Solo CD Reviews

by John Kenrick

(Copyright 1998-2003)

Thanks to a few dedicated producers, Broadway performers are still turning out solo recordings. While cheers all such efforts, not all CD's are created equal. Here's the lowdown on the some of the best efforts so far. CD titles don't always put the artist's name first – for your convenience, I alphabetize them by last name here.

Sarah Brightman Encore

Decca Broadway/Really Useful Records

It's a crime that Broadway has not seen Sarah Brightman in anything since her socko debut in Phantom of the Opera, but she has kept fans happy over the years with an ongoing series of recordings and concerts. Ex-hubby Andrew Lloyd Webber has thrown highlights of her work in this cd, a "greatest hits"-style compilation of showtunes – most of which are composed by (surprise, surprise) Webber. Brightman's crystalline soprano soars stylishly through fifteen varied numbers. We get Italian versions of Webber's "Just One Look" and "Memory" that seem to defy those who call him a Puccini copycat – and Puccini's luscious aria "Chi Bel Sogno" is thrown in for good measure. My favorite here is a sweet (if needlessly reconstructed) version of "Away From You," a sadly overlooked jewel from Rodgers & Harick's Rex. Brightman fans who don't already own all these tracks will be delighted, and most theater fans will find plenty to enjoy.

Carol Burnett - Let Me Entertain You (Decca)

The 1961 release Carol Burnett Remembers How They Stopped the Show (included here) has a great assortment of showtunes, with the great Irwin Kostal conducting. The rest of this CD goes to Let Me Entertain You, a 1963 album of Jule Styne tunes that isn't nearly as flattering to Burnett. Not a single comic lyric in the bunch – what a waste!  Instead, Styne tried to stress lesser known songs from his flop list. But Burnett did not yet have the expertise to make the weaker numbers cook, and mediocre arrangements don't help much. A must for Burnett fans, but far from fully satisfying.

Anywhere I Wander

- Liz Callaway Sings Frank Loesser (Varese Sarabande)

The dazzling Ms. Callaway habitually stops Broadway shows, including Baby and Miss Saigon. Her CD of Loesser songs is guaranteed to delight. This lady shimmers, her soaring voice and sensitive way with a lyric making the most of every number. It is hard to pick favorites, but "Anywhere I Wander," "My Heart is So Full of You" and a delicious "Brotherhood of Man" duet with sister Ann Hampton Callaway had me cheering. A great addition to most any showtune lover's collection!

Let Yourself Go - Kristen Chenoweth

Sony Classical

Sony has given Broadway's hottest ing nue a terrific showcase here, with no less than Rob Fisher and his Coffee Club Orchestra  on hand to give this all the retro period feel one could hope for. Standards like the swinging "Let Yourself Go" and a touching "My Funny Valentine" join lesser known gems like "If You Hadn't But You Did" in a very listener-friendly mix. Jason Alexander steps in for a fun duet of the Gershwin's "Hangin' Around With You," but this is Chenoweth's show all the way. "I'm a Stranger Here Myself" never sounded better, and it's always a joy to hear "You'll Never Know" (my all-time favorite movie tune.) Sweet & sassy, hot and classy – way to go, girl!

Barbara Cook - Any CD (Any Label)

It hardly matters which recording you choose – from her first solo effort at Carnegie Hall to whatever her latest DRG release my be, Cook never fails to reinforce and expand her status as a peerless chanteuse. Her underrated Disney album is one of my favorites, but then I love them all. If for any reason you have missed her All I Ask of You (where she triumphantly revisits She Loves Me), That Champion Season (songs connected with friend Gower Champion), or any of Cook's more recent releases, stop stalling and treat yourself!

George Dvorsky - In the Still of the Night (Jay)

Despite Dvorsky's good looks and soaring tenor, he's had few hearings on Broadway. His well-deserved reputation comes mainly from socko performances on recent studio cast recordings. He opts for an intimate repertoire here, showing off his superb interpretive skills in sixteen classic Kern and Porter showtunes. "Night and Day," "The Last Time I Saw Paris" . . . all add up to a recording that is well worth owning and hearing.

You're Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile

Jason Graae Sings Charles Strouse (Varese Sarabande)

One of the most disarming comic talents in the musical theatre today, Graae has a field day in this wide-raging selection of Strouse dazzlers. I particularly enjoy "It Would Have Been Wonderful," a soaring "Once Upon a Time" and a giddy "Bye Bye Birdie" – and I can't resist his over the top take on "Applause." Lesser known songs get a fine hearing, making this a lot of fun at any price.

