BWW CD Reviews: WHEN I GROW UP: BROADWAY'S NEXT GENERATION - Live at 54 BELOW is Enlivened FunEarlier this year, on March 18, Van Dean, Kenny Howard, and Michael J. Moritz, Jr. brought together a mélange of Broadway's most impressive young talent for WHEN I GROW UP: BROADWAY'S NEXT GENERATION, a cabaret concert at 54 BELOW. Kenny Howard says that this group inspired him "not only with their talents but also with a maturity that is far beyond their years." For this cabaret concert, the children tackle the adult repertoire of their heroes, taking on music from SPRING AWAKENING, THE DROWSY CHAPERONE, THE LAST FIVE YEARS, AVENUE Q, [TITLE OF SHOW], and more.

Musical Direction by Michael J. Moritz, Jr. keeps the music vibrant and invigorating. Working with the young voices and bringing out as much maturity as possible must have been a real challenge, but he vastly succeeds throughout the entire album. This is not to say that all of the gifted youngsters sound like adults when they sing these songs, but each performer comes as close as their developing instruments will let them. Moreover, the youthful performers impressively find pitches, with only a few minor tuning issues rearing their ugly heads on the recording. These kids didn't have the safety net of recording in a studio, which must have made this live performance even more nerve wracking than usual.

This disc features such an eclectic mix of music and voices that I'm positive everyone can find something to enjoy on the album. My absolute favorite performance is Matthew Gumley's rendition of "Someone To Fall Back On" by Jason Robert Brown from SOMEONE ELSE'S CLOTHES. I had never heard the song until I listened to this record, and I was moved and mesmerized by his clean and poignant performance. He perfectly builds the song, letting it grow until its dazzling flourish. Rounding out my top three tracks are "Superboy and the Invisble Girl" from Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey's NEXT TO NORMAL sung by Isabela Moner and Matthew Schecter and Isabela Moner's "Bring the Future Faster" from Paul Scott Goodman's ROOMS. On both tracks Isabela Moner is simply phenomenal. Her voice sounds mature. She gorgeously emotes the angst and desperation of both characters, creating music that is uplifting, driving, and spirited. Mattew Schecter's accompaniment on "Superboy and the Invisible Girl" blends perfectly with Isabela Moner's voice, bringing out the strength and passion of the song as they both belt with impactful resonance.

Other standout performances include Ethan Haberfield's emotive version of John Kander and Fred Ebb's "Mister Cellophane" from CHICAGO. Ethan Haberfield also brings a Norbert Leo Butz-like sound and tangible confidence to the witty number "Farmer Tan," which was pulled from John Foley, Mark Hardwick, Debra Monk, Cass Morgan, John Schimmel, and Kim Wann's PUMP BOYS AND THE DINETTES. On "Farmer Tan" both Isabela Moner and Zoe Considine provide animated back-up vocals. Likewise, Kelsey Fowler is evocative and stirring with her rendition of Jeff Bowen's "A Way Back To Then" from [TITLE OF SHOW]. She gently builds the number making the belted portion sparkle with her precision and poise.

Strong performances are given by Matthew Gumley and Neil McCaffrey as they duet well on both "Agony" and "Agony (Reprise)" by Stephen Sondheim from INTO THE WOODS. They work the requisite romantic charm and humor into the songs, ensuring that both performances are fun and enjoyable for the audience. Neil McCaffrey nicely mixes elements from Rick Moranis and Hunter Foster into his perfectly enunciated version of "Grow For Me" from Alan Menken and Howard Ashman's LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS. Additionally, Matthew Schechter gives a vigorous and charismatic performance of Trey Parker, Robert Lopez, and Matt Stone's "I Believe" from THE BOOK OF MORMON.

The disc opens and closes with good ensemble performances of "The Song of Purple Summer" by Duncan Sheik and Steven Stater from SPRING AWAKENING and "For Now" by Robert Lopex and Jeff Marx from AVENUE Q. In both numbers there are some blending and tuning issues, but overall they are both well sung. Emily Rosenfeld's take on "Show Off" from Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison's THE DROWSY CHAPERONE is cute but nasal, and she makes it work for the character she portrays with the song. Caleb McLaughlin infuses his voice with an earthy, bluesy quality for his lively performance of Charlie Smalls' "You Can't Win" from THE WIZ.

Additionally, Kelsey Fowler and Rozi Baker have great energy and chemistry on Frank Wildhorn and Don Balck's "When I Drive" from BONNIE & CLYDE. Their only misstep is that they don't blend well with one another. Jason Robert Brown's "A Summer in Ohio" from THE LAST FIVE YEARS is performed with appealing snap by Zoe Considine, but she sounds pitchy when she pushes too hard despite her nicely developing belt. Matthew Gumley and Rozi Baker are incredible on Stephen Sondheim's "Getting Married Today" from COMPANY, but Kelsey Fowler's approach for the operatic soprano motif is almost unbearably screechy. On Roger Miller's "Worlds Apart" from BIG RIVER, Caleb McLaughlin sounds like he is pushing to reach his upper register; however, once Matthew Schechter joins in the song evens out and both boys expertly conquer the remainder of the number together. Grace Capeless' rendition of "Waiting For Life" by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty from ONCE ON THIS ISLAND sounds great when she sings from her chest voice, but she looses control and pitch in her upper register because she throws too much of her sound into her nasal cavity. Emily Rosenfeld, Grace Capeless, and Zoe Considine do a great job blending on charming trios for "You Could Drive A Person Crazy" by Stephen Sondheim from COMPANY. Yet, when singing solo, there are a few missed pitches in the number.

The small band plays with effervescing ebullience and gusto. It is composed of Michael J. Moritz, Jr. on Piano, Adam DeAscentis on Bass, Billy LaGuardia on Drums, Joe Graziosi on Sax/Flute/Clarinet, and Ed Levy on Guitar.

WHEN I GROW UP: BROADWAY'S NEXT GENERATION - Live at 54 BELOW is a fun celebration and fabulous mix of Broadway's next generation of big named stars. The album pristinely captures their enlivened and whimsical performances. Also, the cabaret concert and its recording serve as a wonderful tool to immortalize and preserve their awe inspiring talents at a young age. After all, this handful of artists who are sure to be the Ethel Merman, Bernadette Peters, Michael Crawford, and Ben Vereen of their generation have an important lesson to share with us all. Don't dream it; be it. These kids are living proof that dreams do come true and this album is just the starting line for their successful stage careers.

WHEN I GROW UP: BROADWAY'S NEXT GENERATION - Live at 54 BELOW was released digitally by Broadway Records on July 26, 2013. Physical copies were released on July 30, 2013. The album can be purchased at iTunes, Amazon, and in select stores.

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Image courtesy of Broadway Records.

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