BWW Tonys Special: Ultimate Guide to This Season's Cast Recordings
It's that time of year, and I can't help but wonder if your CD collection and iPod are Tonys ready. It's just a handful of hours until the 70th annual Tony Awards, and New York City and theatre fans across the world are excitedly buzzing about this year's ceremonies which will be broadcast live on Sunday, June 12, 2016 at 8/7c on CBS. This Broadway season has some exciting contenders in the musical categories, and to get you ready for the big night, I'm recapping the albums you should be listening to (or at least pre-ordering).
The Original Musicals:
ALLEGIANCE - This short lived musical was inspired by true events, and told the story of a Japanese-American family forced to leave their home following the events of Pearl Harbor. The mostly mixed-to-negative reviews complained that show was unable to find the right balance between illuminating a dark period of American history while also be entertaining. It closed a couple of months ahead of the cut off date to be considered for the 2016 Tony Awards, but earned no nominations. However, Broadway Records recorded a cast album, preserving the music and lyrics by Jay Kuo and the album features a few standout performances by Lea Salonga and Telly Leung. But, like the critics said of the show, the album is divided between its loyalties of accurately portraying the horrors and struggles of Japanese-Americans forced into interment camps and the whimsical, danceable styles of pop music from the 1940s. ALLEGIANCE (Original Broadway Cast Recording) can be purchased from Broadway Records' online store here, iTunes, Amazon, and elsewhere music is sold.
AMAZING GRACE - This poorly reviewed and much maligned musical only lasted about 3 months on Broadway, closing on October 25, 2015. Loosely based on the life of John Newton, it tells the story of an English slave trader turned Anglican priest and how he found the inspiration to write his most well-known hymn: "Amazing Grace." Writing the books, lyrics, and music, this show was Christopher Smith's first foray into writing for theater. The DMI Soundtracks label, distributed by Warner-Elektra-Atlantic Corporation preserved the music of the show with AMAZING GRACE (Original Broadway Cast Recording); however, listening to the album, it becomes clear that Smith is a proud graduate of the Frank Wildhorn School of Musical Theater Writing. Don't get me wrong, I adore a ballad-filled Wildhorn score, but I think we should leave that style of writing to Wildhorn alone. Vocally, the cast doesn't disappoint, so the album is sure to appeal to fans of Josh Young, Tom Hewitt, Chuck Cooper, and Erin Mackey. AMAZING GRACE (Original Broadway Cast Recording) can be purchased from iTunes, Amazon, and elsewhere music is sold.
AMERICAN PSYCHO - THE MUSICAL - Or what I like to think of as the cult sensation of the 2015-16 Broadway season only got a paltry pair of Tony nominations. Es Devin & Finn Ross's technically impressive set design and Justin Townsend's eye-popping lighting design are nominated (and could possibly win), but the strong performances given by Benjamin Walker, Jennifer Damiano, and cast was overlooked. And, the music may be one of the most hotly contested scores on Broadway. Camp A loves the purposefully 80s synth-pop soundscape and cheese-laden lyrics that perfectly define Manhattan circa 1989. Camp B feels that's Duncan Sheik got 1989 too correct and that the music and lyrics are so terrible that they cannot be forgotten fast enough. As of yet, a Broadway cast recording hasn't been announced, but Concord Records has released AMERICAN PSYCHO - THE MUSICAL (Original London Cast Recording), which can be purchased from iTunes, Amazon, and elsewhere music is sold. As much as I enjoy the London recording, I've got my fingers crossed that a Broadway cast album is in the works.
BRIGHT STAR - Grammy winners Steve Martin and Edie Brickell have crafted a musical whose score is deeply rooted in the bluegrass traditions of Appalachia. The show has garnered truly mixed reviews, and has mostly positive word-of-mouth. The show has also earned five tony nominations: Best Musical, Best Book of a Musical for Martin, Best Original Score (Music and/or Lyrics) Written for the Theater for Martin and Brickell, Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Musical for Carmen Cusack, and Best Orchestrations for August Eriksmoen. Unfortunately, the competition in all of those categories is tough this season and HAMILTON is expected to take most of those awards. Yet, the cast album, recorded by Ghostlight Records, proves that this little show has a ton of spunk and talent. The music is catchy and appealing, filled with heart, and appropriately lush. Likewise, Cusak, Paul Alexander Nolan, A.J. Shively, and Emily Padgett offer standout vocals across the recording. The album can be purchased from iTunes, Amazon, and elsewhere music is sold.