Jason Graae: Live at the Cinegrill

An Evening of Self-Indulgence (Fynesworth Alley)

The delectable Graae dazzles in one of the finest live cabaret shows on CD. Often hilarious, always shameless, and occasionally quite poignant, this is what great entertainment is all about. Showtunes abound, and there are several specialties guaranteed to delight.

Debbie Gravitte: The MGM Album

Part of Your World - Debbie Shapiro Gravitte Sings Alan Menken

(Varese Sarabande)

One of Broadway's finest belters, Ms. Gravitte (Tony winner for Jerome Robbins' Broadway) can soar, sizzle or smolder – a range that makes a natural fit with MGM classics and Menken's songs. Rarities like "I Want to Be a Rockette" are standouts, but its great fun to hear this lady tear into "Poor Unfortunate Souls" or "Beauty and the Beast."

Jerry Hadley - Standing Room Only & Golden Days

(RCA Victor)

Most showtune recordings by Metropolitan Opera stars are so off-base that they leave me begging for mercy, but these two by Hadley leave me begging for more! This man knows how to handle a showtune, and having the peerless Broadway conductor Paul Gemignani on hand makes this the real thing in every department. Standing Room Only runs the gamut from The Music Man to Les Miz, with sensational renditions of "She Wasn't You" and Coward's "Come the Wild, Wild Weather" along the way. Golden Days sticks to showpieces from Romberg, Herbert and Friml operettas, with memorable guest appearances by the Harvard Glee Club, Tony Randall (who is a hoot!) and a digitally resurrected Mario Lanza. Both recordings are custom made treats for those who love classic showtunes.

Judy Kaye - Diva By Diva & Songs From the Silver Screen

(Varese Sarabande)

This superb musical actress got a Tony for Phantom, but has had far too few shots at Broadway in recent years. In Diva By Diva, she struts through a dizzying array of showtunes, effortlessly switching from brass to torch as she pays tribute to the stars of Broadway's past and present. "I Loved You Once in Silence" and a jaunty march medley are two favorites, but its all top notch. Silver Screen does much the same for Hollywood legends – including a fun Astaire & Rogers medley shared with Jason Graae.

Ute Lemper - But One Day (Decca)

With her breathy jazz interpretations and eccentric pronunciations, Ute Lemper has developed an international following – but she is very much an aquired taste. In this CD she offers songs by Weill, Brel and Piazzola, as well as a few ballads of her own, all set to state of the art electrified arrangements. Amid the rarities, Lemper continues to explore the world of classic showtunes. Her take on Weill's "September Song" is startling fresh, giving an evergreen a distinctly 21st Century sound. Traditionalists will shrug, but her fans will doubtless be delighted.

Anything Goes - Rebecca Luker Sings Cole Porter

(Varese Sarabande)

Let's see – Porter songs, Larry Moore orchestrations, and one of Broadway's all-time best legit sopranos? Last time I checked, that was a great definition for heaven! From the sweet sadness of "After You Who?" to the soaring "Leader of a Big Time Band," this recording shows Luker at her best. When Brent Barrett joins her for "I Am Loved," the vocal fireworks put any show currently running to shame. Buffs will enjoy hearing Luker in several songs from High Society, the show she skipped to do the Sound of Music.

Audra MacDonald - How Glory Goes (Nonesuch)

Carousel, Ragtime and Marie Christine made it clear that Audra MacDonald was the most electrifying performer to hit Broadway in 1990's. Here she offers sterling renditions of fourteen stage and screen ballads, ranging from standards ("Bill," "The Man That Got Away") to little-known gems like the title track (from Floyd Collins). Rich, lush, often soaring into the vocal stratosphere – this is Broadway at its grandest, and her "When Did I Fall in Love" from Fiorello takes my breath away every time I hear it. Get, enjoy, and join the movement to have Congress declare this lady a living national treasure.

Christiane Noll - A Broadway Love Story (Varese Sarabande)

Ms. Noll wowed 'em in Jekyll & Hyde, and does the same here in a grand line-up of mostly lesser-known showtunes, arranged in a way that suggests the ups and downs of a love affair. "Wherever He Ain't," "A Quiet Thing" and "Who Are You Now" – and Noll is more than up to the challenge. Conductor Todd Ellison deftly handles David Seigel's orchestrations – a grand CD!

Christiane Noll: Ira Gershwin Album Fynsworth Alley

This deee-licious soprano pays a loving and deft tribute to one of Broadway's greatest lyricists, covering the often underestimated range of his long career – including the years following his collaboration with brother George. In fact, the best number is "My Ship," with music by Kurt Weill. Overall, this recording is great fun. While this is quite different from her last CD, Noll's growing legion of fans should be very pleased.

