a conundrum: How do you write an anthem of rejuvenation for a leading man with a limited vocal instrument? You write in short phrases, keep the range narrow, and back the whole thing up with a soaring accompaniment. Albert Finney, playing both old and young Scrooge, turned it into a bravura acting moment on screen in the 1970 film. On stage in 1992 Anthony Newley did his best to make it one of his patented vocal showstoppers, with Bricusse going so far as to expand it somewhat for him. Alas, as I wrote in my last column, the film soundtrack has never made it past LP and cassette tape. Newley is certainly credible, but I think the honors go to non-singer Finney. Oh, and though the song doesn’t quite end the picture, it does complete Scrooge’s character arc while offering him a new beginning in life.

“We’ve Just Begun,” from The Golden Apple
At Encores! concert production last May of this 1954 John Latouche–Jerome Moross retelling of Greek myth in an Americana setting, I found myself deeply moved by this aria of hard-won reconciliation between Ulysses and his longsuffering wife, Penelope. It ended the show in its off-Broadway run at the Phoenix Theatre, but the producers made the authors cut it in favor of a reprise of Ulysses and Penelope’s Act 1 romantic ballad “It’s the Going Home Together,” backed by full chorus, when the musical traveled to Broadway. Perhaps that made show-biz sense at the time, but it sent the wrong message entirely. Penelope and Ulysses are not returning to something that once worked for them; rather, they are starting afresh, hoping to have learned from and put aside the mistakes of the past. This dictates a new song. Fortunately, after Latouche’s untimely death in 1956 at the age of only 41, Moross restored “We’ve Just Begun” to its rightful place in the published score and made the reprise of “It’s the Going Home Together” part of the curtain call. Personally, I think a good way to make a relationship work is to perpetually begin it, never taking anything for granted. Touché to Touche and Jerry.

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Jan
05

Beginnings...Opening Numbers

Hit songs from musicals sold tickets. The rest of the show might not have much merit but from the earliest beginnings of musical theatre writing a big hit song was the goal of every songwriter. Burton Lane felt lucky when the title song of On a Clear Day You Can See Forever became a big hit. It was one of the last songs from a Broadway musical to become a standard.

Hit songs certainly are important for getting the general public to buy tickets to a show and to sell the original cast album. But when an audience comes to the theatre and settles in their seats the most important part of a musical is the Overture. For every performance of every musical it’s the Overture that gives the audience a chance to relax, get in the moment, and get an idea of what kind of a score they’re in store for. And usually the hit song—the song that drew them to the show in the first place—is featured prominently in the Overture.

In a way, a musical show has two beginnings. At least the shows of what’s known as The Golden Age had a second start to the show, the opening number. The best of these introduce the locale, the characters, and kick the plot into gear.

So, after a roundabout way, here’s what I think are the best opening numbers.

My favorite might surprise you. It’s “Racing With the Clock” as sung by the immortal clown Eddie Foy Jr. from The Pajama Game. Not only is it a bright and lively number but it ticks off every box. It introduces the pajama factory and its denizens a sprightly and funny way. It immediately puts the audience at ease and ready to have a good time.

Richard Adler and Jerry Ross’s other show (and sadly only other show), Damn Yankees, also had a rip-roaring opening number, “Six Months Out of Every Year,” which perfectly set up the feelings of wives across the country whose husbands were missing in action during baseball season.

Bernstein, Comden and Green wrote one of the rare openings that became a hit in its own right, “New York, New York” from On the Town. This isn’t the song that urges you to start spreading the news but rather the geography lesson that taught us that the Bronx is up and the Battery down. That same team gave us another great opening with ‘Christopher Street” in Wonderful Town. Like “New York, New York,” it set up the geographic locale of the show and the bohemian atmosphere of Greenwich Village long, long ago. Yes, there was a Village that didn’t only sport high-end fashion and high-end donuts.

Comden and Green, this time with Cy Coleman created that rarest of all musicals, a farcical comedy. On the Twentieth Century had a triumvirate of opening tunes. “Stranded Again” gave us the lowdown on producer Oscar Jaffee’s monetary plight. Then came “Saddle Up The Horse” in which Jaffee and his cohorts rose again to conquer Broadway. And it was followed in haste by the title tune, “On The Twentieth Century.” Between the performers, Robin Wagner’s breathtaking scenery, and the score, no musical has blasted off quite like On the Twentieth Century.