DISASTER! - This show only got one nomination, and no one is surprised. Jennifer Simard's nomination for Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Musical is a wonderful way to recognize the only memorable aspect of a completely forgettable musical. The music for this show is a collection of 70s pop hits like "Hot Stuff," "Hooked on a Feeling," and more. Watching the show, many of the songs felt completely shoehorned in, and a large handful weren't even sung in their entirety. Broadway Records has scheduled this Broadway cast album to be released on September 9, 2016. You can pre-order the album from Broadway Records' web store here. While I really didn't love the show, I'm looking forward to DISASTER! (Original Broadway Cast Recording)'s preservation of Adam Pascal's raspy, rock vocals and Jennifer Simard singing "Never Can Say Goodbye."
HAMILTON - While fans expect HAMILTON to sweep and win every category it is nominated for, critics are not sure that this juggernaut will pull that feat off. Regardless, the show earned a record breaking 16 nominations. The nods are Best Musical; Best Book of a Musical for Lin-Manuel Miranda; Best Original Score (Music and/or Lyrics) Written for the Theatre; Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Musical for Miranda and Leslie Odom, Jr.; Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Musical for Phillipa Soo; Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Musical for Daveed Diggs, Jonathan Groff, and Christopher Jackson; Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Musical for Renée Elise Goldsberry; Best Scenic Design of a Musical for David Korins; Best Costume Design of a Musical for Paul Tazewell; Best Lighting Design for a Musical for Howell Binkley; Best Director of a Musical for Thomas Kail; Best Choreography for Andy Blankenbuehler; and Best Orchestrations for Alex Lacamoire. Many, including myself, predict that the show will take home the awards for Best Musical, Best Book, Best Score, Best Direction, and Best Orchestrations, in addition to Odom, Jr. winning Best Actor and Diggs winning Best Featured Actor. Of course, for many others, and myself, these predictions are based on reviews and what is captured on Atlantic Records' HAMILTON (Original Broadway Cast Recording). With premium seats now going for $849 a pop (before the scalpers upcharge them that is), it'll be a while still before many of us can say we saw the show. The album on the other hand is a crystal clear capture of the rap/hip-hop inspired score. It showcases not only the quick and crisp enunciations of the rhymes written by Miranda and performed with precision by the whole cast, but it also shows off Lacamoire's chord-laden orchestrations and ability to layer human voices and instruments to make appealing music that is both appropriate for the stage and the radio. Just don't be surprised when you catch riffs and phrases that sound like they belong in IN THE HEIGHTS. The album can be purchased from iTunes, Amazon, and elsewhere music is sold.
ON YOUR FEET! THE STORY OF EMILIO AND Gloria Estefan - Biographical jukebox musicals are here to stay. Some can be quite good, and others seem incredibly whitewashed. Overall ON YOUR FEET! paints Gloria Estefan's rise to fame as a pretty easy climb up the ladder. DJs seemingly weren't too keen to play her records because she and her band weren't white. Yet, with a little persuasion, Emilio, Gloria, and company got her music played in the dancehalls of Miami, which got them requested on the radio. And, lucky for Gloria and Emilio, they've had a pitch-perfect, storybook romance as well. Or so the musical tells us. Of course there was her stint in physical therapy after the bus accident, but that is glossed over too. The show only picked up a Tony nod for best choreography. It is deserved because Sergio Trujillo fills the stage at the Marquis Theatre with some exciting and fancy footwork. Sony's Masterworks Broadway released ON YOUR FEET! (Original Broadway Cast Recording), a live album, and it can be purchased from iTunes, Amazon, and elsewhere music is sold. Yet, you may be better off just buying the original versions of these songs. The standouts on the album (and in live performance) are Andrea Burns on "Mi Tierra" and "If I Never Got to Tell You."
