SOUND OFF: 2014 Holiday Round-Up! 25+ Must-Own Theatre Items
Today we are revisiting the very best theatre-related items released in 2014 in honor of the holiday shopping season being upon us.SIX BY SONDHEIM Available on DVD & Amazon Instant For many theatre enthusiasts, 2015 has been largely about the hotly anticipated release of the star-studded Disney feature film version of popular fairy tale musical INTO THE WOODS on December 25, especially for fans of Stephen Sondheim. Yet, both those new to his oeuvre and familiar fans will find a plethora of positives to proclaim about this simply spectacular HBO documentary directed by INTO THE WOODS and SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE Sondheim collaborator James Lapine - SIX BY SONDHEIM. The 6 sensational musical sequences contained within it alone are worth the price of purchase - including a performance cameo by the sage songwriter himself; not to mention Audra McDonald, Jeremy Jordan and Darren Criss - though the astute observations offered by Sondheim throughout the proceedings, utilizing fascinating vintage footage and some newly recorded material, make for a true treasure trove for those seeing further insight into the work of Broadway's most important living artist. If you ever wanted to introduce someone special in your life to the world of Stephen Sondheim, this is an ideal way to do so.
PETER PAN LIVE!
Available on CD & DVD
The yearly NBC live musical telecast has now become a holiday tradition following the resounding success of THE SOUND OF MUSIC LIVE! starring Carrie Underwood last year and this year's PETER PAN LIVE! serves up yet another colorful, lively, family-friendly affair, this time starring Allison Williams and Christopher Walken alongside Broadway stalwarts Christian Borle, Kelli O'Hara and Taylor Louderman. The classic Jerome Robbins-shepherded musical about a boy who won't grow up comes alive in a whole new way thanks to the inventive adjustments by Amanda Green (daughter of iconic original co-lyricist Adolph Green), plucky staging by Rob Ashford (also of last year's SOUND OF MUSIC LIVE!) and compelling camerawork used throughout, while a few delightful musical additions give us new performances to treasure all the while, especially byway of Louderman and O'Hara. PETER PAN LIVE! proves we really don't have to grow up - at least not for three hours.
BILLY ELLIOT: THE MUSICAL LIVE
Available on UK DVD & Blu-ray
One of the most visually striking and emotionally charged film preservations of a musical to date, the hit Fathom Events presentation of the Olivier Award- and Tony Award-winning screen-to-stage adaptation of BILLY ELLIOT dazzles on Blu-ray thanks to stage and film director Stephen Daldry's attentive utilization of both mediums for the project. Furthermore, Elton John and Lee Hall's befitting score positively pops in moments such as the electrifying "Electricity", the exuberant "Expressing Yourself" and the handful of Ruthie Henshall-led sequences that land with a resounding bang, especially "Born To Boogie". Plus, "The Letter" has never been more effective as it is enacted here. That is all without even mentioning the vital and stunning balletic moments and jaw-dropping choreography and musical staging used throughout the proceedings. NOTE: Only the Blu-ray will play in all regions, the DVD is UK only.
FROM HERE TO ETERNITY: THE MUSICAL
Available on UK DVD & CD
BILLY ELLIOT was not the only live musical to hit the silver screen in an HD filming courtesy of Fathom Events this year, as Tim Rice and Stuart Brayson's powerful and complex new West End musical take on the enduring James Jones novel upon which the Academy Award-winning Best Picture was based, FROM HERE TO ETERNITY, arrived, as well. Featuring a tremendous central performance by Robert Lonsdale and a trunk overflowing with tuneful melodies and juicy dramatic twists, not to mention a stylish and gripping overall staging and engrossing multi-camera presentation showing off the sexy and talented cast, FROM HERE TO ETERNITY is a sophisticated adult musical with a throbbing heartbeat underneath all the sweaty action that is highly worth recommending for those seeking out something atmospheric and theatrically sophisticated with a pronounced throwback tone. After all, nobody spins a lyric or tells a tale in quite the same idiosyncratic manner as Tim Rice does. Plus, "Fight The Fight" is one of the strongest musical theatre songs of the new millenium. A winner.
