CD Review Roundup

Jessica Molaskey – Portraits of Joni

When I popped this CD in my computer to import it to iTunes, it offered the genre “Pop.” Well, Joni Mitchell, the object of tribute on Portraits of Joni, aimed at making pop music for exactly one album, her much-loved Court and Spark. Otherwise, her musical polestars were always folk and jazz. And here, Jessica Molaskey takes Joni’s jazziest impulses and turns them way up. Molaskey has been performing with her husband guitarist John Pizzarelli for a very long time, and has become in the process an integral part of the jazz “royal family” that is the Pizzarellis. No, iTunes, this is definitely “Jazz!” And first-class jazz at that, with perhaps the most remarkable moment being a mashup of Mitchell’s earliest song masterpiece “Circle Game” with John singing snippets of Antônio Carlos Jobim’s “Waters of March.” Highly recommended.

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War Paint (Original Broadway Cast Recording)

Some of Broadway’s most solid craftsmen worked on War Paint, and it shows – it’s pretty darn good. War Paint follows the rivalry of cosmetics pioneers Elizabeth Arden (Christine Ebersole) and Helena Rubinstein (Patti LuPone), who between them defined beauty standards for much of the 20th Century. The score by composer Scott Frankel and lyricist Michael Korie evokes all kinds of music from the 1930s through the 1960s, with generous doses of big band-style swing. Of course, the main draw is hearing not one but two living legends in the lead roles. The songs for Ebersole and LuPone go beyond intelligently painting the personalities of the two main characters – they are exquisitely tailored for their talents. This is nowhere more apparent than in their twin 11 O’Clock numbers. When Christine finishes her song “Pink” – as pure Ebersole as anything Frankel and Korie gave her in Grey Gardens – it’s hard to imagine they could top it. And they don’t, exactly – Patti’s “Forever Beautiful” is more of a lateral move, just as astonishing a number, and ideal for LuPone. Recommended.

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Holiday Inn (Original Broadway Cast Recording)

This stage adaptation of the classic movie combines Irving Berlin songs with heart and smarts, and that makes me happy. The book of this version had some annoying minor plot holes, but you don’t get that on the cast recording, which is pure Berlin bliss. Big dance number “Shaking The Blues Away” was a highlight in the production, and the recording successfully captures the arrangement’s bristling high energy. A musical glow emanates from the warm chemistry between leads Bryce Pinkham and Lora Lee Gayer. Corbin Bleu adds great energy in a supporting role. As reimagined properties by Great American Songbook writers go, this one’s above average, and even more fun on disc than it was on the stage. Recommended.

To purchase, click here.

To learn about Jonathan Warman’s directing work, see jonathanwarman.com.

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CD Review: “It’s About Time” – Karen Mason

Broadway and cabaret star Karen Mason isn’t kidding around with her new CD It’s About Time! More than 50 percent of the songs on the album are showstoppers – including “Fifty Percent” itself, with composer Billy Goldenberg on the piano. Several are drawn from the greatest hits of Judy Garland, one of the most showstopping performers of all time. Mason sticks closer to the melody of these songs than many contemporary Broadway performers. However, the aim here seems to be less about creating definitive versions, and more about showing how gifted Mason is at knocking these big numbers out of the ballpark. Her big, expressive voice is one of Broadway’s most under-utilized treasures, and this CD puts it on more impressive display than ever before. Highly recommended.

To purchase, click here.

To learn about Jonathan Warman’s directing work, see jonathanwarman.com.

CD Review: “The Gay Agenda” – Justin Sayre

justinsayre-thegayagenda

Gayest comedy album ever! Justin Sayre’s The Gay Agenda is made up of stand up excerpts from The Meeting*, a live variety show Sayre hosts. In his role as Chairman of the Board of the International Order of Sodomites, Sayre addresses a variety of subjects related to the gay community with take-no-prisoners verve and venom. In a persona that is femme yet tough, brassy and bellowing, this gay’s got issues with gays that got issues, be it lusting after straight men, worshiping idols that aren’t worthy of us, thinking the struggle is over because of gay marriage, or being awful to younger gays. In the album’s lightest moment, he alternates with Michael Musto in describing delightfully absurd pitches for Sex and the City 3. Gay, gay, gay, gay, gaygaygay.

To purchase, click here.

To learn about Jonathan Warman’s directing work, see jonathanwarman.com.

