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Now Playing: Charles Cochran, James Donegan, Kevin Spirtas

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For this week's column, I thought I would take a look at three relatively recent male vocal releases.

Charles Cochran – Live in New York with Steve Gilmore, Bass – Lanierhall Records

Cochran's disc, which is a recording of a performance at Danny's Skylight Room in Manhattan, takes the listener back to an era in which one could listen to tunes being delivered in Cochran's sly, wonderfully insinuating style while smoke swirled around one's head.

It's appropriate that Cochran opens the disc with two tunes from Cy Coleman – a composer equally at home in the theater or in jazz clubs. Cochran brings suave smoothness to both "On the Side of the Other Side of the Tracks" from Little Me and "My How the Time Goes By" (both with lyrics by the inimitable Carolyn Leigh).

Cochran doesn't include any more Coleman on "Live," but what a grand diversity of music follows these two songs – Cole Porter's "Dream Dancing," and Irving Berlin's "Falling out of Love Can be Fun" and "You Keep Coming Back Like a Song" (from Miss Liberty and the movie "Blue Skies" respectively). The Leonard Bernstein-Betty Comden-Adolph Green collaboration is represented with a song from On the Town, "Lucky to Be Me," and you'll also find work from James Van Heusen, Al Siegel, and Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane.

Throughout, Cochran gives each melody a luxurious and leisurely interpretation, both vocally and on the piano, where his improvisations blend marvelously with bassist Steve Gilmore.

One of the disc's most pleasant tracks comes at its center – it's Cochran's own "I Love You Again" – a deliciously incisive and melancholy (and slightly ironic) paean to the regret that one can often feel after the end of a relationship. When Cochran introduces the tune, he says that it was originally on an album he wrote with Sir Richard Rodney Bennett. I've already begun tracking that recording down.

James Donegan – So Much Spring PlayWell Records (also on iTunes)

On this disc's 13 tracks, Donegan displays a charming, often delightful felicity, with a wide variety of musical theater tunes. The first track on So Much Spring is "The Spark of Creation" from Children of Eden, which Donegan delivers with a clarion tone and almost exultant exuberance. I'll admit to never having been a fan of this show, but after hearing Donegan's rendition, I was forced to pull out the original cast recording to reassess the entirety of "Eden."

From this auspicious beginning, Donegan with ease from the jazz-y "Easy Money" from The Life to the pop-sounding ballad "A Breeze Off the River" from The Full Monty, in which Donegan uses his light tenor to bring out the full emotion in composer/lyricist David Yazbeck's song.

Donegan includes two Sondheim numbers on "Spring" – "Finishing the Hat" from "Sunday in the Park…" and "No More" from Into the Woods. In each instance, Donegan reshapes the tunes to fit his own style and delivery even as he remains faithful to the original intent and context of the tunes.

A "power" song from one of the pop musicals of the 80s and 90s is almost de rigueur on any male solo album, and here, listeners will find Donegan delivering "Into the Fire" from The Scarlet Pimpernel. It's an impressive track, but for my money, its on tracks such as "She Cries" (from Jason Robert Brown's Songs for a New World) and "What More Can I Say?" (from William Finn's Falsettoland) that the singer really shines.

Lenny Bobbish has produced the album (with Donegan) and provided the arrangements which are wonderfully rich, without ever being intrusive. I certainly hope to hear more from Donegan.

Kevin Spirtas – Night and Days Kritzerland

This disc, recorded live at the El Portal Center in North Hollywood, displays Spirtas not only as a singer with a exceptional voice, but also an obvious charisma that thoroughly charms audiences.

Spirtas, who spent a year serving as Hugh Jackman's understudy in The Boy From Oz, structured his show as a biographical journey, and he has selected a terrific array of tunes from the American Songbook and the world of pop ("Jailhouse Rock"). Every now and then, he throws in a cabaret standard, but not necessarily a tune that one thinks of as a true "standard." A perfect example is his beautifully delivered "Sometimes a Day Goes By" (from Woman of the Year).

Included on the disc is the patter that Spirtas included during the performance in between songs. He delivers this material so genuinely that in addition to contextualizing the songs, it feels as if he's really opening up to the listener. For instance, when he sings "I Can Do That" from A Chorus Line (the show in which he made his Broadway debut at 18), he jokes about the difficulty of doing the dance that accompanies the song now that he's grown older.

Spirtas' sense of humor is best heard during his revision to "One Day More" from "Les Mis." The new lyrics here delightfully encapsulates his frustration with multiple auditions for that show in addition to life as on the NBC Soap Opera "The Days of Our Lives."

While this track (along with the "Mega-Musical Medley" that includes songs from "Phantom", "Sunset" and "Saigon") displays Spirtas' powerfully rich voice, it's when he adopts a softer style that I find him most irresistible (particularly "I've Never Been in Love Before" from Guys and Dolls).

I think that it's terrific that Spirtas not only includes "My Fortune is My Face" (Jack Cassidy's specialty number from Fade In/Fade Out), he also makes the tune his own. Also, a wonderful inclusion is Cy Coleman and David Zippel's "With Every Breath I Take" from City of Angels.

Spirtas closes the disc (and his show) with a medley of tunes that were used in "Oz." Based on what's on this disc, it would have been something to have seen him do that demanding show at least once.


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From This Author Andy Propst

Andy Propst is founder of AmericanTheaterWeb.com (ATW), a nationally recognized theatrical news and production database. In addition to his writing for and editing of ATW, (read more...)