THE NORMAL HEART
Available on DVD & Blu-ray
GLEE and AMERICAN HORROR STORY mastermind Ryan Murphy's sensitive, searing and propulsive stage-to-screen realization of Larry Kramer's Tony Award-winning AIDS era drama THE NORMAL HEART is a consistently thrilling and pungent film adaptation of one of the most effective and powerful poltically-informed plays of the last 30 years, stuffed full of impressive performances by an accomplished cast including Mark Ruffalo, Matt Bomer, Taylor Kitsch, Jim Parsons, Joe Mantello, Alfred Molina, Jonathan Groff and Julia Roberts, among others. An HBO film to stand among the very best - which, in itself, is high praise, no doubt - retelling an all-too real recent history almost too horrific to even contemplate today, less than 30 years after it all actually happened right here in America, THE NORMAL HEART is impossible to forget viewed only once - and, without a doubt, it is a surefire masterpiece worth returning to in the future.
INTO THE WOODS Original Broadway Cast Available on DVD & Blu-ray Yes, it really is all about INTO THE WOODS this holiday season - and, let's be honest, for very good reason. Truth be told, it is not common that a Disney movie musical featuring a score by Stephen Sondheim and a cast this starry arrives for mass consumption (or otherwise) - and, given the current popularity of fairy tales as well as the star-wattage of those assembled for this cinematic adaptation of the multi-Tony Award-winning 1987 Broadway hit - Meryl Streep, Johnny Depp, Chris Pine and Anna Kendrick included - INTO THE WOODS is poised to bring a musical theatre classic to an entirely new generation in a big, big way. So, revisit what made the original production directed by James Lapine so special and noteworthy with this newly restored version of the Tony Award-winning original starring Joanna Gleason, Chip Zien and Bernadette Peters, arriving for the very first time on Blu-ray. Wishes do come true.
BROADWAYWORLD.COM VISITS OZ - Various Artists
Available on CD & DVD
As many here may remember, BroadwayWorld celebrated its 10th anniversary earlier this year with an unprecedented series of concert events at legendary NYC cabaret venue Joe's Pub and it all began with this inventive and idiosyncratic evening focused on the musicals and songs arising from L. Frank Baum's wonderful world of Oz - THE WIZARD OF OZ to THE WIZ to WICKED and far beyond. Directed by Richard Jay-Alexander and Marybeth Abel, BROADWAYWORLD.COM VISITS OZ featured several showstopping moments by some of Broadway brightest stars such as Norm Lewis, Sierra Boggess and Mandy Gonzalez on some well-known emerald city hits and new discoveries. A trip over the rainbow well worth taking - on both CD and DVD. And, it all goes to a very good cause. It's a win/win for everybody involved.
WHERE THE SKY ENDS: THE SONGS OF MICHAEL MOTT - Various Artists
Available on CD
One of the biggest musical discoveries of 2014 has been pop and theatrical composer/lyricist Michael Mott, who was represented on a stunning compilation album of material written for the stage and the recording studio and released via Broadway Records earlier this year, WHERE THE SKY ENDS. Containing a wealth of wildly entertaining material ranging from rib-tickling comedy to heartrending emotion, the earworm-ready songstack is matched in its shiny appeal and expansive scope by the estimable ensemble assembled to present it - Jeremy Jordan, Laura Osnes, Zachary Levi, Ben Fankhauser, Orfeh and many more among them. Rarely does a new songwriter emerge in the theatrical realm with such a strong, passionate, assured way with a melody and Mott proves with this release (and a subsequent dancefloor-ready remix EP) that he is likely to be a formidable presence to be reckoned with in the future and both the worlds of Broadway and pop should anticipate whatever he creates next with ears and hearts wide open. A treasure trove.
INTO THE WOODS: Motion Picture Soundtrack - Various Artists
Available on CD
It has taken nearly 30 years to bring Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine's seminal fairy tale deconstruction musical INTO THE WOODS to the silver screen, but, judging by both the sights (as recounted in my extensive Sound Off review here) and the sounds, as heard here on the deluxe edition of the soundtrack for the Rob Marshall-directed film, it was certainly well worth the wait. Stage and screen icon Meryl Streep is at her absolute theatrical best as The Witch, which is definitely saying something, bringing Sondheim's score to heavenly new heights with her showstopping musical selections, while the rest of the starry cast hit their marks head on in their roles, as well, imbuing each and every moment with wit, warmth, wisdom and thoughtfulness. The score has never sounded better and the new orchestral interludes included on the deluxe edition make that the must-own version of the soundtrack for one of the finest movie musicals ever made. Yes, it's that good.