Sometimes with old classic musicals, we’re so used to seeing productions whether full-scale Broadway mountings or high school productions that we’ve stopped thinking about them and sort of half listen. The most famous of these is probably “Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’” from Oklahoma! But let’s go back in musical theatre time to when the show first opened. Prior to that show most musicals started off with a gangbuster female chorus number that woke up the tired businessman and gave him some gorgeous gams to ogle. The words really didn’t matter it was just a way to get everyone in the mood.

So, when Oklahoma! opened with a solitary woman churning butter and an off-stage voice singing “Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’,” audiences were shocked (yes, that’s the word) and trying to figure out what  this show was all about and what surprises were in store. And there were plenty of surprises for the audiences of 1943. But none more so than that laconic cowboy moseying down to the footlights.

More recently things are different but on closer examination not so different. Take Sweeney Todd by Stephen Sondheim. No real overture but the cast invites us to attend the tale of Sweeney Todd. And it’s followed by “No Place Like London” which sets the scene just like “New York, New York” or “Christopher Street.” And the in your face numbers and the harshness of the words and music make it clear to the audience that they’re in for it.

When I saw the show early in its Broadway run, the woman sitting next to me didn’t have a clue as to what she was about to see. And I watched her change of expression and could almost hear the gears shifting in her attitude at the first few numbers in the show. She was surprised but by the end of the first ten minutes or so she was fully prepared (almost) for what was to come. That’s the power of opening numbers.

Sadly, opening numbers today are sort of reverting to the days of yore when the opening numbers basically served to sort of start the show but really just exist to let everyone in the theatre relax into the world on stage.

Of course there’s lots of other great opening numbers. Kismet’s double play of “Sands of Time” and “Rhymes Have I;” Cabaret’s “Wilkommen;” Hello, Dolly!’s “I Put My Hand In;” Minnie’s Boys’ “Five Growing Boys;” Hair’s “Aquarius,” and more recently, Waitress’s “What’s Inside.”

Oh, there’s some bad opening numbers. The first that comes to mind is Irving Berlin’s final show, Mr. President. Nanette Fabray sings, “Let’s Go Back to the Waltz,” exactly what was wrong with the musical!

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Dec
15

I Still Don’t Remember Christmas

For the fourth year in a row it’s time for me to come up with a Christmas-related column. And because I’m a confirmed secularist who happily opted out of the holiday years ago, it’s always a struggle. I can credit the hubby for this column: “Call it ‘I Don’t Remember Christmas’ and make a list of venting songs.” Great idea! However, as I used the title for last year’s column (which was a list of lesser-known holiday-related songs from musicals), I’ve made a small adjustment. Here are 20 outbursts of one sort or another.

“I Don’t Remember Christmas,” from Starting Here, Starting Now
“Did we trim the tree together?/I can’t get the image through!/’Cause I don’t remember Christmas/And I don’t remember you!!” As the singer mentions more and more things he does not remember about his failed relationship, the lie inherent in the title blazes brighter and brighter. One of the few new songs written by Richard Maltby Jr. and David Shire for this 1977 off-Broadway musical revue taken from their songbook, it went on to become something of a cabaret staple, but it has never been acted (or sung) better than by the man who introduced it, the incomparable George Lee Andrews.

“Shall I Tell You What I Think of You?,” from The King and I
Mrs. Anna pours out her frustrations with the king of Siam in the privacy of her chambers. I just finished listening to Gertrude Lawrence, Deborah Kerr and Marni Nixon, Barbara Cook, Risë Stevens, Julie Andrews, Donna Murphy, Elaine Paige, and Kelli O’Hara (linked above) interpret this iconic Rodgers and Hammerstein soliloquy (interestingly, only Cook, Murphy, Paige, and O’Hara get to do it uncut), and all eight performances are more than worthy, but the best version I have ever encountered was Angela Lansbury’s in 1978, when she played the role opposite Michael Kermoyan for two weeks while star Yul Brynner took a vacation. Lansbury’s dazzling mix of indignation, fury, scorn, tenderness, bravado, sarcasm, hopefulness, and consternation positively roared off the stage of the Uris Theatre. I’ll never forget it.

“A Hymn to Him,” from My Fair Lady
Henry Higgins’ rant about the superiority of the male sex is informed by the emotional wounds inflicted by Eliza Dolittle in choosing to reject him and leave his household. And it’s Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe’s canny use of subtext that allows the song to be more than just a laundry list. According to legend, star Rex Harrison was so worried about flubbing the intricate lyric that he ran over it in his dressing room before every performance. I already have my Lincoln Center member tickets for director Bartlett Sher’s revival next spring. Harry Hadden-Paton and Lauren Ambrose seem an unlikely pair of leads, but I trust Sher after his excellent work on South Pacific, The King and I, and Fiddler on the Roof, so I am hopeful.