SCHOOL OF ROCK - THE MUSICAL - This musical, based on the 2003 Jack Black comedy of the same title, is Andrew Lloyd Webber's latest Broadway foray. The show won critics and audiences over with ease, leaving scores of charmed theatergoers in its wake. Likewise, it picked up four Tony nominations: Best Musical, Best Book of a Musical for Justin Fellowes, Best Original Score (Music and/or Lyrics) Written for Theatre for Lloyd Webber (music) and Glen Slater (lyrics); and Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Musical for Alex Brightman. I have yet to see this show, but the music from it captured on Warner Brothers' SCHOOL OF ROCK - THE MUSICAL (Original Cast Recording) shows that the musicals offers audiences a variety of music, mostly in the rock vein. Some snippets of theatrical pop and even pop opera are worked in. Likewise, Slater's lyrics are often laugh-out-loud funny. From the album, it is easy to understand why this show is a current fan favorite of the Broadway community, and don't be surprised if "Stick It to the Man" gets stuck in your head after hearing it. The album can be purchased from iTunes, Amazon, and elsewhere music is sold.
SHUFFLE ALONG, OR THE MAKING OF THE MUSICAL SENSATION OF 1921 AND ALL THAT FOLLOWED - Surprisingly enough this star-studded show has yet to announce a cast album, especially after the show got mostly positive reviews and 10 Tony nominations. The nods are for Best Musical, Best Book of a Musical for George C. Wolfe, Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Musical for Brandon Victor Dixon, Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Musical for Adrienne Warren, Best Scenic Design of a Musical for Santo Loquasto, Best Costume Design for a Musical for Ann Roth, Best Lighting Design for a Musical for Jules Fisher & Peggy Eisenhauer, Best Direction of a Musical for Wolfe, Best Choreography for Savion Glover, and Best Orchestrations for Daryl Waters. Until further notice, intrepid theater fans will just have to make due with Hallmark's release of Sissle & Blake's Shuffle Along (Original Soundtrack), which can be purchased from Amazon. Or, they can seek out Masterworks Broadway's 2011 studio cast release of Blackbirds of 1928 / Shuffle Along (available on Amazon) and Harbinger Records' 2016 release of Sissle & Blake Sing Shuffle Along (available on Amazon).
TUCK EVERLASTING - Attending the final preview of TUCK EVERLASTING, I remarked that the costume design was Tony Award nomination worthy, but that the rest of the show seemed weak. Later, when the Tony nominations were announced the only nod the show got was for Gregg Barnes's costume designs. The syrupy, sweet music and lyrics are largely forgettable. Writing this, I can't recall a single melody line from the show. However, I do remember that the orchestrations for the string sections were sometimes lush and gave the score a country, almost bluegrass, feel. Likewise, the music for the second act's ballet sequence ("The Story of Winnie Foster") is the kind of beautiful Americana elegy that high school bands and orchestras will be able to dazzle audiences with, assuming it gets licensed out for such uses. DMI Soundtracks/Warner-Elektra-Atlantic Corporation recorded the score. Digital copies of TUCK EVERLASTING (Original Broadway Cast Recording) are currently available for purchase on iTunes and Amazon, with physical copies slated for release on July 1.
WAITRESS - This cute as pie and just as sweet musical scooped up four Tony nominations: Best Musical, Best Original Score, Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role of a Musical for Jesse Mueller, and Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Musical for Christopher Fitzgerald. While the show faces steep competition in the forms of HAMILTON and Laura Benanti, I don't know if any one would be upset if Jesse Mueller takes home her second Tony for this role. Despite Sara Bareilles's charming and somewhat radio-ready score (think songs like "When He Sees Me," "I Didn't Plan It," and "She Used to Be Mine"), it is pretty safe to say she won't be taking home the Tony. Despite this, the music of WAITRESS is worth repeated listening. DMI Soundtracks/Warner-Elektra-Atlantic has released digital copies of WAITRESS (Original Broadway Cast Recording) to iTunes and Amazon, with physical copies scheduled for release on July 1. Likewise, Epic Records released Sara Bareilles's album What's Inside: Song from Waitress, and it can be purchased from iTunes, Amazon, and elsewhere music is sold.
