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BroadwayWorld's End of Year CD Roundup - Your Last Chance for Stocking Stuffers!

Happy Holidays Everyone!   Well … here it is … our BIGGEST CD coverage EVER and just in time for some last minute "stocking-stuffer" inspiration … even though a few of these are better used as coal, if you know what I mean. I know everyone says CDs are a thing of the past, but they really aren't – especially when you examine some of the deluxe packaging offered here. Whether it's the writing of liner notes or printed lyrics and photos, there still is nothing like "having it in your hand." The stuff that was sent to Rob over the past months is "all over the musical map." During the stagehands strike, I had the opportunity to do a lot of listening and finally throw all my collected notes into one place. Well, the strike is over, the Holidays are here … and I say, spread the music around! Great choices for party "thank-yous," gifts or to say Happy New Year! …. There IS something here for everyone … the stars, the shows, the music. Have fun.


I'LL BE HOME FOR CHRISTMAS
LAURA BELL BUNDY

Featuring WAYNE BELL and BAJA
LAB Records LLC

5 discs (out of 5) 

"OH MY GOD (oh my God, you guys!)" …  this is some LUSH offering form Laura Bell Bundy, the effervescent star of LEGALLY BLONDE.  It's very special for so many reasons: the swinging band, all the fun arrangements and the format of an old-time radio show and holiday reading by her legendary grandfather, Wayne Bell … now retired after years in radio and television.  It's a real family affair, with lots of heart and warmth and unlike any other holiday record out there.  This recording has a HUGE KENTUCKY HEART and is simply irresistible!  Also, profits from the album go to KREATIVE KIDS, founded by Ms. Bundy.  Check it out:  www.kreativekidsfoundation.org.

 

SWEENEY TODD The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
The Motion Picture Soundtrack
NONESUCH

5 discs (out of 5) 

This recording is a "must-have!"  If you want the best STAGE version recording … stick to the Broadway original with Angela Lansbury, Len Cariou and Victor Garber … it just can't be beat.  The newly recorded Motion Picture Soundtrack of the new Warner Brothers film of SWEENEY TODD – The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, is just glorious.  The performances grab you in a whole different way than you would expect … Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Alan Rickman and Sacha Baron Cohen … and I haven't even seen the film yet (which opens Friday by the way).  Particularly moving is the Toby/Mrs. Lovett scene! ("Not While I'm Around"). I am also happy to report that Jonathan Tunick and Paul Gemignani deliver up their usual "magic!"  SWEENEY just got Golden Globe nominations and looks to deliver "chills" to Holiday audiences.  Check out BWW's SWEENEY TODD "megasite" for all things SWEENEY TODD – the movie.  Also, kudos to NONESUCH for recording this. They also have great stuff on their website, including interviews with Sondheim. www.nonesuch.com

HAIRSPRAY
Soundtrack to the Motion Picture

5 discs (out of 5)
 
What can I say?  This is a NO BRAINER!  Usually, Original Broadway Cast Recordings are far superior to their movie counterparts.  Things like RENT, LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS, DREAMGIRLS, EVITA come to mind.  Well … this is an exception.  Excellent cast, performed with the right touch and recorded with the vitality of a cast album … sounding live and vivacious. 

The album has been charting and it's a welcome addition to your collection.  Another show full of energy, heart, fun and a message. By the way, the (chock full of extras) DVD was just released.


BARE
2 disc and DVD Deluxe Edition
Available only at
www.barethealbum.com

One disc (out of 5) 

Wow.  I really hate to do this, but "bare" = "bore."

What happened here?  There isn't a single "performance" on this recording and, although this is purported to be the "official" full length recording (hence, one disc rating), it's a big bore.  I found it really difficult to stay with it and watch the DVD. The New York sampler, and just about every "bootleg" version floating around out there, is better than this.  Can someone explain this to all the fans, please?  And the DVD interviews are so "coaxed" to try to explain what we are listening to.  I don't get it.  This show had so much promise and this is just "water."  It doesn't sound like a theatrical piece and even Jenna Leigh Green has been made bland.  Find a bootleg somewhere!

Spring Awakening
2006 Original Broadway Cast
Decca Broadway

5 discs (out of 5)

This recording is another NO BRAINER!!!  SPRING AWAKENING is, without a doubt, the freshest show to come down the pike in quite some time.  Duncan Sheik produced the album and it's enthralling and evocative, especially if you've seen the show.  If you haven't … introducing yourself to the score will not spoil your theatre experience.  