“Scrap,” from The Full Monty
It’s unusual for an opening number to involve venting, but in this case it’s necessary to set up this 2000 musical’s central premise of unemployed steelworkers in Buffalo, N.Y., feeling cast aside by society. Patrick Wilson, Jason Danieley, John Ellison Conlee, and Romain Frugé deliver David Yazbek’s muscular blue-collar lament with grit to spare. Interestingly, the song is one of two Yazbek wrote on spec to get the gig. It’s rare to hit the bull’s-eye with an opening on the very first try, especially when you’ve never written for the theatre before. Clearly, the guy was a natural. And he’s only gotten better over the years, as his score for Broadway’s newest musical hit, The Band’s Visit, which gets a digital release today, proves. Fusing sinuous melodies with Middle Eastern-inflected rhythms and harmonies and finished with hints of jazz, this superb score is unlike any you’ve ever heard in a Broadway show. I’ve listened to an advance copy, and it’s entirely wonderful (as is the show, which I saw off-Broadway last season).

“Smile, Smile,” from Hallelujah, Baby!
Not all venting songs need be serious. This one is seriously satirical, as heroine Georgina, her mother, and her beau take aim at white America’s oppression of blacks, in particular its requirement that they behave as subservient, shuffling stereotypes forever smiling for and soothing ol’ Massa. This 1967 musical by Arthur Laurents, Betty Comden, Adolph Green, and Jule Styne is the only show to win the Tony for best musical after it had closed. Nevertheless, Leslie Uggams (who won the Tony for best actress in a musical), Lillian Hayman, and Robert Hooks reunited to perform this number on the 1968 Tony Awards, which you can catch on YouTube. It’s possibly the most biting song in the score, and they clearly revel in delivering it on national television a mere three weeks to the day after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King.

“Enough,” from In the Heights
When I first encountered this musical, off-Broadway in the winter of 2007, it was immediately apparent that Lin-Manuel Miranda was one talented guy. However, I had my issues with the show, especially that it purported to dramatize an entire social community while refusing to include even one gay character. (I later learned that there had been one, a major supporting character, but he was jettisoned once commercial producers became attached. Hmmmmm.) Issues aside, though, I loved this Act 2 song in which a mother finally explodes in frustration at the ongoing unhealthy behavior of her husband, daughter, and employee (who is also her prospective son-in-law). Priscilla Lopez delivered it with a fierceness that was striking to behold.

“Nothing,” from A Chorus Line
And speaking of Priscilla Lopez, she gets another slot on this list with this story song by Marvin Hamlisch and Ed Kleban from their 1976 Tony- and Pulitzer-winning musical. Though Diana Morales is ostensibly telling us about her experience with an acting teacher, the song seethes with her anger at the insensitive treatment she was forced to endure from a condescending misogynist.

“I Wouldn’t Marry You,” from The Gay Life
The late, great Barbara Cook excelled at fire. Whether denouncing an older man who fails to return her ardor (“I’ll Show Him,” from Plain and Fancy), gleefully and gluttonously reveling in precious jewels received for her sexual favors (“Glitter and Be Gay,” from Candide), smoldering with anger at a pushy music salesman and a gossipy town (“The Piano Lesson,” from The Music Man), furiously refusing to let a hated co-worker get the better of her (“Where’s My Shoe?,” from She Loves Me), or delivering Mrs. Anna’s above-noted critique of a king, she can sizzle like no one else. In this short-lived 1961 musical based on Arthur Schnitzler’s Anatol, she is a virginal good girl in love with a sophisticated Viennese roué. Composer Arthur Schwartz and lyricist Howard Dietz gave her two songs to flame out on, the delicious “The Label on the Bottle,” in which she vows to become worldly in order to win Anatol’s heart, and this one, her 11 o’clock outburst in which, furious that Anatol has a woman in his bedroom on the morning of her long-awaited wedding to him, she lets him have it right between the eyes. If you don’t know this score, you should. It’s filled with gems, even if the book is a mess.

“I’ve Heard It All Before,” from Shenandoah
Virginia farmer Charlie Anderson, a widower with six sons and a daughter, sings this antiwar broadside, written by composer Gary Geld and lyricist Peter Udell, to his brood at Sunday breakfast when it becomes apparent that his older sons are considering fighting for the Confederacy in the Civil War. I saw the show on Broadway in the first week of January of 1976, and while I thought it emotionally simplified the film on which it is based, starring James Stewart, it had many effective components, the greatest of which was John Cullum’s commanding performance as Anderson, for which he won the 1975 Tony Award for best actor in a musical.

