Review: Jinkx Monsoon & Major Scales

For her new cabaret show at Joe’s Pub, entitled The Ginger Snapped, we find a manic Jinkx Monsoon being psychoanalyzed by her musical counterpart, pianist / composer / raconteur Major Scales. This show is their first to feature almost entirely new music, all from her new album of the same name.

Their first New York cabaret show, The Vaudevillians, was such a runaway success that it’s become a running joke in their shows that “I think the audience was expecting The Vaudevillians. Oops!” While good for a laugh, that self-deprecation isn’t necessary, since this show is equally accomplished, just in a very different way.

Monsoon and Scales are more entertaining and smart than the vast majority of the competition. The material from the album is heavily influenced by New Wave (heck the B-52’s Fred Schneider even guests on one track). Both Monsoon and Scales first appear in medical smocks that recall Tim Curry in Rocky Horror. Very shortly, though, Jinkx strips down to a black one-piece lace foundation garment, which she later covers with a silky black dressing gown trimmed with feathers and rhinestones. Simple yet fabulous.

The Ginger Snapped is light years more thoughtful, tuneful and original than your typical cabaret drag act, while rarely being less than acidly hilarious. Very funny but with genuine rage and love just below the surface.

For the Joe’s Pub calendar, click here.

To keep up with Jinkx, click here.

To learn about Jonathan Warman’s directing work, see

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.

To purchase, click here.

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.

To purchase, click here.

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

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

Review: Judy Collins


No one sings a folk song more beautifully than Judy Collins, and few people sing more beautifully, period. She’s an authentic river of song, in truly golden voice in her seventies. She’ll be talking about a song in passing, and then launch into three or four lines, singing with breathtakingly casual grace and beauty. And then continue with her story “and so I told Leonard Cohen that yes, ‘Suzanne’ is a good song and I’ll be recording it tomorrow…”

In tribute to Cohen’s passing she did a medley of his “Bird on a Wire” with one of he own songs – Cohen had encouraged her as a songwriter, which was life-changing for her. When she sings a song in earnest, she’s truly arresting, imbuing each line with subtle style, implying stories behind stories.

This particular act follows on the release of Silver Skies Blue, an album of duets with Ari Hest, a 37-year-old singer / songwriter. The central part of the act is the two of them together. His songs fit Judy’s voice like a glove, and their voices sound very natural in harmony together. The song of his that stuck with me most is “Aberdeen”, about a young person’s burning ambition to leave the titular South Dakota small town.

The stories Judy tells are truly entertaining, varying from the touchingly personal to the hilariously bawdy. She is so enthusiastically invested in the music – her spectacular, undiminished talent always grants an amaziningly intense cabaret experience. Highly recommended.

For tickets, click here.

To learn about Jonathan Warman’s directing work, see

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.


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.

To purchase, click here.

Review: Sutton Foster

267794 - Kaylynn Mayo

Sutton Foster is a character actress in an ingenue’s body, with the vocal chops of a classic musical comedy leading lady. In her latest Cafe Carlyle show, Foster performs an eclectic evening of standards, pop and Broadway, and also tries out various songs she’s considering for an upcoming album. She uses her comedy skills with great intelligence, especially in Christine Lavin’s risque “Air Conditioner,” enumerating all the potential lover’s aspects that don’t matter as long as he has the title appliance.

This is a more low-key show than some Foster has done in the past. She successfully shows some range with her emotional interpretation of Jeff Blumenkrantz’s “My Heart Was Set on You” – her take is by turns tender and heartbreaking, which could describe the evening as a whole. And she shows immaculate musical taste in her glowing rendition of Franesca Blumenthal’s “The Lies of Handsome Men”.

I am forever harping on the dangers of singing too many ballads in a cabaret act, but Foster manages to make the ballad-heavy second half of he act work. How does she get away with it? Well, as wonderful a singer as she is, she’s first and foremost an exquisite actress. As such, her focus is always on the emotional story of the song, not just making pretty sounds.

Best of all though, were two numbers on which Foster duetted with her one-time Little Women costar Megan McGinnis. The first, Craig Carnelia’s “Flight”, was wonderful, but it paled beside their second selection, an a cappella, un-mic’ed rendition of Simon & Garfinkle’s “Old Friends”. Gorgeous and quietly stunning.

For tickets, click here.

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.

To purchase, click here.

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

CD Review: “Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella” (Original Broadway Cast Recording)

Theater Cinderella Cast Recording

The Rodgers & Hammerstein score for Cinderella has the verve they always had – lots of those soaring Rodgers waltzes – even if it isn’t filled with immortal standards like Oklahoma or South Pacific. Laura Osnes sings the title role beautifully, particularly in her earnestly yearning take on “In My Own Little Corner”. On stage, Santino Fontana is charmingly awkward as Prince Topher, but here his duet with Osnes, “Ten Minutes Ago”, is simply charming. Marla Mindelle and Ann Harada are probably the funniest stepsisters ever, and Harada kills it in “Stepsister’s Lament”. Overall, a lovely rendering of a beautiful R & H score.

To purchase, click here.

To learn about Jonathan Warman’s directing work, see

Review: Motown

Motown: The Musical Lunt-Fontanne Theatre

I’ll admit I’m biased – I may not be a boomer who lived through the glory days of Motown, but I have loved Detroit soul for as long as I can remember. So, even though Motown the Musical isn’t as well constructed as, say, Dreamgirls (ahem), I still had a royally good time.

We see the story of the legendary record label’s rise from the point of view of its founder Berry Gordy. It’s more than a little telling that Berry Gordy, in addition to being the musical’s central character, is also the bookwriter and producer.

So, is the story the show tells self-serving as a result? Very much so! But I was surprised and pleased to find that matters much less than I thought it would. I think this is in large part due to the man playing Gordy, Brandon Victor Dixon – he plays the role with such commitment and conviction that even if we find what Gordy (both character and bookwriter) says is occasionally perhaps a half-truth, we never doubt for a second that Gordy the character believes it totally, and means every word he says. That helps in a big way.

You would hope that something called Motown the Musical would do right by the music itself, and, hip hooray, it does! The label produced such a huge amount of stunningly good music that some of it inevitably gets compressed into medleys and the like, but thankfully never in a way that feels rushed. Ethan Popp and Bryan Crook’s arrangements are suitably theatrical while always remaining faithful to what made the originals so great.

Often, when I mention the sound design of a musical it’s to complain about it, but in the case of Motown the Musical it’s quite the opposite. Ladies and gentlemen, take note – this is how you amplify music for the theatre! Sound designer Peter Hylenski makes sure the bass booms when it should boom and the cymbal hisses when it should hiss, all the while never getting in the way of every last lyric being crystal clear. This is a new gold standard, and Hylenski deserves a Tony for it.

Director Charles Randolph-Wright’s direction is spot-on, especially when it comes to setting a clear emotional context for the “in-performance” songs. Choreography by Patricia Wilcox and Warren Adams is even more on target, to the point of being positively eerie – yes indeed, Jackie Wilson moved exactly like that, and so did Mary Wells and Diana Ross and so on.

But, as with Kinky Boots, what I say hardly matters, this is an honest-to-goodness critic-proof hit. For what it’s worth I found it often thrilling, and came very close to loving it.

For tickets, click here.

To learn about Jonathan Warman’s directing work, see