This is a MUST-HAVE for anyone interested in musical theatre and an original sound … that in no way strives to be Sondheim or uber pretension. My personal pick for the GRAMMY win!



The Fantasticks
The New Off-Broadway Cast  Recording
Ghostlight

1 disc (out of 5) 

We ALL love THE FANTASTICKS, but you simply cannot beat the Original Off-Broadway Cast Recording (re-issued by DECCA BROADWAY) – with Jerry Orbach, Rita Gardner and Kenneth Nelson.  The show is a timeless charmer and there is currently a newly mounted production running in the theatre district, here in New York.  The most depressing thing about this recording is the "PC" ing of it – as in "It Depends On What You Pay." Depressing …. They won't use the word "rape" … and, although I understand family entertainment and "school editions" of adult themed musicals for rental for performance rights – this is New York … AND, if it worked for all those years, then why not now?  I don't get it.  It's well recorded and packaged and performed fine … it's just not "inspired."  And if ANY musical IS "inspiring" … surely it is (was) THE FANTASTICKS!

ENCHANTED – A Walt Disney Records Soundtrack
Songs by Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz
Score by Alan Menken

5 discs (out of 5) 

This is an excellent recording, but whether you buy it or not depends on where you want to put your money … meaning here .. or wait for the eventual DVD.  The movie is fun and a smash and full of people we know and love and a lot of "inside" jokes on Disney and musicals.  The recording features the songs by Menken & Schwartz and presents the beautiful and classic film score by Menken, but I doubt it's something you'd play over and over.  Also here is the Carrie Underwood single of "Ever Ever After" and a video embedded for play on your computer. It was great fun reading who did the choral vocals – like Christina Saffran-Ashford, Gregory Jbara, Norman Large, Ann Arvia, Elizabeth Ward-Land, Brian D'arcy James, Shoshana Bean, Amick Byram, Michael Kozarin, Linda Kerns (all folks who have done plenty of time on the stage) and more.


JONATHAN sings LARSON

PS CLASSICS SPECIAL DELUXE CD/DVD PACKAGE
With THE LIBRARY OF CONGRESS SONGWRITER SERIES
 

Five discs (out of 5) 

It's difficult to describe why anyone who is a fan of RENT or TICK, TICK….BOOM! must buy this.  It is positively "encyclopedic."  If you're not a fan, but you understand artistic passion and the youthful desire to express and communicate through your art …. JONATHAN Sings LARSON is a testament to that person who yearns to make it.  I loved when PS CLASSICS put out those great SONDHEIM SINGS, Volumes 1 & 2, and I sort of thought this would be like those.  Not so.  With full family participation, a fantastic booklet of information, interview excerpts and some personal notes, in addition to lyrics, make this very special indeed.   Then there are the discs.  Well, pull up a chair and get out the tissues.  Demos, by Jonathan, for RENT, TICK, TICK … BOOM!, SUPERBIA, BOHO DAYS and more.  There's also a DVD with four tracks from a performance Jonathan gave at The Village Gate, in New York City, on November 25,1991.  God, can you imagine the irony of posthumously winning a Pulitzer Prize and a Tony Award?  All of this scrambles through your brain as you consume and absorb the offerings in this release.  I didn't know anything about these SONGWRITER SERIES releases in tandem with The Library of Congress, but they have 8 other releases in the series – two of them with PS Classics.  Go online and check 'em out.

A PLACE FOR US
A Tribute To 50 Years of WEST SIDE STORY

MASTERWORKS BROADWAY

3 discs (out of 5) 

This is a "curious" release, just pulling from "catalogue" and thrown together, to find a way to connect to the 50 Year Anniversary of the Original Broadway Production of WEST SIDE STORY.  There's nothing bad on it … it's just not a "must-have."  Here you have a stunning Brian Stokes Mitchell, the legendary Johnny Mathis & Barbra Streisand, Joshua Bell, Andy Williams, Andre Previn and some more obscure artists.  The real "mis-fire" here is throwing together Hugh Panaro and Kristin Chenoweth to sing (with what sounds like a KARAOKE track) "Tonight."  Their voices (for this song) are utterly uncompatible and I was excited to hear them … but came away disappointed. It was probably a good idea "on paper." The disc is assembled well and sounds good, but I can't recommend it very highly.