“No, No, Nanette,” from No, No, Nanette
Ingénues can vent too, which is what schoolgirl Nanette does in both the original 1925 production and Burt Shevelove’s 1971 revisal of this Vincent Youmans–Otto Harbach–Irving Caesar–Frank Mandel hit musical comedy. Nanette is a determined flapper, but her stuffy guardians won’t let her go on a trip to Atlantic City with her friends. Naturally, she complains about it pertly and prettily to a bevy of backup boys, and nobody did pert and pretty better than Susan Watson, the original Girl in The Fantasticks (when it was a one-act Barnard College production) and the original Kim in Bye Bye Birdie (a role that prevented her playing the Girl off-Broadway).

“We Do Not Belong Together,” from Sunday in the Park With George
The sundering of a romantic relationship is almost invariably messy, something Stephen Sondheim captures tellingly in this duet, in which the painter Georges Seurat’s mistress, Dot, leaves him but not before finally expressing her unhappiness at being shut out of his emotions and always coming second to his work. Bernadette Peters and Mandy Patinkin gave iconic performances creating the roles in 1984, but Annaleigh Ashford and Jake Gyllenhaal are quite compelling on the OBCR of last season’s Broadway revival, just out from Warner Music Group. The two-disc set is a bit more complete than the OBCR (I especially liked having more of the dialogue in “Putting It Together” included), the orchestra sounds great, and the disc has been produced with a keen sense of theatricality.

“Pity the Child,” from Chess
American chess master Freddie Trumper is an arrogant, abrasive, thoroughly dislikeable character, so songwriters Tim Rice, Benny Andersson, and Björn Ulvaeus wrote this wailing Act 2 aria to give us some idea of why. In it, Freddie caustically remembers his deeply troubled upbringing by two uncaring parents. It’s an impressive piece in a pretty terrific score, but it comes far too late in the game to do much to change audiences’ perceptions. Perhaps TV and film writer Danny Strong will address the problem in his new book for the 1984 rock opera (supplanting Rice’s dialogue-less original, which racked up a three-year run in London, and playwright Richard Nelson’s Broadway version, which only managed 68 performances in 1988). Strong’s book debuts at the Kennedy Center in a concert production Feb. 14–18, with Michael Mayer directing and Raúl Esparza asking for the pity.

“The Gentleman Is a Dope,” from Allegro
Emily works for Dr. Joseph Taylor Jr. as his nurse in a Chicago hospital and carries a great big torch for her idealistic boss from a small town. She’s also aware of his shallow wife’s infidelities. She lets her frustrations out in this Rodgers and Hammerstein number, which first brought Lisa Kirk to prominence. Performing it pre-Broadway in New Haven, she fell into the orchestra (which was on the theatre floor, as there was no pit), picked herself up and went right on singing. She got such a hand she did it again at the next performance. Afterward, Rodgers came to her dressing room and told her, “Do that again and you’re fired.” Actors!

“Kids,” from Bye Bye Birdie
I first encountered Paul Lynde’s sarcastic small-town Ohio dad, Harry MacAfee, on screen at Radio City Music Hall over the Easter holiday of 1963. Being from small-town Ohio I loved his performance and especially this Charles Strouse–Lee Adams Charleston-esque denunciation of small fry, of which, at age nine, I was one. The hall was so packed that our family couldn’t find enough seats together. I sat with my grandmother, while my older brother sat with my parents. Molly and I adored the movie and were shocked afterward to discover that my parents were appalled by it, finding it, and especially Ann-Margret, “immoral.” I silently noted that my beloved Grandmar was more with it than her daughter. Go figure.

“Rags,” from Rags
In this powerful denunciation of the false promises of the American Dream for Jewish immigrants at the turn of the 20th century, young Bella berates her father for what she considers his foolish, starry-eyed optimism. (Watch the extraordinary Judy Kuhn perform the Charles Strouse–Stephen Schwartz number on the 1987 Tony Awards on YouTube.) I attended the show’s first workshop, at which “Rags” made a strong first-act curtain. However, that version of the show had interlocking stories with no central character and was too dramatically amorphous. The authors decided to make Rebecca Hershkowitz, a wife arriving with her young son to join her husband in the new world, into the show’s leading role. Bella kept the title song, but you couldn’t end an act on a supporting character, so they wrote a closer for Rebecca. The first, “Nothing Will Hurt Us Again,” was replaced on Broadway by “In America.” Both also dealt with disillusionment, but the dramatic stakes weren’t high enough and neither could top “Rags,” despite the best efforts of star Teresa Stratas. Now I hear that in David Thompson’s radically revised version of Joseph Stein’s original book for the show, “Rags” once again ends Act 1, but now it is sung by a reconceived, more active Rebecca. Good idea. The revisal, which just closed at the Goodspeed Opera House, got very positive notices, and I have heard rumors about interest in it from Roundabout. Let’s hope!