Paige O'Hara Sings Jerry Herman (Varese Sarabande)

Herman fans will feast on this one, a nice blend of traditional and innovative arrangements that give Paige a chance to show her full range of colors. Highlights include "Showtune," "Loving You," and a nifty Andrews Sisters-style "So Long Dearie." The occasional pop arrangement may surprise you, but go with them – they work. Those who don't know what Disney's original Belle can do off the animated screen are in for a revelation here.

Donny Osmond - This is the Moment (Decca Broadway)

Osmond showcases more than a dozen showtunes, running the gamut from George M. Cohan to Jonathan Larson. All the arrangements are laid back rock/pop – even for standards like "Luck Be a Lady Tonight." As a result, we get Donny doing the same kind of singing he did back when. A duet with Rosie O'Donnell of Toy Story's "You've Got a Friend" is cutesy, and "Not While I'm Around" with Vanessa Williams strikes no sparks. Jekyll & Hyde's soaring "This is the Moment" turned into a soft rock croon tune? Ouch! This approach fits selections from Rent and Aida, but every track winds up sounding monotonously alike. Osmond's old fans may enjoy this approach, but most Broadway buffs will probably be outright bored.

Bernadette Peters Loves Rodgers and Hammerstein Angel

Peters delivers the goods here, with more than a dozen superb tracks, mixing R&H classics with some shrewdly chosen lesser-known gems. Some of her choices may surprise you, but all are delightful. Highlights include a lush "If I Loved You" and a hilarious solo take on "There Is Nothin' Like a Dame" (catch that final note!), and the rarely heard "I Haven't Got a Worry in the World" (written for the non-musical Happy Birthday). Jonathan Tunick provides the brilliant arrangements – with an honest to goodness full size orchestra that is guaranteed to thrill any showtune-lover's heart. Tunick co-produced with Richard Jay Alexander – they and Peters deserve credit for one of the best solo recordings this genre has had in years!

Ron Raines - Broadway Passion (Jay)

Here is the one of the few singing actors who can truly fill the shoes of Alfred Drake. A brawny hunk with a powerhouse baritone, Raines is best known as a soap star. If he had been born a half-century sooner, there is no doubt in my mind that this man would have been one of the musical theatre's greatest headliners. Here he gives flawless interpretations of fifteen showstoppers, using the original Broadwa arrangements. "Hey There," "Impossible Dream," "I'll Never Say No," "Soliloquy" "This Nearly Was Mine" – each sung to a fare-thee-well. His voice is as warm and rich as black velvet, and his dramatic instincts fill every track with heart. Catch this outstanding CD.

Finishing the Act - Craig Rubano (AF Records)

This handsome tenor takes the novel approach of building a recording around first act finales. Fresh non-traditional arrangements and vocal assists from the likes of Alice Ripley and Andrea McArdle make this a fun listen.

Emily Skinner & Alice Ripley - Duets & Unsuspecting Hearts

(Varese Sarabande)

The Side Show girls make a fabulous duo in any setting. With arrangements by producer Bruce Kimmel and conductor Todd Ellison, they dazzle in every track of these fine songfests. Highlights duets include "Friendship - Friends to the End," "Pretty Women" and "Old Friend," and each lady gets to shine in solo spots.

Terri White - The Lady's Got to Sing

Old Hat Productions

I'll come clean - Terri White is a friend of mine, but I was a fan of this lady long before I met her. I vividly remember her stopping the original production of Barnum with "Thank God I'm Old," and the way she thrilled Broadway in Ain't Misbehavin (replacing Nell Carter), Welcome to the Club and several other shows. In the years since, many is the night I have sat up till the wee hours listening to her blow audiences away in New York's cabarets and piano bars. Well, Miss White has finally released a solo album - and it is all over but the shouting! If you want to hear a voice with atomic power tempered by genuine lyrical sensitivity, this CD is guaranteed to please. Terri has a grand time with classics like "Summertime," "God Bless the Child" and "Old Devil Moon." Less familiar numbers like "Drinking Again" and the album's new title song are just as thrilling, and her touching rendition of the rarely heard "Mama, A Rainbow" is an unexpectedly gentle but thoroughly satisfying finale.

Robert Peaco is one of the most talented pianists I know. His arrangements and accompaniment are flawless in every number here. If you want to know what great cabaret and musical theatre singing can be, this CD is essential listening. If you can't find it in your local record store, check out Terri's website at Better yet, if you are in New York City some weekend evening, stop by Rose's Turn on Grove Street. Not only will you get to purchase the recording from Terri herself – you'll get the joy of hearing her perform in person. It doesn't get much better than that.

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