Broadway CDs You Should Buy - Winter 2015

A roundup of recent musical-theater-related music releases

There have been quite a few music releases lately that might interest fans of musical theater. Rather than addressing every single recording (some of which were of shows I wasn't particularly fond of), I've decided to choose the three that I'm personally most excited about. So, here's a trio of recordings that no show-tune fan is going to want to be without: 

Here's a recording that I've been eagerly awaiting since I saw the current top-notch Broadway revival of On the Town. (Read my review.) The cast is in top vocal form, which makes this recording especially desirable. Previous recordings of On the Town had to contend with the fact that there haven't always been people who could successfully balance the acting, dancing, and singing requirements of the show. Today, however, we have genuine triple threats, reflected here in the three central sailors of the show, played by Tony Yazbeck, Jay Armstrong Johnson, and Clyde Alves. These guys are not only terrific dancers, but they all have genuinely strong voices. The women in the cast -- particularly Elizabeth Stanley and Alysha Umphress -- are no less impressive vocally, although they don't have quite the same burden in terms of dance. The two-disc recording seems to capture every single note of the Leonard Bernstein score, including the numerous dance passages. In the past, I've often found this off-putting on recordings of On the Town: I'm not particularly interested in listening to orchestral passages. But here, I've seen the show three times, so I can remember more clearly what each piece of dance entailed. Plus, I mean, Leonard Bernstein, right? What's not to love? 

Honeymoon in Vegas is still struggling rather mightily at the box office, despite opening to very strong reviews. (Read my review.) Whatever fate awaits the actual stage production, we thankfully have the new cast recording documenting yet another masterful score from Jason Robert Brown. Even with material as seemingly lightweight as he's working with here, Brown manages to craft music and lyrics that are both smart and accessible, both pleasant to hear in the theater and worthy of many a listening at home. The vocal performances transfer very nicely to the recording. Rob McClure and Brynn O'Malley are practically flawless, and their wonderfully animated performances come though nicely on the recording. I've heard people grumble about Tony Danza's singing, but to me, his gravelly, time-worn warble is perfect for the role of Tommy Korman, the charming and shady businessman still mourning his departed wife. There are a couple of songs from the show that don't quite work on the recording, particularly the racially insensitive "Friki-Friki," which devoid of the staging is downright puerile and even more offensive. Overall, though, Jason Robert Brown is one of the best people currently writing for musical theater, and any score of his deserves attention. 

Here's another score from Jason Robert Brown, the third recording of a piece that many musical-theater fans will already be familiar with. I'm a great fan of The Last Five Years, although I had a somewhat mixed reaction to the film version. (Read my review.) Even if the film alternates between moving and motionless, it's great to have the soundtrack in addition to the cast recordings, and hear different people interpret these complex, character-rich songs. Anna Kendrick has a sweet, crystalline, voice, and there's plenty of character coming through on the recording as well. And I think I could listen to Jeremy Jordan sing just about anything. He brings so much personality to everything he sings, from Newsies, to Bonnie and Clyde, to his work here for the film.Here's hoping that we don't lose Jordan entirely to Hollywood and continue to see him trod the Broadway boards. And here's hoping that Kendrick will make her welcome comeback to Broadway sometime soon. (Kendrick received a Tony nomination at the age of 12 for the 1998 Broadway production of High Society.)