“Take Him,” from Pal Joey
Rarely do people vent with charm, but that’s the case with this Richard Rodgers–Lorenz Hart song. Amoral society matron Vera Simpson is ready to give her badly behaved boy toy back to his sweet and simple girlfriend Linda English, but she has wised up and doesn’t want him anymore. Patti LuPone and Daisy Prince do a fine job with it on the OCR of Encores! 1995 concert production, which restored Hans Spialek’s sensational original orchestrations. “Please take my benediction/Take my old Benedict too.” Ah, that Larry Hart!

“I Hate People,” from Scrooge
OK, OK, here’s a Christmas song, or, rather, an anti-Christmas song, for the list. Composer-lyricist Leslie Bricusse does a great job in setting out Ebenezer Scrooge’s desiccated heart in this nimble patter song from his 1970 film adaptation of Charles Dickens’ immortal story. Surprisingly, although the film has become a beloved holiday classic, its soundtrack never even made the transition from LP to CD, much less to digital download. So you’ll have to stream it, rent it, catch it on TCM, or buy the DVD to experience Albert Finney’s peerless performance. However, you can hear Dominick Hauser’s rendition on Music From the 1970 Picture “Scrooge.” For reasons unfathomable to me, Bricusse rewrote it as “I Hate Christmas” for the 1992 U.K. stage adaptation, which offered Anthony Newley as Scrooge. Not, I think, an improvement, but why not judge for yourself?

“If You Hadn’t but You Did” from Two on the Aisle
Venting can get heated, but this Jule Styne–Betty Comden–Adolph Green song from their 1951 musical revue takes things to lethal levels as star Dolores Gray shoots her unfaithful lover dead right at the end of the introductory verse. “If/ You had not left me home when you had two seats for South Pacif” is echt Comden and Green. Gray, incidentally, purloined the number from supporting performer Kaye Ballard, whose part she kept whittling back in the pre-Broadway tryout until Ballard gave up and left the show. Gray certainly lands the song, but I bet Ballard was funnier.

“I’m in Love! I’m in Love!,” from The Rothschilds
Occasionally, venting can take the form of extreme happiness, and that’s the case with this Sheldon Harnick–Jerry Bock song from their 1970 musical based on Frederic Morton’s biography of the famous European banking family. Young Nathan Rothschild is living in London while pursuing the family’s financial interests when he falls in love with “a Jewish Joan of Arc,” the aristocratic Hannah Cohen. Paul Hecht gives an appropriately delirious rendition, and a young and then-unknown Jill Clayburgh shows off an attractive singing voice in an argumentative reprise. Nevertheless, Clayburgh would do only one other Broadway musical: Pippin. Harnick and book writer Sherman Yellen subsequently decided that the inclusion of the romance was a sop to convention and eliminated it and the song for their revisal of the show, Rothschild and Sons, seen at the York Theatre Company in 2015. I understand their point of view, but I missed it.

“Rose’s Turn,” from Gypsy
Momma Rose’s musical nervous breakdown at the end of Gypsy is the momma of all venting songs and, thus, a natural end to this list. Stephen Sondheim and Jule Styne fashioned what is perhaps the best soliloquy ever written for a musical, and it has been interpreted by great ladies over the years. It’s hard to pick a favorite, though if I must it would probably be Patti LuPone’s lacerating interpretation in book writer and director Arthur Laurents’ brilliant 2008 Broadway revival. Laurents, at 91, was fearless in his reinvestigation of material he had written 50 years earlier, and the result was the richest incarnation of this landmark show that I’ve ever seen. Bravo, Arthur!

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Dec
15

Whatabout New Year?