700 SUNDAYS Available on DVD & Amazon Instant Scoring yet another theatre-centic hit, cable TV supreme champion HBO also generously treated viewers to a recent Broadway one-man success headlined by familiar stage and screen face Billy Crystal in the form of his hit hometown homage 700 SUNDAYS earlier this year. Evoking an achingly and amusingly nostalgic glance back at a time gone by and the vivid characters populating his childhood memories of a bustling, brash and busy Jewish neighborhood in New York City, Crystal conjures up a palpable and entertaining recollection of a specific and evocative time in the not too distant past while also consistently tickling our funny bones in the process of telling the many hilarious and touching tales of family, life, love - and, of course, baseball. Yes, a whole lot of baseball. All told, 700 SUNDAYS is a heart-warming and winning entry for all ages and faith backgrounds to enjoy this holiday season - even if you're not generall a baseball fan (or Crystal fan, for that matter).
HAVE FAITH by Mary Testa & Michael Starobin Available on CD Aerosmith and Alanis Morissette to Bjork and the Beach Boys, Broadway regular Mary Testa and acclaimed orchestrator Michael Starobin team up to create a wholly unique sonic experience in their new release HAVE FAITH. Ostensibly a concept album about the journey of a soul through life, the ecclectic song selections are expertly matched by the reliably soulful and smartly accented singing of Testa and the striking arrangements by Starobin, magnified further by the moving and introspective tone that ranges from sheer hilarity to deep sadness, anger, questioning and eventually euphoria. A true gem and one of the absolute best albums of the year. Three Michael John LaChiusa songs are all standouts, as is a rousing cover of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" among the many highlights on the all-around impeccable album.
Available on CD
One of the biggest Broadway breakout stories of the year, Idina Menzel reached new career highs between the opening of her new Broadway show IF/THEN and the unparalleled worldwide success of the Disney animated movie musical FROZEN, in which she performs the indisputable worldwide song of the year, "Let It Go". Capitalizing on the wintry theme of FROZEN, Menzel followed up those two successes with this stupendous new holiday album that is an absolute pleasure from beginning to end. Containing many classic Christmas songs such as "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas" and "Holly Jolly Christmas", Menzel also explores the mournful Joni Mitchell ballad "River" and partners with Michael Buble for an endearing "Baby, It's Cold Outside". "December Prayer" is a glittery new musical ornament to add to the holiday song tree, too.
HOLIDAY WISHES by Idina Menzel
CHRISTMAS IN NEW YORK by Renee Fleming Available on CD Opera diva supreme and upcoming headliner of the new Met production of THE MERRY WIDOW directed by Susan Stroman, Renee Fleming revisits some holiday standards and puts her own characteristically elegant and graceful spin on this pristine new release, CHRISTMAS IN NEW YORK. Additionally, Kelli O'Hara, Chris Botti, Rufus Wainwright, Wynton Marsalis, Gregory Porter and Kurt Elling are also on hand to provide friendly and festivious complement to her sterling instrument. Expectedly, Fleming simply shines throughout, particularly on the striking new track penned especially for this release by Diane Warren. Other highlights on the soothing and sonorous new release include a lovely "Christmas Waltz" and jaunty "The Man With The Bag". Jazzy, jubilant and joyful.
CAROLS FOR A CURE 2014 - Various Artists Available on CD The annual BC/EFA holiday charity compilation hits a homerun once again this year, with the superb new 2-disc set produced by Lynn Pinto. Highlighting a number of brand new musical selections as well as many holiday favorites and some more obscure seasonal songs, the wide range of material present on the new CAROLS FOR A CURE: Volume 16 acts as a welcome reminder of the diversity of casts in many shows currently running on Broadway, as well. Besides comedic pieces led by Perez Hilton and Sherri Shepherd, album standouts include rock royalty Sting joining cast-members from THE LAST SHIP for the earworm "Soul Cake" and the cast of MOTOWN shining on two strong selections, "Another Christmas Eve" and the newly written anthem "I Am Here".
