Cast Albums Blog

REVIEW: Anika Larsen's Sing You to Sleep

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In the liner notes to her new album Sing You to Sleep, Anika Larsen tells listeners that they can “play this album on shuffle, but if you play it in order, you’ll find the songs get slower as they go along.” Larsen’s right about the speed of the songs; but the album, a pleasing mix of easy listening, pop, and musical theater standards, also gets better as it goes on, becoming more honest, emotionally naked, and truthful with each track.

While not a household name, Larsen has made an impressive career on Broadway (All Shook Up, Xanadu, Avenue Q) and can be currently seen in Beautiful, a musical for which she received a Tony nomination for best featured actress. To many fans she is known for her rangy belt, but this album of tender and sensitively interpreted tunes shows off a different, warmer side to her voice. To appreciate this though, one has to get past the first two tracks on the album, a rather uninspired version of the Gershwins’ “Summertime” and a jazz-inflected, but awkwardly arranged “Somewhere Out There” from An American Tail. After that, the album quiets down with arrangements by David Cook that are both lovely and refreshingly simple. Larsen offers up a great take on Bruno Mars’ “Count on Me” and a gorgeous new cover of one of musical theater’s most overlooked songs “Sleepy Man” from The Robber Bridegroom. Eschewing pop phrasing and vocal tricks, Larsen trusts in the lyrics of her well-chosen playlist and sings with heart, not with flash.

Adding to the album are some nice backup vocals from Kenita Miller (who shared the stage with Larsen in Xanadu) and a perfectly harmonized duet with current Beautiful co-star Jessie Mueller on James Taylor’s “You Can Close Your Eyes.” Pared down to their essentials, well-known songs like the plaintive “Fields of Gold” by Sting and a haunting version of John Denver’s “Annie’s Song,” sound completely fresh as if we’re hearing them for the first time. Larsen's moving rendition of Bob Dylan's "Make You Feel My Love" closes the disc.

All in all, Larsen’s album is a great listen. Perhaps its title Sing You to Sleep is a bit unfortunate, though, because while the album’s relaxing feel might be great for bedtime, it’s definitely a recording that you’ll want to stay awake for.

REVIEW: Stars of David - World Premiere Cast Recording

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On the surface, Stars of David sounds like a cynical cash-grab show: a small-cast revue based on journalist Abigail Pogrebin’s 2005 collection of interviews with prominent Jewish Americans sounds like it was designed to tour the Jewish Community Centers of this country ad infinitum. Whether it was any good or not would have almost no bearing on whether Jewish grandparents would buy tickets by the bushel. So, I was surprised and delighted when I saw the show in its off-Broadway incarnation last year to discover that the show was also entertaining and at times moving. Now, a year later, Yellow Sound Label has released a “World Premiere Recording” featuring the off-Broadway cast (Janet Metz, Alan Schmuckler, Aaron Serotsky, and Donna Vivino) plus three performers from the world-premiere production at the Philadelphia Theater Company, Alex Brightman, Joanna Glushak, and Brad Oscar.

REVIEW: Peter Pan Live! Original Soundtrack of the NBC Television Event

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Broadway Records took a double gamble by releasing the soundtrack to NBC's Peter Pan Live. By releasing a true soundtrack (rather than a pre-recorded cast album, as the previous year's Sound of Music Live did), they passed up any chance to sell the album to those of us curious to get a peek at the broadcast before airdate, and they staked their success on a positive reception of the broadcast itself.

While the television production had its moments, it largely seemed dead on arrival: neither the thrilling spectacle NBC dreamed of, nor the campy disaster hate-watchers hoped for. As the broadcast limped along, I couldn't imagine wanting to revisit this experience on a soundtrack album. I'm glad to report that I was wrong.

REVIEW: Love's Labour's Lost - Original Cast Recording

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When composer/lyricist Michael Friedman and director/librettist Alex Timbers's musical adaptation of Shakespeare's Love's Labour's Lost debuted at New York's Shakespeare in the Park in the summer of 2013, it was met with something of a split response. Fans praised the production's no-holds-barred approach to comedy and catchy, contemporary score performed by a stellar cast including Colin Donnell, Patti Murin, Daniel Breaker, Bryce Pinkham, Rebecca Naomi Jones, and Rachel Dratch. Detractors found the humor sophomoric and the dramaturgy questionable. Ironically, the sophomoric humor and questionable dramaturgy (which allowed for more non-sequitors than your average episode of Monty Python's Flying Circus) were two of the things I liked best about the show, which I saw twice during its limited run in Central Park.

REVIEW: Kristin Chenoweth's Coming Home

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If there's one word that can describe Kristin Chenoweth's new live album Coming Home, it's "heartfelt." From a song about her father to a shout out to her beloved college vocal teacher Florence Birdwell, this concert, taped in Chenoweth's hometown of Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, is full of songs, people, and experiences that have touched and shaped Chenoweth's life and career in the theater.