Just a few thoughts about holiday songs from musicals this week. I guess Annie’s “A New Deal for Christmas” is the best known of the younger set while Mame’s “We Need a Little Christmas” most comes to mind to some older musical theatre mavens. The most beautiful are The Song of Norway’s “At Christmastime” and “Christmas Child” from Irma La Douce. Of course, Meredith Willson’s Here’s Love—based on the classic movie Miracle on 34th Street—has “Pine Cones and Holly Berries” and “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas.” The latter is a true-blue Christmas standard but it wasn’t actually written for the show. Meredith Willson wrote it way back in 1951.

There are certainly more, but what I want to know is where are the New Year’s songs? Can you even think of one? Well, there’s “New Year’s Day” from Side Show, and both Sunset Boulevard and A Doll's Life have songs called "New Year's Eve." Of course the Andrew Lloyd-Webber one leads right into the better known "The Perfect Year."

Rent was a big hit but do you remember “Happy New Year B?” I don’t. And I’m fairly sure that you don’t know “I Feel Like New Year’s Eve” from Something More which was interpolated into the Sammy Fain score by Jule Styne, who was also the director of the show. The original cast recording is not available digitally and long out of print, but you can hear this tune on Neva Small's My Place in the World, which is only available as a physical disc. And if you want to know more about this show, read Barbara Cook’s autobiography for her take on the it. Pretty interesting.

Slightly better known might be “Happy, Happy New Year” from the Charles Strouse and Alan Jay Lerner failure Dance a Little Closer. Another good score from a bad show.

Frank Loesser attempted a New Year’s song, “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?” Unfortunately, it wasn’t from a show so it technically doesn’t count here, but it’s the best we’ve got. Ella Fitzgerald, Nancy Wilson, and Billy Eckstine covered the song and it’s not bad, how could it be when Frank Loesser wrote it but it never caught on.

So, all you budding songwriters out there here’s your chance to write a perennial New Years song. You don’t have a lot of competition. Get going and remember, it was I who gave you the idea!

Have a wonderful new year with plenty of good health and happiness.

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Dec
15

'Tis the Season...

It's the middle of the holiday season, and I asked Ken and Erik to help you celebrate it in their columns this week. They've come up with a pair of fascinating columns, and I bet you'll be smiling as you read both.

Before you hop over to see what the guys are up to this week, let me wish you all the best for the season and the New Year from all of us at BwayTunes!

To complement Erik's and Ken's columns, I'd like to offer up the following two albums for your consideration:

  • Carols for a Cure, Vol. 19 -  This annual fundraising disc for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS is always a delight in my book, and this year there are some pretty swell tracks to be found on it. I'm particularly fond of "Down in Yon Forest," performed by some of the company of Dear Evan Hansen.
  • Christmas After Midnight - You'll find occasional Broadway performer Fantasia delivering a mixture of holiday classics and some new tunes on this splendid album. Alongside soulful renditions of "Silent Night" and "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," there are also ones such as "Santa Claus Go Straight to the Ghetto." It's a grand mix.

Remember, if you need to add any of the recordings mentioned here and in the guys' blogs to your collection, you can find links to them in the carousels on the BwayTunes.com homepage. 


Because the guys have taken two such different approaches to celebrating the season, I'm going out on my own with our current Spotify playlist. I've just put together about an hour of my favorite Broadway-styled holiday music. I hope you enjoy.


Barry Anderson and Mark Petty have shared a delightful original holiday song with us for this week's free song download. It's from their album Wish that's also raising money for a terrific cause!

Barry Anderson and Mark Petty have shared a delightful original holiday song with us for this week's free song download.


Take a look at the marvelously diverse array of new music that we've gotten for you, particularly:

  • The Band's Visit - Just out today is the elegant original cast recording of David Yazbek and Itamar Moses' new hit musical. Fusing sinuous melodies with Middle Eastern-inflected rhythms and harmonies and finished with hints of jazz, Yazbek's superb score is unlike any you've ever heard in a Broadway show.
  • Hamlisch Uncovered - Some never-recorded gems from the late Marvin Hamlisch are collected on this new album. Among the talented performers on the recording are Tony winners Kelli O'Hara and Randy Graff. The songs come from shows as varied as Sweet Smell of SuccessSmile, and Ballroom.

In addition to these albums, you’ll want to check out these new releases, which can be found in the main carousel at the top of the home page and in the “New and Recommended” one at the bottom of the page.

