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.

Advertisements

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.

on-the-twentieth-century-new-broadway-cast-double-cd

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.

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.

To purchase, click here.

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 jonathanwarman.com.

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.

To purchase, click here.

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.

To purchase, click here.

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