Cast Albums Blog
REVIEW: The Liz Swados Project
Liz Swados was the kind of artist not easily categorized. When she died (in January, 2016), the headline of her New York Times obituary remembered her as "Creator of Socially Conscious Musicals." Although "creator" has become an over-applied term in our current moment, it is certainly apt for her: composer and lyricist, writer, director, choreographer, memoirist, filmmaker and teacher.
While none of her projects ever really penetrated pop culture consciousness to become part of the canon, Swados's impact might best be measured by the influence she had on the generation that learned from her, and by that measure, she was a giant. The presence of a number of notable writers performing on this album, including Dave Malloy, Taylor Mac, Shaina Taub, The Bengsons, Michael R. Jackson, Grace McLean, and in a poignant posthumously released track, Michael Friedman, speaks volumes about Swados's standing among her colleagues.
The Liz Swados Project offers audiences a taste of what Swados had to offer, a survey course that will surely inspire more than a few to sign up for further study. A songwriter of remarkable range, the selections here range from vaudevillian musical comedy (such as "The Red Queen" from Alice in Concert, performed with aplomb by Mac) to free verse ("Song of a Child Prostitute" from Runaways, essayed by Sophia Ann Caruso, who sang the song in the recent Encores! Off-Center production) to experimental performance ("Bird Lament," recorded by Swados herself).
REVIEW: The New Yorkers - Encores! Concert Cast
Three years after it played at New York's City Center, here's the cast recording of the Encores! Production of what, here, is billed as "Cole Porter's The New Yorkers." It's not, as the liner notes will tell you, precisely an authentic recreation of the 1930 original, but don't let that put you off: this album is an hour and five minutes of the kind of sheer pleasure you wish someone could bottle.
REVIEW: Anything Can Happen In the Theater - The Musical World of Maury Yeston
One of the delights of listening to the new cast album of Anything Can Happen in the Theater: The Musical World of Maury Yeston is realizing what a musical chameleon Maury Yeston is. Unlike say the songs of Stephen Sondheim, Rodgers and Hammerstein, or William Finn, Yeston’s music and lyrics are happily sui generis, always perfectly suited and crafted to the project at hand yet not always immediately identifiable as a “Yeston tune.” Tracks on the album (which capture this musical revue which premiered at the Triad Theater in New York in fall 2019 and then at the York Theatre Company) tend to alternate between upbeat catchy group numbers and sensuous ballads culled from both known Yeston properties like Nine and Grand Hotel (Yeston’s Tony Award-winning musical Titanic isn’t represented here), but also lesser-known projects such as In the Beginning, Death Takes a Holiday, and The Queen of Basin Street. Rounding out the revue are a number of stand-alone songs that don’t come from any specific project but which happily more than hold their own.
REVIEW: Linda Lavin – Love Notes
Although Linda Lavin has been singing for as long as she's been acting – her Broadway debut was in the ensemble of A Family Affair, and shortly thereafter she introduced the most memorable songs in The Mad Show and It's A Bird, It's A Plane, It's Superman – I suspect most of us think of her as an actor who sings than a singer qua singer. Her voice has always been more distinctive than distinguished, but her ability to put across a number is elevated by superb acting chops and comedic ability. That said, this album is a jazz record, not a cabaret act, so expect something closer to Ella Fitzgerald (minus the scatting) than Julie Wilson.
Releasing a jazz rectial disc at age 82 might have taken some chutzpah, but that is a quality Lavin has never lacked. Benefitting from collaboration with Billy Stritch (producer, pianist, and on one track, duet partner), the chutzpah pays off. Look, I grew up watching Alice in reruns, and at a moment in history where everything is terrifying, a recording of my tv mom singing standards is a welcome security blanket when we most need one.
REVIEW: Randy Rainbow - Hey Gurl, It's Christmas!
It was probably inevitable that comedian/singer/YouTube phenomenon Randy Rainbow would release a Christmas recording. Rainbow is a prodigiously talented writer and performer whose sweetly vicious satirical jabs at political figures have deservedly drawn a huge internet following, and his sharply subversive video parodies are often very funny indeed.
Whether those talents, impressive as they are, sustain over the course of seven tracks is another question. There’s a great deal here that is utterly charming; even over a span of just twenty-nine minutes, though, this album is perhaps a little much when taken all at once. The thing about YouTube parodies is that we watch them in isolation – you (or at least I) watch the latest one, and then move on to something else. Seven tracks in succession, I’m afraid, gave me a sugar rush.