GREASE
New Broadway Cast Recording
MASTERWORKS BROADWAY

Zero discs (out of 5)

There's not a lot to say about this recording with a pic of Max Crumm and Laura Osnes on the cover.  You'll remember them (or NOT) as the "winners" of the two lead roles, from the reality television show, GREASE: YOU'RE THE ONE THAT I WANT!  This recording is just a souped-up mega-sized version of the original charming pastiche musical that swept Broadway off its feet back in 1972, after a regional and Off-Broadway run.  The film, of course, is legendary.  If you don't have GREASE in your collection .. go for the Original Broadway Cast Recording or the Film Soundtrack.


BETTY BUCKLEY 1967
Playbill Records/SONY BMG MASTERWORKS BROADWAY

5 discs (out of 5)

This album is fantastic!  What a 19 year-old Betty Lynn Buckley and her small town Texas pal, T Bone Burnett, did in a small studio with a small combo, is just jaw-dropping.  Story has it, she didn't want anyone to hear this recording (she made for a then boyfriend), 40 years ago, and hadn't listened to it since.  But thanks to some coaxing from the folks at Playbill Records, she signed on and went for the ride.  And what a ride it is …. Talk about joyous …. Let alone "the writing on the wall…"  This is a NO-BRAINER …. AND the perfect stocking-stuffer!  With songs from THE FANTASTICKS, BYE, BYE BIDIE and OLIVER! …. to pop standards and some swingin' jazz. BETTY BUCKLEY 1967  is an album you'll listen to over and over again. When was the last time THAT happened?  Also, if you go to playbillstore.com … you can order a limited VINYL 33 and 1/3 deluxe edition pressing.  It was pressed as a gift to Betty and presented by Playbill Records as "the album she never had."  How sweet is that?


MERRY FROM LENA
LENA HORNE

From the Living Legends Series
DRG/EMI Music Special Markets 

5 discs (out of 5)

What can we say, but HAPPY HOLIDAYS!  This is a re-issue of the original 1966 release on the United Artists record label.  This is GOLD folks.  A real original.  The orchestra was conducted by Jack Parnell and the album was produced by Ray Ellis.  I hope I don't need to explain more than that.  Ten classic cuts and a bonus track.  I'm giving this to everyone at every party I go to.  It's amazing. Lena hasn't been seen in awhile, not even to many close friends and this is sad indeed.  This woman is a real class act and had an amazing career and life, which was celebrated in the Broadway smash-hit: LENA, The Lady and Her Music.  I also must say that, as I was listening, I remembered when Rosie O'Donnell had her on The Rosie O'Donnell Show and just how much we miss that show – because, along with guests like Tom Cruise or a then young "budding" Britney Spears, she and John McDaniel ALWAYS made room the the "legendary" talents, such as Ms. Horne, and caught the younger generation up with true greatness.  This recording will brighten up your Holiday Collection and these kinds of albums NEVER lose their shelf life.

BROADWAY'S GREATEST GIFTS
CAROLS FOR A CURE – Volume 9

2 CD Set ROCK-IT SCIENCE RECORDS

www.rockitscience.com
www.broadwaycares.org

BENEFITS BROADWAY CARES 

5 discs (out of 5)

The gang's all here and represented "in the house" in this 9th edition of Christmas Carols sung by Cast Members of all the hottest Broadway and Off-Broadway shows.  The only "must-have" Holiday album for Theatre Afficionados, but who needs an excuse?  The perfect gift and, if you don't have Volumes 1-8, buy those, too.  Because of the hindered fund-raising efforts this season, due to the stagehands' strike, this is a great way to show support (kudos here, however, for still breaking their own fundraising record at Gypsy of the Year).  Comic numbers from casts, specialty material and heart-warmers.  My personal faves:  ROSIE'S BROADWAY KIDS singing THIS LITTLE LIGHT OF MINE, SPRING AWAKENING CAST singing WHAT CHILD IS THIS?, and (a total surprise) NAKED BOYS SINGING singing THE COVENTRY CAROL/GOD REST YE MERRY GENTLEMEN.  This collection is chock-full of joy for the Holidays!  Buy it as a gift, for a Holiday Party host … or for YOURSELF!

LEGENDS OF BROADWAY
BARBRARA COOK, ANGELA LANSBURY,
BERNADETTE PETERS, CHITA RIVERA
MASTERWORKS BROADWAY 

5 discs (out of 5)

These four CDs sort of snuck in "under the radar" without much hoopla, but I am telling you … they are GREAT last minute "stocking-stuffers!"  Masterworks Broadway has assembled these career compilations of each star and they are "must-haves" – sort of an ipod collection of faves.  And the packaging is way glamorous.  Just look at these covers!