AMERICAN MUSICALS: The Complete Book & Lyrics Of 16 Broadway Classics, 1927 - 1969 Available here The show titles themselves basically say it all: SHOW BOAT, AS THOUSANDS CHEER, PAL JOEY, OKLAHOMA!, ON THE TOWN, FINIAN'S RAINBOW, KISS ME, KATE, SOUTH PACIFIC, GUYS AND DOLLS, THE PAJAMA GAME, MY FAIR LADY, GYPSY, A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM, FIDDLER ON THE ROOF, CABARET and 1776. Yes, now is your opportunity to finally own the complete librettos for each and every one of these legendary mainstage musicals amassed all in one place for this scholarly new two-volume collection courtesy of the Library Of America. Whether introducing these essential texts to a new Broadway fan on your holiday list who may be curious about the history of musical theatre or adding these canonical texts to your own theatre book collection, the complete books and lyrics for these 16 Broadway classics undoubtedly belong on every Broadway baby's bookshelf - all 1600 well-preserved, glorious pages of them. Like many of the items on today's gift-giving guide, this is a present that keeps on giving perpetually - whether given to yourself or someone special on your list; or, maybe both.
JERSEY BOYS Available on DVD & Blu-ray Although INTO THE WOODS seems to have stolen some of the prospective thunder from the other movie musical adaptations released this year due to its impossibly starry assemblage of talent, the Tony Award-winning Best Musical JERSEY BOYS was also given the cinematic treatment earlier this year via actor/director Clint Eastwood. Led by the Tony Award-winning original stage star John Lloyd Young as Frankie Valli and featuring PETER PAN LIVE!'s Christopher Walken as well as several stage Jersey Boys from various productions over the years (Mike Doyle, Erich Bergen and Michael Lomenda) it unfortunately lacks much of the effervescent pop, ceremonial pomp and general dramatic and visual pizzazz of its Broadway counterpart yet should nevertheless prove worth at least a look for Four Seasons fans of all inclinations - whether or not they have been lucky enough to see the more exciting and involving stage version.
ANNIE: 2014 Original Motion Picture Soundtrack - Various Artists Available On CD Even more controversial than the big screen edition of JERSEY BOYS, the updated and significantly reworked feature film remake of seminal family favorite ANNIE boasts several new songs by pop hitmaker Sia as well as many tweaks to the classic Charles Strouse/Martin Charnin score and general musical as it is known and loved. Yes, there is "Tomorrow", but also a sprightly new showstopper in the form of "Opportunity". Miss Hannigan also gets a new song, while "Easy Street" has been reconceptualized. Quvenzhane Wallis earned a Golden Globe nomination for her turn as the titular orphan - or, as she is now in the 2014 version, foster kid. Jamie Foxx, Cameron Diaz, Rose Byrne and Bobby Cannavale round out the cast, with Byrne emerging as a pleasing standout and Diaz giving her comedic all.
