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BWW Album Review: The Hills Are Alive Again with R&H GOES POP

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Artists featured on the album include Jeremy Jordan, Ariana DeBose, Rebecca Naomi Jones, Katrina Lenk and more!

BWW Album Review: The Hills Are Alive Again with R&H GOES POP

Rodgers and Hammerstein are pretty much sacred canon in the theatre world, but in recent years, it's gotten more and more acceptable to put a new spin on their classic canon. In R&H Goes Pop!, presented by the Rodgers and Hammerstein Organization, today's brightest stars perform new arrangements of our favorite songs, now tinged with pop, hip-hop, country, rap, and more. Far from being musical heresy, these new covers instead serve as a reminder of how Rodgers and Hammerstein were at the forefront of musical theatre during their time, and how their music is truly timeless.

The album gets started the only way it can: with Oklahoma!'s "Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin'." As sung here by Jeremy Jordan, it's the perfect introduction to the album as a whole, blending the pure, simple melody of the original with the riffs and orchestrations of the new arrangement. Jordan's voice effortlessly bridges the two styles, gliding between the gentle, pastoral classic and the big, bold notes.

In some cases, it's the most unexpected twists that produce the best tracks. Ariana DeBose headlines a cover of The King and I's "Shall We Dance" that's less polka, more modern dance track. DeBose sings and raps equally flawlessly, capturing all the energy of the original song, but with a modern twist. It's important to remember the unique place that some of these R&H songs have held in the theatrical canon: many, including this song, were surprising or even shocking at the time, and interesting new arrangements like this one help to give modern audiences that same, wonderful jolt.

Two other leading ladies with unique and memorable personalities are around for two of the album's other top tracks. "Something Good" from The Sound of Music can be treacly in the wrong hands, but with Katrina Lenk leading the way, it's poignant and touching. The actual melody is mostly unaltered in this arrangement; it's the accompaniment that takes on a new, bluesy vibe. Lenk finds every nuance and feeling that gets at why this is such a beloved love song. On the opposite end of the emotional spectrum is Rebecca Naomi Jones, taking on a gender-flipped "Lonely Room" from Oklahoma!. Tweaking the tempo and arrangement gives the whole song an even more eerie feel, as Jones explores all the twisted, complicated emotions of Rodgers & Hammerstein's most famous "villain song."

Several of the other songs are gender-flipped as well, largely with excellent results. Ali Stroker also gets to take on an Oklahoma! song that she didn't sing herself in the Tony-winning revival. Unsurprisingly, her take on "The Surrey with the Fringe on Top" is wonderful. There's also Jelani Alladin and Matt Doyle, two of the closest things we have to real-life Disney princes, duetting on The King and I's "We Kiss in a Shadow." It's elegant and intensely romantic, and, with two men singing this classic song about a secret love, has a whole new layer of poignant meaning. Meanwhile, Lilli Cooper's deeply cool "It Feels Good" will have listeners a-Googling to learn more about the most obscure song on the album and its parent show, Me & Juliet.

Not every track is quite as successful. The cast of Broadway's Mean Girls is 0 for 2 on the album: Ashley Park's talents feel overshadowed by the super-produced pop cover of "Do Re Mi" - a song that's not really much of a showcase to begin with - and Kyle Selig is oddly lacking energy on what should be the swoony "The Sweetest Sounds." Similarly, Gavin Creel's "Something Wonderful" is just fine, but it feels like it doesn't use Creel's talents as well as it could.

Only two vocalists on the album get to perform songs that they personally have sung on Broadway: Laura Osnes and Santino Fontana, both of whom tackle iconic songs from Cinderella (although not together). Fontana's "Do I Love You Because You're Beautiful" has almost a Sara Bareilles or Michael Buble vibe to it, but in the best possible way; he's every bit as charming now as he was playing the Prince eight years ago. Osnes gets one of the very best tracks on the whole album: a mash-up duet of "Ten Minutes Ago" with The Last Five Years's "The Next Ten Minutes," singing alongside Bonnie & Clyde co-star Jordan. The arrangement is nothing new to Broadway fans, who have heard the duo perform it over the past few years, often with arranger and frequent collaborator Benjamin Rauhala, but it's pure magic every time, full of tenderness and the kind of gentle but deeply felt joy that Rodgers and Hammerstein excelled at. Those legendary songwriters changed Broadway forever and helped it connect with popular culture; I'd like to think they'd be delighted that a new generation is once again using their music to build bridges between mainstream "pop" music and the very best of Broadway.

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