NOT LEGENDS OF BROADWAY (yet)
JESSICA MOLASKEY (Sitting in Limbo)
ANDREA BURNS (A Deeper Shade Of Red)
LAUREN KENNEDY (Here and Now)
VICTORIA CLARK Fifteen Seconds of Grace)

PS CLASSICS

3 discs (out of 5)

First of all, let's hear it for PS CLASSICS.  They are so great about giving singers a place to record and especially give many artists we know and love their debut recordings.  It's hard to "review" these because most stage performers, given the opportunity, will try to accomplish too much and show too many colors, so the albums rarely have a FOCUS.  This is what A&R people did with legendary recording artists back in the day.  However, with the music business in the state that it is … it is understandable that each singer thinks, "Gee, I may never get to do another record" (other than a cast recording).  Each of these talented gals has their legion of fans, so I don't need to tell you which one or ones to buy.  Most importantly … I wanted to let you know that they are out there – because a lot of folks don't know.  Good work, ladies.

DAVID BURNHAM
LML Music

4 discs (out of 5) 

Boy, can this guy sing!  Everything from MOON RIVER to CLOSE EVERY DOOR and what's "in between." I remember first hearing about this young actor when a friend went to see THE LIGHT IN THE PIAZZA and saw him go on as the "understudy." She was blown away and couldn't believe he was the understudy.  David went on to star in the tour of that show, but I was surprised to learn of this album because word on the street was that legendary hit maker Desmond Child had scooped him up and was in the studio with him.  No matter …. This is a beautiful heartfelt record with no "showing off," which most first recordings are guilty of. The voice is extraordinary.  Somebody find this guy a show.  He and Cheyenne Jackson are clearly the best of this new crop of young leading men. If you're a fan, buy it.  If you're just curious …. Buy it! (At perss time, we have since learned that David Burnhan goes into the cast of WICKED on January 8).



COMPANY
2006 Broadway Revival Cast
Nonesuch

1 disc (out of 5)

This is tough because everyone loves Sondheim and this musical.  Nonesuch / PS Classics do a fantastic job of recording and packaging their albums and certainly this is worthy of "collectible" status, but you still can't beat the Original Cast Recording of COMPANY.  John Doyle's production of SWEENEY TODD worked, as it originally born out of as a result of lacking financial means, when first done across the pond.  The chamber musical approach and the idea of playing your own instruments seemed fresh and original.  COMPANY, however, is about New York City and must have that pulse, which both the production and this recording lack. It just has no gravitas. The original still "sparkles" with first-rate personalities and skillful performances in all the key roles.  Just can't give this high marks.  Sorry … especially for all you Raul Esparza fans.

LEGALLY BLONDE
2007 Original Broadway Cast
Sh-k-boom Records

5 discs (out of 5)

This is an excellent recording of the stage musical.  Superior to the stage adaptations of THE WEDDING SINGER and LITTLE WOMEN, the score flows with little effort at a breakneck pace and the lyrics don't strive to be too clever…they fit just right.  The songs tell the story very well (making it an exemplary Original Cast Recording of a Broadway Show), soars without showing off and, most importantly, has message and a heart.  The cast is overloaded with talent.  Laura Bell Bundy has somehow grown up since RUTHLESS and not been ruined by show business.  Michael Rupert is one of the most underutilized musical actors in the business. His "Blood In The Water" is a highlight of the recording.  Orfeh has always seemed to try too hard and here relaxes easily into a fun role and shows a flair for comedy.  Christian Borle continues to impress as an actor with an enormously expressive singing voice.  This show hasn't been taken too seriously, but it's a lot of fun and the CD is energetic and uplifting.


BARBARA COOK
NO ONE IS ALONE
DRG

5 discs (out of 5)

What can one say?  I have honestly now lost track of how many albums and/or appearances this glorious voiced legend has made.  This recording was released in May and is a shortened version of the November, 2006 Carnegie Hall Concert.  But, no matter, worth owning just the same.  Guest artists include Kelli O'Hara, Sebastian Arcelus, The New York Virtuoso Singers and Harold Rosenbaum.  Oh yeah … Eric Stern ( MD/Piano), John Beal (Bass) and Jack Cavari (Guitars) are here, too.  Ms. Cook recently celebrated her 80th Birthday (with MORE performances) and seems to be in brilliant condition – physically and vocally.  It does kind of astonish!  Rock on , Barbara.