  • Black Manhattan (Volume 3) - Rick Benjamin and the Paragon Ragtime Orchestra shine the spotlight once again on a terrific selection of songs by African Americans from the first part of the 20th century. It's an astonishing collection of material and includes the simply gorgeous overture to My Friend From Kentucky (1913) and the wonderfully exotic "Jewel of the Big Blue Nile" from Baby Blues (1919). This one's a treat from start to finish!
  • Twisted Broadway, Vol. 1 - The a cappella group Blue Jupiter puts a terrific spin on some classic musical theater songs on this new release. Among the shows featured are Pippin,Porgy and Bess, The Sound of Music, and Wicked.
  • The Ballad of Little Jo - The first cast album for this musical by Mike Reid and Sarah Schlesinger preserves its most recent incarnation, the moving production seen at New Jersey's Two River Theater last season.
  • Rearrangements of Shadows - Cheryl Bentyne infuses some Stephen Sondheim favorites ("Send in the Clowns," "Everybody Says Don't") and some of the songwriter's rarities ("Sand," "I Wish I Could Forget You") with a swingin' cool jazz vibe on this terrific new album. 
  • Together Again - Alfie Boe and Michael Ball join forces for a second album that brims with great musical theater songs; they include tunes from shows ranging from Kismet to Hamilton. It's a gorgeous-sounding recording.
  • Richard Rodgers Revisited - Kyle Riabko has created new arrangements for classics like "My Favorite Things," "You'll Never Walk Alone," and "Bewitched," and when they're combined with his soulful vocals the results can often be dazzling.
  • Hadestown - It's taken a while, but there's finally a full cast recording for this tuner that dynamically reframes Greek myth for the 21st century. It's a most welcome new release.
  • Almost Like Praying - Lin-Manuel Miranda brought together a fantastic array of Latin music superstars for this single that's helping to raise money for relief efforts in Puerto Rico. In addition to Miranda, the song features performances from the likes of Gloria Estefan, Marc Anthony, and Ruben Blades. It's a tuneful way to lend a hand.
  • You Never Know - It's been out of print for a while now, so it’s great to have this sterling-sounding recording of a Cole Porter rarity back as a digital download. If you’ve never listened, you should!
  • SpongBob SquarePants, the Musical - Everyone's favorite below the sea ‘toon will soon be arriving on Broadway in a musical and in anticipation of his bow on the Great White Way comes this tuneful and funny original cast recording.
  • Sunday in the Park With George - Jake Gyllenhaal and Annaleigh Ashford delivered marvelously on stage in this Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine tuner, and it's terrific to have their work preserved on this just-released cast album.
  • Don't Monkey With Broadway - Tony Award-winner Patti LuPone serves up a grand assortment of songs and anecdotes on this just-out two disc set that’s nothing short of fantastic.

When we enter 2018 we’re hoping to do it on a fun and tuneful note, and Erik, Ken, and I will all be talking about new beginnings as they relate to musical theater. I look forward to sharing the guys’ columns with you in just a few weeks.

Until then, you can listen to Bat-Boy: The Musical and specifically "Three Bedroom House," the number in the show that is all about starting over.

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Dec
01

'Once on This Island' Returns

The new Broadway production of Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens' Once on This Island will be opening in just a few days. We wanted to celebrate this award-winning show's return to the Main Stem, and so Erik and Ken are examining it and its authors in their columns...from two very different, and interesting, angles.

To complement Erik's and Ken's columns, I'd like to offer up the following two albums for your consideration:

  • Mexican Hayride - This  show, with a score by Cole Porter, unfolds south of the border, so it sort of fits with the tropical side of Once on This Island. Further on this release of the original Broadway cast recording there's a bonus track that perfectly matches Ken's column, and so it seems necessary to mention it.
  • Nice Fighting You - This two-CD set preserves a 54 Below concert that paid tribute to songwriters Ahrens and Flaherty. They perform, along with a bevy of Broadway's best, and you'll find some genuine rarities in the mix on this one.

Remember, if you need to add any of the recordings mentioned here and in the guys' blogs to your collection, you can find links to them in the carousels on the BwayTunes.com homepage. 


Warm breezes, tropical climes, an excursion to Brooklyn, and a trip to turn-of-the-last-century America all are part of this week's Spotify playlist. This far-flung group of songs is, in actuality, a perfect tribute to Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens, songwriters unafraid to journey just about anywhere in their work.


This week's free song download comes from Younger Than Springtime, a new collection of recordings by singer William Tabbert. It's the ideal track to get you in the spirit of the season.


