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Now Playing: Connick Jr., Murney, and Friedman

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Harry On Broadway, Act IColumbia Records
The Pajama Game
– The New Cast Recording / Thou Shalt Not

Harry Connick Jr.'s Broadway debut as a composer-lyricist back in 2001 with Thou Shalt Not received only mixed reviews. Now, five years later, he's back on Broadway in his debut as a performer in the revival of The Pajama Game. This time, he, his co-star, Kelli O'Hara, and the rest of the company and creatives have received universal acclaim. "Pajama Game" is sold out through its extended run through June 17 and the Roundabout Theatre Company has announced that the production – with new stars – will return to Broadway in the fall.


Both Connick's performance in "Pajama Game" and his work for "Thou Shalt" are preserved on Columbia Records' newly released (May 9) Harry on Broadway – Act I – a two-disc set that has the new original cast recording of "Pajama Game" on one disc, and music from "Thou Shalt" – sung by Connick and O'Hara in jazz arrangements on the second.

While I had mixed reactions to Kathleen Marshall's revival at the American Airlines, I have to admit that the recording of this new "Game" has completely charmed me. Connick playing Sid Sorokin on stage can be a little wooden, but his vocals in the production are – well, let's face it – dream-y. On disc, this quality shines beautifully as he croons through one of the show's most well-known tunes: "Hey There." Equally enjoyable are the relatively well-known "A New Town Is A Blue Town" and the more obscure "The World Around Us." (This latter tune was cut from "Game" and although recorded by the show's original star, John Raitt, it only showed up on the extended CD release of the original cast recording of the show.)


Playing Connick's love interest, Babe Williams, is Kelli O'Hara, who's making something of a departure from her previous role (Clara in The Light in the Piazza), Both in performance and on disc, O'Hara demonstrates that she's ready to move vocally and emotionally from ingénue to leading lady. There's a toughness that shines in "I'm Not At All in Love" and a lovely softness that comes through in Babe's act two reprise of "Hey There." When Connick and O'Hara are paired, they blend beautifully, particularly in "There Once Was a Man" – the song that follows Sid and Babe's admission of their feelings for one another.


The supporting cast in "Game" provides some of the most memorable moments in performance, and these have been terrifically preserved on the new cast recording. Michael McKean's droll Hines – the pajama factory's "Time Study Man" is just as droll on disc as in the theater and his duet, "I'll Never Be Jealous Again," with Roz Ryan's no-nonsense Mabel, really is quite amusing. Megan Lawrence's saucy turn during "Hernando's Hideaway" actually works better when you doesn't have to watch her contorting herself over Connick as he plays the piano. Peter Bensen, as the nerdy "Prez," delivers the randy "Her Is" with Lawrence with flair.


In addition to the restored "The World Around Us," there are a few other things that you'll notice are different about this "Pajama Game" recording. There are two other songs from Adler that have been added to the show: "The Three of Us" and "If You Win, You Lose" (which is heard during the "Hey There" reprise). In addition to these additions, you'll hear Dick Lieb and Danny Troob's new orchestrations that tweak Don Walker's originals so that the score, now sounds like an amalgam of pop music from the period. (For instance, "There Once Was a Man" now has a decidedly country twang to it while other numbers, Connick's in particular, have a blues-y jazz lilt.)


As for the second disc on Harry on Broadway, Act I, the selections from Thou Shalt Not. I think that this one will be most thoroughly enjoyed as a background jazz disc. Connick and O'Hara are both in fine voice on the disc's 11 tracks, which feature instrumentals by the Harry Connick Jr. Quartet - Charles "Ned" Goold (tenor saxophone), Neal Caine (bass), and Arthur Latin, II (drums) and Connick (piano).


Four of the tracks – "Oh My Dear (Something's Gone Terribly Wrong)," "Can't We Tell," "Such Love," and "Other Hours" – are songs that were written for the show, but not included in the production. Of these, only one stands out as something of an undiscovered gem: "Other Hours" – a haunting song of obsessive love that O'Hara delivers with a light plaintiveness. Also, "I Need To Be In Love" is heard on the original cast recording of Thou Shalt Not only as music for a ballet. On "Harry on Broadway," the lyrics for this number are included.

I imagine that the "Pajama Game" disc will be the one from this double disc set that will get the most play from me and others, but like all "b" sides from the days of 45s, the Thou Shalt Not disc will find its way into my changer and iPod from time to time.