Cast CD Review Roundup

golden apple

The Golden Apple (First Full Length Recording)

When The Golden Apple premiered in 1954, its blend of American folklore and Greek myth, popular entertainment and high art, and musical comedy and operatic drama was revolutionary. After some initial success, however, The Golden Apple all but slipped into obscurity. In November 2014, the Lyric Stage of Irving, Texas, mounted a fully-staged revival of the musical, featuring an orchestra of 38 and a 43-member cast. PS Classics has released a live recording of this production, making commercially available all 135 minutes of this through-composed musical for the first time ever. While it has some problems one would expect from a live recording of a regional production – moments that don’t quite land, some bum notes and straining voices – overall it is a lush, majestic account of composer Jerome Moross’s ravishing score, a lost masterpiece really. Highly recommended.

To purchase, click here.

Fun Home CD

Fun Home (A New Broadway Musical)

Richly emotional yet rigorously unsentimental. Lyricist Lisa Kron’s astringent wit and surging music by Jeanine Tesori make for a score that, while sometimes dark, is never depressing. The way Tesori’s music pushes urgently and sincerely at Kron’s mordantly funny lyrics produces a truly exciting tension, not to mention Tesori’s best musical theatre writing to date. Three women actors play Alison at various stages of her life and their performances are the beating heart of this CD: Beth Malone as the introspective and retrospective adult Alison, Emily Skeggs as the girl-crazy college age Alison, and Sydney Lucas as the young tomboy Alison. Michael Cerveris is pitch perfect as the closeted Bruce, especially in the climactic “Edges of the World”, capturing both the love of beauty and the ultimately destructive perfectionism of this very complex man.

To purchase, click here.

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On the Twentieth Century (New Broadway Cast Recording)

Hearing Kristen Chenoweth at the top of her form and perfectly cast is the whole reason to get this cast recording. The show’s creators, composer Cy Coleman and wordsmiths Betty Comden and Adolph Green, were all masters of musical theatre, but On the Twentieth Century finally works best as a star vehicle. And, thank goodness, Chenoweth is one hell of a star! She is truly incandescent here, her frisky musical comedy chops ideally matched to Comden and Green’s smartalecky wit. There’s also an adorable quartet of train porters – who even get a showstopping number of their own, the Act II opener “Life’s a Train”, which is definitely a highlight of this recording. The whole score is never less than a giddy good time.

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CD Review: Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill

CD Lady Day at Emerson's Bar & Grill

How much you enjoy this album depends very much you enjoy the very last phase of jazz legend Billie Holliday’s career. Her voice became very weathered, but more expressive than ever. Her interpretations of her songs became more heartbreakingly honest than ever. Not the rich-toned singer of years before, perhaps, but still an overpowering interpretive talent. And Audra McDonald absolutely nails everything about that voice. This two-CD set also includes the scenes from the show, which features a lot of harrowing life stories, detailing how that voice came to be so weathered. Intense stuff, but finally rewarding, especially in this format.

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CD Review: “Pippin” (New Broadway Cast Recording)

CD Pippin

Pippin is definitely an important show – it was the first American musical to successfully combine pop-rock with traditional musical comedy structure. And composer Stephen Schwartz’s score is exceptionally tuneful and memorable, which is well represented in this recording of the latest Broadway revival. The real news here is Andrea Martin as Pippin’s grandmother – I have never seen somebody truly stop the show with thunderous applause the way she does with her big number “No Time At All”. While the recorded version doesn’t have the visual kick of her performance, it does have a vast choir of fans including the likes of Michael Musto singing along with her, on top of a beautifully arranged chorus from the show’s cast – it casts a different, but still exciting, spell of its own.

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CD Review: “Kinky Boots” (Original Broadway Cast Recording)

CD Kinky Boots

This is a splashly, colorful, drag-filled joyride of a show, with a soft-sold message of tolerance that never gets in the way of high-energy production numbers. Those numbers sound truly smashing on this lovingly produced cast recording, which has the bright energy and finish of a rock record. Cyndi Lauper’s music is appropriately emotional and propulsive. “History of Wrong Guys” is marvellously specific; delivered with wonderful comic timing by Annaleigh Ashford, it’s one of the album’s high points. Listening to this is almost as much as fun as seeing Kinky Boots, something not every cast recording achieves!

To purchase, click here.

To learn about Jonathan Warman’s directing work, see jonathanwarman.com.