Take a look at the marvelously diverse array of new music that we've gotten for you, particularly:

  • Black Manhattan (Volume 3) - Rick Benjamin and the Paragon Ragtime Orchestra shine the spotlight once again on a terrific selection of songs by African Americans from the first part of the 20th century. It's an astonishing collection of material and includes the simply gorgeous overture to My Friend From Kentucky (1913) and the wonderfully exotic "Jewel of the Big Blue Nile" from Baby Blues (1919). This one's a treat from start to finish!
  • Twisted Broadway, Vol. 1 - The a cappella group Blue Jupiter puts a terrific spin on some classic musical theater songs on this new release. Among the shows featured are Pippin,Porgy and Bess, The Sound of Music, and Wicked.

In addition to these albums, you’ll want to check out these new releases, which can be found in the main carousel at the top of the home page and in the “New and Recommended” one at the bottom of the page.

  • The Ballad of Little Jo - The first cast album for this musical by Mike Reid and Sarah Schlesinger preserves its most recent incarnation, the moving production seen at New Jersey's Two River Theater last season.
  • Rearrangements of Shadows - Cheryl Bentyne infuses some Stephen Sondheim favorites ("Send in the Clowns," "Everybody Says Don't") and some of the songwriter's rarities ("Sand," "I Wish I Could Forget You") with a swingin' cool jazz vibe on this terrific new album. 
  • Together Again - Alfie Boe and Michael Ball join forces for a second album that brims with great musical theater songs; they include tunes from shows ranging from Kismet to Hamilton. It's a gorgeous-sounding recording.
  • Richard Rodgers Revisited - Kyle Riabko has created new arrangements for classics like "My Favorite Things," "You'll Never Walk Alone," and "Bewitched," and when they're combined with his soulful vocals the results can often be dazzling.
  • Hadestown - It's taken a while, but there's finally a full cast recording for this tuner that dynamically reframes Greek myth for the 21st century. It's a most welcome new release.
  • Almost Like Praying - Lin-Manuel Miranda brought together a fantastic array of Latin music superstars for this single that's helping to raise money for relief efforts in Puerto Rico. In addition to Miranda, the song features performances from the likes of Gloria Estefan, Marc Anthony, and Ruben Blades. It's a tuneful way to lend a hand.
  • You Never Know - It's been out of print for a while now, so it’s great to have this sterling-sounding recording of a Cole Porter rarity back as a digital download. If you’ve never listened, you should!
  • Someone to Watch Over Me  - Ella Fitzgerald and the London Symphony Orchestra exquisitely complement one another on this incredible new release. Just take a listen to the album’s title track or “Bewitched” and you’ll be hooked.
  • SpongBob SquarePants, the Musical - Everyone's favorite below the sea ‘toon will soon be arriving on Broadway in a musical and in anticipation of his bow on the Great White Way comes this tuneful and funny original cast recording.
  • Sunday in the Park With George - Jake Gyllenhaal and Annaleigh Ashford delivered marvelously on stage in this Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine tuner, and it's terrific to have their work preserved on this just-released cast album.
  • Don't Monkey With Broadway - Tony Award-winner Patti LuPone serves up a grand assortment of songs and anecdotes on this just-out two disc set that’s nothing short of fantastic.
  • Kid Victory - The latest musical from John Kander, working with Greg Pierce, is a fascinating and often wonderful listen.
  • In Full Swing - Seth MacFarlane lends his smooth vocals to a host of American Songbook classics on this new album. Among the recording's niftiest tracks are "Have You Met Miss Jones?," "I Like Myself," and "Almost Like Being in Love."
  • Gershwin & Wild - Pianist Joanne Polk tackles Earl Wild’s exceptional arrangements of George Gershwin’s melodies, including “Embraceable You” and “I Got Rhythm.” This one’s a beaut.
  • Glorious Quest: Hits from the Golden Age of Broadway Musicals - British baritone Rodney Earl Clarke sounds pretty fantastic on this new recording of great songs like “Lonely Town” from On the Town and “This Nearly Was MIne” from South Pacific.
  • Bernstein: The Complete Solo Piano Works - Leann Osterkamp’s grand album collects Leonard Bernstein’s piano compositions. Many of the pieces here are ones that he wrote as gifts for friends such as Stephen Sondheim and Aaron Copland, and some are receiving their first recording here.

You'll be getting our next newsletter just about 10 days before Christmas. 

We'll be celebrating the holiday season here on BwayTunes, and in order not to be a total Scrooge to Erik and Ken, I'm going to leave it to them to decide how they want to raise their musical theater glasses (so to speak).

Our current free song download, I'm sure, will get you in the spirit, but if you need something else to make your world seem festive, take a listen to New York City Christmas. It's a terrific recording from a few years back and features Broadway's best delivering a wide variety of seasonal music.

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