Curtain
Original Broadway Cast Recording

MANHATTAN RECORDS
4 discs (out of 5)

You would have to be a curmudgeon to try to kill this – onstage or on disc.  The last Kander and Ebb (Rupert Holmes) collaboration, heroically shepherded by Scott Elliot, with a cracker-jack cast of pros.  With any other combination …. This could have spelled trouble.  A must for the collection and this show gave us a new showbiz anthem:  SHOW PEOPLE





RUFUS DOES JUDY AT CARNEGIE HALL
RUFUS WAINWRIGHT
GEFFEN RECORDS

3 discs (out of 5)

Well, I went into this with great expectation, as I remembered hearing so much about it.  I have to get my hands on the DVD (which was shot in London) because Rufus Wainwrght just doesn't have the chops to fill those fantastic orchestrations that belonged to the great Judy Garland.  He also seems a bit at odds with the dialogue.  It's certainly an interesting idea and gaily iconic in a different kind of way, but it seems the idea was better on paper.  The audience is cheering plenty here and it was recorded live, which is why I want to SEE it on DVD … but as an audio/aural experience … it's sort of an eyeball-roller.  Sorry Rufus.



110 IN THE SHADE
The 2007 Roundabout Theatre Company Broadway Revival
PS CLASSICS

3 discs (out of 5)

I'm very happy that this production happened and thrilled that Lonny Price was at the helm, with Jonathan Tunick on hand to downsize the orchestrations and Paul Gemignani conducting ... BUT this recording still can't hold a candle to the original with Inga Swenson.  We all love Audra McDonald … but Steve Kazee is a washout as Starbuck, both on stage and on record.  PS Classics delivers another excellent recording and beautiful package and a wonderful addition to any collection … just NOT definitive.




CHARLOTTE RAE SONGS I TAUGHT MY MIOTHER
Sill, Sinful & Satiric Selections
With John Strauss and his Baroque Bearcats
PS CLASSICS

5 discs (out of 5)

This CD is a WINNER! And chock-full of great audition material for clever performers. Forget thinking you jknow who she is from THE FACTS OF LIFE on TV … this woman has had an amazing career … and still shows up in concerts and benefits.  This album is just CRAZY GOOD!  The SKILL!  You can just listen over and over again and try to figure out "Why is entertainment so very different today?"  Run and get this!




JULE STYNE IN HOLLYWOOD
PS CLASSICS

3 discs (out of 5)

This recording is very uneven, but boasts a number of contemporary performers – Kelli O'Hara, Audra McDonald, Norm Lewis, Sutton Foster, Johnny Rodgers, Leslie Uggams, Philip Chaffin, Victoria Clark, Eric Comstock, The Lascivious Biddies, Jason Danieley & Marin Mazzie, Jeff Harnar, Brent Barrett and Rebecca Luker.  The wonderful thing about the CD is just hearing the wealth of material that Jule Styne wrote for Hollywood films – especially if you are only familiar with his stage musicals.





I LOVE YOU BECAUSE

A Modern Day Musical Love Story
PS CLASSICS
 

0 discs (out of 5)

I will say this.  I did listen to the ENTIRE CD.






LYRICALLY, ALAN BERGMAN
VERVE

5 discs (out of 5) 

O.K.  Kids … listen up!  You want a Master Class in song interpretation?  Well, here it is … and it is a  "must-have" and another great last minute "stocking stuffer." This recording snuck in under the radar early last Summer and is an aural pleasure.  No histrionics , smooth and communicative.  Alan and his wife Marilyn have written with the best, so the choices here of their lyrics with music by Michel Legrand, Lew Spence, Dave Grusin, Marvin Hamlisch, Johnny Mandel and Neil Diamond seem to make it even more personal.  All the greats have sung their songs – Streisand, Mathis, Diamond, Sinatra, etc., but, here, the material gets brought down to ground level and is absolutely arresting.  Do yourself a favor … get this recording and learn something from Alan Bergman about how "less really is more.

UNEXPECTED DREAMS
Songs From The Stars

RHINO

3 and 1/2 discs (out of 5)

Here is a quirky, fun and uneven record that fell into my lap through a friend. It was produced by Wayne Baruch, Charles F. Gayton and West Coast vocal guru Eric Vetro.  It's definitely worth checking out … Guess who SINGS on it?  Scarlett Johansson, Ewan McGregor, Taraji P. Henson, Jennifer Garner, Jeremy Irons, John Stamos, Lucy Lawless, Marissa Jaret Winokur, Eric McCormack, Victor Garber, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Nia Vardalos, John C. Reilly and Teri Hatcher … AND The Los Angeles Philharmonic!  Now YOU KNOW YOU WANT IT.! Amazon.com!




MARTIN SHORT FAME BECOMES ME

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