Cast Albums Blog
REVIEW: The Jonathan Larson Project
I'm not going to pretend that any review is at all objective, but even so, it's hard to even pretend an objectivity when it comes to The Jonathan Larson Project. The original cast recording of Rent came out the week I started college, and no matter how old and cynical I get, Jonathan Larson's music has an indelible hold on my heart. Those of us who were blown away in real time when his unique voice burst through into the mainstream faced crushing disappointment when we realized near simultaneously that we weren't going to get to hear more from him.
That turned out not to be entirely true. We got a Tick, Tick... Boom! cast recording in 2001 and Jonathan Sings Larson in 2007, but nothing more in over a decade. Well, that's not entirely true. In 2014, Encores! Off-Center presented a brief revival of Tick, Tick... Boom! As part of their Lobby Project, which presents free musicals events in City Center's mezzanine lobby in advance of certain Off-Center performances, producer Jennifer Ashley Tepper presented a handful of unknown Larson tunes. That event served as the seed that eventually grew (thanks in part to Tepper immersing herself in Larson's papers at the Library of Congress) to a series of concerts at Feinstein's/54 Below, which has now been preserved in the studio and served to us as this album.
REVIEW: Lullabies of Broadway, Act II -- Mimi Bessette
Do you remember the state of "personality albums" circa 1990? It would not be an overstatement to call that the Dark Ages, falling between the period when Broadway stars were big enough celebrities that their names alone could sell records to the general public and the renaissance that began in 1993 when Bruce Kimmel launched the Varèse Sarabande Spotlight Series with Liz Callaway's Anywhere I Wander. And yet, at a time when few singers and even fewer record companies were making these albums, Warner Brothers Records put out singer Mimi Bessette's self-produced Lullabies of Broadway.
Now, nearly 30 years later, Bessette has released a follow-up, Lullabies of Broadway, Act II, this time guided by veteran cast album producer Robert Sher and released by Broadway Records. Children who grew up listening to her original album have children of their own now, and the new generation will be lucky to find themselves soothed to sleep by this new addition, which is in every way superior to the original.
REVIEW: Lena Hall: Obsessed series
This week's release of Lena Hall Obsessed: Chris Cornell brought the conclusion of one of the most ambitious recording programs to emerge from our small corner of the music industry in recent memory: Lena Hall's yearlong series of Obsessed EPs. Each month since January, Hall has put out a four-to-six song collection of stripped down covers, with each release focused on a different band or musician drawn from Hall's favorites.
While the series launched with a six-song retrospective of numbers from Hedwig and the Angry Inch (a show for which Hall won a Tony Award as Yitzhak before embarking on a tour playing both Yitzhak as well as Hedwig at select performances), Hall kept the spotlight primarily on the world of rock. Post-January, the closet she came to covering other showtunes was the inclusion of "As The World Falls Down" and "Lazarus" in her David Bowie set. All of this is to say, Obsessed is more at home at the Troubador than Cafe Carlyle, and yes, I know Hall has previously played the Carlyle with a show (preserved as Sin & Salvation) featuring similar material.
REVIEW: Jessica Vosk - Wild and Free
You might not yet be familiar with the name Jessica Vosk. As a performer whose most significant credits are Fruma-Sarah in the Fiddler revival and the 20th Broadway Elphaba, she hasn't yet had the opportunity to breakout and ascend to true Broadway stardom. If we live in a just universe, her debut album, Wild and Free, would be that opportunity.
Vosk has the kind of backstory that press agents dream about: she left a successful Wall Street career in her twenties to pursue showbiz, working her way quickly up the musical theatre ladder while amassing a cult following of fans and establishing herself as a first-rate cabaret performer. Those fans rallied with remarkable speed to crowdfund this album while she was touring the country in Wicked, and now the album drops not long after she stepped into the Broadway production.
REVIEW: How We React and How We Recover - Jason Robert Brown
Many of us first fell in love with Jason Robert Brown's music through the cast recording of his first show, the revue Songs for a New World. His ability to create entire worlds through words and music, telling complete stories in three-minute chunks, lent itself extraordinarily well to cast recordings and concerts -- as the concert revival of the show now playing at New York City Center is demonstrating to a new generation.
It's fitting that Brown has followed a bit of the singer-songwriter path with frequent concert appearances (including a cabaret residency at Subculture) and the occasional album. That How We React and How We Recover, his first studio album since 2005 (with a 2011 concert album in between), drops the same weekend as the Songs revival invites comparison, although given the subjects treated in both that comparison is inevitable: if Songs is about turning-point moments in one's life (often filtered through the somewhat wide-eyed optimism of a writer in his 20s), React/Recover is about the turning point moment we all find ourselves in at this moment in history, filtered through the eyes of a writer in his 40s trying to reclaim the optimism of his youth.