HEDWIG & THE ANGRY INCH - Original Broadway Cast Recording Available on CD Rocking Broadway in a whole new way, John Cameron Mitchell and Stephen Trask's daring and innovative punk performance piece HEDWIG & THE ANGRY INCH took the Great White Way by storm earlier this year, winning multiple TONY AWARDS including Best Revival Of A Musical and Best Actor In A Musical. Hear why Neil Patrick Harris won the hearts, souls and ears of audiences and critics alike with his passionate portrayal of a witty and vengeful gender-bending German expat on a path of self-discovery. Gaudy, grand, grungy and ingenious - and better than you've ever seen (or heard) her before. Plus, newly crowned Tony Award-winner Lena Hall brings a fresh ferocity to her own transgender character, too. A knock-out. MISS SAIGON: The Definitive Live Recording - West End Cast Recording Available on CD While it has not yet crossed the pond, uber producer Cameron Mackintosh celebrated the 15-year anniversary of long-running Vietnam-set mega-musical MISS SAIGON with a brand new production in the West End earlier this year and the entire production can now be experienced via a comprehensive live recording of the revised new version of the show, containing a new song for the character of Ellen ("Maybe") as well as countless lyrical alterations to reflect the darker, more gritty take on the tragic tale inspired by Puccini's MADAME BUTTERFLY. It's the next best thing to seeing it live while fans await the return of "The American Dream" musical on Broadway. Notably, newcomer Eva Noblezada shines in the role of Kim, while Jon Jon Briones offers a valid new take on the Engineer. PARTNERS by Barbra Streisand Available on CD The diva of all divas, Barbra Streisand, joined with a dozen fellow recording industry heavyweights to create the new duets album PARTNERS and the results are outright magnificent to behold. A Gershwin-flecked new take on Billy Joel's "New York State Of Mind" with the songwriter himself; a bossa nova rethinking of "People" from FUNNY GIRL with Stevie Wonder; a dramatic and breathtaking "What Kind Of Fool" with John Legend; a rousing Michael Buble pairing ("It Had To Be You"); plus a playful John Mayer pairing ("Come Rain Or Come Shine") and a prayerful Josh Groban ("Somewhere") performance, both representing the next generation, too. PARTNERS is a potent and repeat-worthy release in line with Streisand's finest and expectedly exceptional recent work on disc, made even more magical by the inclusion of these many male music superstars. CHEEK TO CHEEK by Lady Gaga & Tony Bennett Available on CD Pairing one of the most anomalous and outré pop artists of the 21st century with arguably the greatest living jazz singer of the 20th century was a risk that paid off royally with the Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett duet showcase CHEEK TO CHEEK. Cole Porter, the Gershwins, Cy Coleman and Irving Berlin inform the Great American Songbook songstack assembled for the instant classic and each and every track is truly worth treasuring and revisiting time and time again. As unexpectedly enjoyable as it is effortlessly entertaining, CHEEK TO CHEEK is the best album of 2014 and one that theatre fans can appreciate thanks to the lively and loving performances as heard on the CD and as can be seen in the live concert originally shown on PBS and now also available to order on DVD and Blu-ray (though not released until January, sadly).
COMING HOME by Kristin Chenoweth Available on CD An instantly recognizable and unmistakably popular leading lady who made a mark with a live recording and PBS special earlier this year is Broadway baby Kristin Chenoweth, who returned to her birthplace of Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, to sing some of her best-loved showstoppers and some new and surprising tunes for a hometown crowd. Ranging from WICKED to THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA to CABARET to disco, country and pop, Chenoweth exhibits her estimable versatility while winning over the appreciative and vocal audience with her cute and charming rapport. Fans new and old will find much to love about this entertaining recording by Broadway royalty. 25 SELECTED FAVORTIES by Stephen Sondheim Available here What Stephen Sondheim song have you always wanted to sing? Or, what Stephen Sondheim song have you always wanted to play? With a brand new collection of sheet music personally selected by the musical theatre master himself for this new compendium of sheet music, any of these gems is well worth revisiting - or, perhaps, performing for the very first time. "Send In The Clowns" from A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC to "Broadway Baby" and "Losing My Mind" from FOLLIES to "Not A Day Goes By" from MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG, and, of course, a bite or two SWEENEY TODD, these are the best of the best songs from Broadway's most respected and celebrated composer and lyricist - and it's clear to hear why. Honestly, it would be difficult to find a more justifiable reason to purchase something on this list than that - the chance to own the actual sheet music of the greatest musical theatre music of the last 50 years. Invaluable.
THE LAST SHIP: LIVE AT THE PUBLIC THEATER by Sting Available on DVD Gordon Matthew Thomas Sumner aka Sting returned to the Great White Way after a multi-decade absence earlier this month by taking on a major role in his own self-penned historically-based new musical THE LAST SHIP, while also performing selections from the show as it stands and some worthwhile but ultimately excised material from it as part of a PBS special. Now, a DVD of the special titled THE LAST SHIP: LIVE AT THE PUBLIC THEATER arrives on shelves. The plucky earworm "What Say You, Meg?" is one of many highlights in a moody, melodic and ethereal score, highlighted by Sting's reliably deft and accomplished musicianship and further magnified by his magnetic onstage presence in the DVD edition, recorded live at the Public Theater in NYC.
