CD Review: “Crazy 1961” by Mark Nadler

Based on his latest cabaret act, Mark Nadler’s new CD Crazy 1961 finds him playing and singing with his usual virtuosic abandon and passionate intelligence. The result is stunning: Nadler packs over 61 songs onto this CD, a celebration of the year of his birth. There are always many layers in anything that Nadler does, ranging from the obvious to unspoken subtext, which gives his work an “oomph” far, far beyond the typical. On the CD, as in the show, Mark paints a complex portrait of the exact place and time that he was born, in exciting and ultimately moving ways. Every single song on the CD is from 1961, and he finishes with a truly insane medley of fifty songs from the year. This is as giddily entertaining – and breathtakingly smart – as a cabaret CD gets.

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CD Review: Follies

Stephen Sondheim’s Follies is revered in the theater community, and I think rightly so. It contains some of the best musical comedy songs ever written – funny and poignant, often at the same time. Thank goodness, then, that the new Broadway cast recording is beautifully recorded. It’s also the fullest recording of the complete Follies score to date, including pieces of cross-over and incidental music, played by a 28-piece orchestra. Jayne Houdyshell is extraordinary singing “Broadway Baby”, giving that song a roaring, teary-eyed joy I don’t think I’ve ever heard in it before. And Elaine Paige tears “I’m Still Here” a new one, mining a profound rage that underlies that famous song’s bravado. A Follies recording that gets this much right is musical comedy heaven.

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CD Review: Michael Feinstein – The Sinatra Project, Vol. II: The Good Life

Michael Feinstein opens The Sinatra Project, Vol. II: The Good Life with a surprising bang. He swings “Thirteen Women” a brazenly heterosexual, even male chauvinist fantasy about a man and his harem (it makes a little more sense if you know that Feinstein first discovered the song in a version by Ann-Margret called “Thirteen Men”). It’s a clear signal that the Sinatra Feinstein is paying tribute to here is the boozy, smug, Rat Pack Sinatra of the 1960s, rather than the sophisticated 1950s songster of the first volume. As with that first volume, Feinstein is once again paired with producer-arranger Bill Elliott who leads a 30-piece orchestra, and Elliot delivers a sound that is simultaneously lush and hard swinging. It’s all very Pan Am, very Mad Men, and a lot of fun in that vein.

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CD Review: Death Takes A Holiday

Death Takes a Holiday (music and lyrics by Maury Yeston) draws on Albert Casella’s 1924 Italian play La Morte in Vacanza about the Grim Reaper (Kevin Early) taking human form to spend a weekend at a lakeside villa where he falls in love with one Grazia Lamberti (Jill Paice). Yeston’s lyrics are smart, his pop-operatic music lush, especially enrobed as it is in Larry Hochman’s luxuriant orchestrations. I didn’t see the show in its Off-Broadway run, but I heard that it was beautiful but somewhat static. I can hear that from the score – beauty by no means guarantees dramatic power, in fact it often gets in the way. That’s less of a problem when you enjoy a score’s purely musical charm, which Death Takes A Holiday has in abundance. On CD it’s a delicious, somewhat relaxing experience, full of melody and musical intelligence. Not totally to my own taste, but undeniably a pleasurable listen.

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Review: The Power of Two (CD)

Power Of Two CD Cover

The new duet CD by classic crooner Michael Feinstein and bodacious Broadway boy Cheyenne Jackson, “The Power Of Two,” opens with our two handsome, out fellas gushing over each other to the tune of Cy Coleman’s “I’m Nothing Without You.” They follow that up with “Me and My Shadow” made famous as a duet between Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis, Jr.

Despite how little they physically resemble Frank and Sammy, the comparison is oddly apt. Feinstein is, and Sinatra was, his time’s greatest popularizer of the Great American Songbook. Jackson is, and Davis was, one of the great musical theatre showmen of his day as well as arguably one of the best vocalists. So, yes, like Sinatra and Davis, but oh, so much gayer.

Feinstein wrings every note out of “I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter” and Jackson rattles the rafters with an open-throated “Don’t Get around Much Anymore.” But just as often they turn in all seriousness to gay subject matter. Michael solos on “The Time Has Come,” a moving ballad written by a gay songwriter in the aftermath of Stonewall. And later they have a gorgeously restrained romantic duet on “We Kiss in a Shadow.”

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