CD Review: “Carrie (Premiere Cast Recording)”

The latest incarnation of the legendarily troubled musical by Michael Gore and Dean Pitchford is the first to receive a proper cast recording, and like the new Off-Broadway production the CD is an entertaining mixed bag, modestly tuneful and just bit campy, with flashes of truly grand music-drama. Its infamous 1988 Broadway run reportedly had some of the worst problems of tone and taste, in any art form, ever. This CD probably represents Gore and Pitchford’s vision for the show better than either production. In the singing department, Molly Ranson as Carrie can musically stand up to Marin Mazzie as Carrie’s hyper-religious mother Margaret – that’s a very good thing, since it is the scenes and songs shared by those two characters that have always been the best thing about Carrie. Mazzie roaring and wailing her way through those songs is certainly the best thing here.

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CD Review: “The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess” (New Broadway Cast Recording)

Even if this version is musically diminished, as some purists say, the stunning ambition of composer George Gershwin’s musical vision still takes my breath away. In this innovative 1935 opera, the beautiful Bess struggles to live in a community that shuns her, and the only one who truly, selflessly loves her is the crippled but courageous Porgy. The songs are sung beautifully – when Norm Lewis, as Porgy, sings “I Got Plenty o’ Nuttin’” it’s like the sun coming out after a grimly cloudy day. Audra McDonald is a vocally thrilling Bess, and David Alan Grier brings out all the colors, light and dark, in the seductively slick Sportin’ Life. This Porgy & Bess doesn’t succeed on every point, but it’s a strong representation of a fascinating, flawed, ambitious work of art.

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

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: 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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