Julia Murney"I'm Not Waiting" – Sh-K-Boom Records


At the beginning of the 2005-2006 season, Julia Murney provided one of the high spots in the ill-fated musical Lennon. Now, she is out on tour with the phenomenally successful Wicked, playing Elphaba – the (depending on your point of view) Wicked or Good Witch of the West. On her new solo disc, she's included numbers from both of these shows. There's "Beautiful Boy" – John Lennon's touching tune written after the birth of his son as well as "I'm Not That Girl" – in which Elphaba realizes that she'll never be the type of girl that Fiyero will fall for. These two songs, though not heard in succession on the disc, are indicative of just one of the many types of songs at which Murney is so adept – lightly melancholy yet simultaneously upbeat and strong.


On this 11 track disc, you'll get a chance to hear Murney in all of her various other vocal incarnations – from pop (a gloriously phrased and powerful rendition of Bobbie Gentry's "Fancy") to more refined cabaret style (the slyly ironic "Perfect" from Tom Kitt). Murney includes two songs from the show with which she might be most strongly identified – Andrew Lippa's The Wild Party. There's "Raise the Roof" – which, before getting to the sound I associate with the original recording, has a new, sort of psychedelic, introduction from arranger Michael Gibson. Also on the disc is "When I First Met Him" – a song cut from the show, but in which fans of "Party," will hear motifs that survive.


The title track of the disc comes from Lippa; it's a specialty number that he wrote for Murney and it's a fascinating look at a lover's ambivalence. The disc is rounded out with songs from Susan Werner, Joni Mitchell and Tom Waits – and even though the tracks are variously arranged – by Gibson, Kitt and Stephen Oremus – the disc's producer has made it seem that this disparate selection of tunes sounds of a piece. If you're not paying attention to each song's original intent, you might even begin to hear a song cycle emerging on "Not Waiting."

The disc is accompanied by a lovely booklet in which lyrics for several of the songs are included and in which Murney as well as Lippa and Kitt share personal thoughts on the selections. For those who have experienced Murney's dynamicism on stage, "I'm Not Waiting" will serve as a reminder of her extraordinary versatility and power as a performer. For those who have yet to see her in performance, this disc will only spur them to search her out.


Maria Friedman – Now and Then – Sony Records/BMG

Now through June 3, Maria Friedman is appearing at New York City's Café Carlyle in her critically acclaimed show "Maria Friedman Sings Stephen Sondheim." Her new disc preserves three of her interpretations of this composer/lyricist's songs in addition to serving up 11 other tunes from a diverse group, ranging from Richard Rodgers to Kate Bush, from Cole Porter to Michel Legrand.

Friedman begins with "I Happen To Like New York" – in which she begins softly, almost as if shell-shocked, and ends exuberantly. Following this standard is Friedman's eerie and haunting rendition of Bush's "The Man With The Child In His Eyes." Friedman's delicious interpretations of the Rodgers and Hart standard "My Romance" and the equally ubiquitous "The Man That Got Away" from Arlen and Mercer are marked by their cunning simplicity and perfect emotional arcs.

As for the Sondheim interpretations, they are the highlights of "Now and Then." "Finishing the Hat" from Sunday in the Park with George has been given a new arrangement by Michael Starobin that shifts from being obsessively insistent to almost transcendentally euphoric, a combination of emotions that Friedman deftly navigates in her sublime vocals. With "Broadway Baby" (from Follies) track, you'll be able to hear her interpretation which was appropriately described as "stealthy" by Stephen Holden in The New York Times. In the third Sondheim offering, "Children and Art," you'll hear Friedman accompanied by Sondheim himself. Here, she delicately and achingly glides through the character's late-life memories and present-day observations even as she caresses each of the minor shifts in Sondheim's melody. 

As deft as Friedman is with these songs, it would be unfair to not compliment the grace that she brings to Jacques Brel's "If You Go Away" and her infinite melancholy charm that you'll hear in "Smile" (music Charles Chaplin, lyrics John Turner and Geoffrey Parsons).

Friedman's stint on Broadway in The Woman in White was all too brief and her appearances at the Carlyle are just as fleeting. For me, it's simply a pleasure to know that "Now and Then" rests on the CD rack and that I have the option of immersing myself in the beauty of Friedman's work throughout the year.


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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...)