THE COLOR PURPLE - This revival has a lot of steam and buzz behind it. It clinched four Tony nominations for Best Revival of a Musical, Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role of a Musical for Cynthia Erivo, Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role of a Musical for Danielle Brooks, and Best Direction of a Musical for John Doyle. Many are predicting the show will take home a Tony for Best Revival of a Musical and that Cynthia Erivo will win too. The paired down score, beautifully captured on Broadway Records' THE COLOR PURPLE (New Broadway Cast Recording) is a must have for any Broadway fan. It's simply impossible not be entirely swept away by the evocative and rich music. Enrivo and Brooks shine on the album, and Jennifer Hudson as Shug Avery left many spellbound. The album is available for purchase from Broadway Records' online store here, iTunes, Amazon, and elsewhere music is sold.
DAMES AT SEA - This Broadway revival got mixed-to-negative reviews and seems to already be forgotten by most theatergoers; therefore, it's no surprise that the show wasn't given a cast recording. Yet, Randy Skinner did earn the show its only Tony nomination - a nod for Best Choreography. The musical is a parody of the flashy, chorus girl laden movie musicals of the 1930s and tells the story of a chorus girl originally from the Midwest who becomes a star after stepping into a role on Broadway. The jazzy score features music by Jim Wise and lyrics by George Hamisohn and Robin Miller. Fans of the music should look no further than Masterworks Broadway's 1992 re-release of DAMES AT SEA (1968 Original Off-Broadway Cast Recording), which can be purchased from iTunes and Amazon. Or, if London casts are more your flavor, check out Masterworks Broadway's 2015 re-release of DAMES AT SEA (Original London Cast Recording), which can be purchased from iTunes and Amazon.
FIDDLER ON THE ROOF - The latest revival of the cherished classic earned three Tony nominations: Best Revival of a Musical, Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role of a Musical for Danny Burstein, and Best Choreography for Hofesh Shechter. The show's best chance at winning an award is for Shechter's work; however, many predict that Savion Glover will take home that prize. Regardless, Jerry Bock's score for FIDDLER ON THE ROOF continues to be a timeless treat, and this cast's somewhat austere and highly nuanced treatment of the score was expertly captured by Broadway Records. FIDDLER ON THE ROOF (2016 Broadway Cast Recording) can be purchased from Broadway Records' online store, iTunes, Amazon, and elsewhere music is sold.
SHE LOVES ME - Sometimes a sentimental and sappy musical revival truly surprises you, and that's exactly what happened when I took in a performance of Roundabout Theatre Company's SHE LOVES ME. Earning eight well-deserved nominations, this show is up for Best Revival of a Musical, Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role of a Musical for Zachary Levi, Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role of a Musical for Laura Benanti, Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role of a Musical for Jane Krakowski, Best Scenic Design of a Musical for David Rockwell, Best Costume Design of a Musical for Jeff Mahshie, Best Direction of a Musical for Scott Ellis, and Best Orchestrations for Larry Hochman. It's best chances at winning are Benanti and Rockwell, with the later truly deserving of the trophy for his jewel box set that features work done in relief on the cityscape background. Moreover, the cast and orchestra perform this score with aplomb, earning all the times the critics lauded this show as perfect. Sure the show is saccharine sweet, but sometimes you just crave delicious vanilla ice cream. And when that itch needs to be scratched, the 2016 revival of SHE LOVES ME simply can't be beat. Ghostlight Records released SHE LOVES ME (2016 Broadway Cast Recording), and it can be purchased from their online store here, iTunes, and Amazon, with physical copies slated for a July 8 release.
SPRING AWAKENING - The absolutely stunning Deaf West revival of SPRING AWAKENING earned Tony nominations for Best Revival of a Musical, Best Lighting Design of a Musical for Ben Stanton, and Best Direction of a Musical for Michael Arden. As much as I loved this production, I don't foresee it winning any of these awards, as competition in these categories this year is so steep. Yet, the greatest disappointment regarding this production is that a cast album has not been announced, and it seems extremely unlikely to get one. As theater nerds know well, the 2006 Broadway Cast Recording of SPRING AWAKENING (available on iTunes, Amazon, and elsewhere music is sold) was recorded before the show was frozen, so the orchestrations and lyrics do not match the final Broadway product. Then, this version of the show included more new orchestrations, added a male vocal line to "Whispering," and other small tweaks to make the music all the more lush and gorgeous. One can hope that the upcoming national tour will be recorded for DVD or something similar, preserving the production and its music in a way that can be enjoyed outside of New York Public Library's Theatre on Film and Tape archive at Lincoln Center.