RODGERS & HAMMERSTEIN'S CINDERELLA Available on DVD Although a fresh new take on the Rodgers & Hammerstein classic CINDERELLA is currently running on Broadway, a family favorite from the 1960s was lovingly restored and presented on DVD for the very first time in the form on this new 50th anniversary release of the Lesley Ann Warren iteration of CINDERELLA, now on DVD. With a lilting and lovable score containing treasures such as "My Own Little Corner" and "Ten Minutes Ago", RODGERS & HAMMERSTEIN'S CINDERELLA is certainly a wise choice for the INTO THE WOODS-phile, FROZEN-obsessed and/or general fairy tale fan on your holiday shopping list and also a potent reminder that musicals were presented on television will all-star casts long before PETER PAN LIVE! - as a matter of fact, CINDERELLA was originally written and presented as one. Of particular note, Disney fans will enjoy original Ursula of THE LITTLE MERMAID fame, Pat Carroll, as Prunella, along with Golden Age stars Walter Pidgeon, Celeste Holm and Jo Van Fleet joining in the fun, as well. Bonus: the one and only movie musical goddess Ginger Rogers as the Queen!
COME BACK TO THE FIVE & DIME, JIMMY DEAN, JIMMY DEAN Available on DVD & Blu-ray In 1982, legendary film director Robert ALTMAN assembled a formidable group of leading ladies to headline the Broadway production of the entertaining and poignant play COME BACK TO THE FIVE & DIME, JIMMY DEAN, JIMMY DEAN and the rarely seen feature film adaptation made shortly following the limited run ports over that estimable company with much success - featuring Cher, Karen Black, Sandy Dennis and Kathy Bates, no less. Highlighted by some legendary dramatic turns, the relatively lighthearted drama arrives on DVD and Blu-ray for the very first time this year and is a cause for celebration among cinephiles and theatre fans alike as a result, particularly those looking to seek out rare Altman or Cher in one of her first major dramatic acting roles (and Broadway debut, to boot). Just as this Texas group of ladies reunite to honor James Dean, perhaps Altman and/or Cher fans will find this release to be a reason to celebrate and revisit one of their hidden gems - or experience it for the first time.
MOZART IN THE JUNGLE Available on Amazon Instant Co-created by Broadway's own Alex Timbers alongside Jason Schwartzman and Roman Coppola, Amazon Prime web series MOZART IN THE JUNGLE is in many ways akin to recent NBC musical series SMASH except it is set in the classic musical world as opposed to backstage on Broadway - a behind the scenes look at the various goings-on of professional musicians as well as an examination of their personal lives and passions. Boasting Broadway legend Bernadette Peters and screen favorite Malcolm McDowell in significant featured roles and starring the charismatic Gael Garcia Bernal in the central role of a hotshot new conductor at a struggling symphony, the contemporary, cool and sexy vibe of the pilot portends well for the entire season, which will be released in full a few days before Christmas to view on Amazon Instant. MOZART IN THE JUNGLE is a fresh and fun music-centric series for the classical music buff or backstage tale treasurer on your holiday list. Or, anybody who likes juicy drama served up with a dollop of wit and fabulous music on top. And, if we are all being totally honest, who doesn't like that?!
Available on DVD
One last bonus entry on this list is one of the most memorable and prescient show business documentaries of the 21st century - ELAINE STRITCH: SHOOT ME. Chiemi Karasawa set out to follow the legendary Broadway grande dame for several months over the last few years and ultimately directed a heartrending documentary exposing the laughter, fear, joy, pain and unmistakable razzle dazzle that made Elaine Stritch one of a kind in the entertainment realm. Featuring collaborators Stephen Sondheim, Alec Baldwin, Tina Fey and Nathan Lane, among others, the one and only COMPANY headliner is finally given her cinematic due in the most compelling and involving manner possible. Her death earlier this year at the age of 89 just prior to the DVD release only adds more meaning and value to this excellent presentation. And, if you somehow missed my extensive InDepth InterView with Ms. Stritch all about it - her personal favorite interview to date, as she told me herself - it is available here. Now, let's all drink to Elaine!
ELAINE STRITCH: SHOOT ME
Happy holidays to your and yours - here's hoping 2015 has just as many marvelous theatre selections to relish and savor!