CD Review: Varied releases from the new Broadway Records label

How to Succeed (Nick Jonas cast); Lysistrata Jones; Bonnie & Clyde; Jekyll & Hyde; Laura Osnes

13 January 2013 4 stars3 stars3 stars2.5 stars4 stars

Laura OsnesBroadway Records is an exciting new record label with great potential. Launched last summer, the label is devoted to musical theatre repertoire and comprises cast albums from Broadway and Off-Broadway, new studio recordings and single-artist albums. In contrast to Sony's Masterworks Broadway label, which mixes new and old recordings, Broadway Records's focus is on producing new albums that would not otherwise have seen the light of day. The label is an off-shoot of The Broadway Consortium, which has been responsible for recent Broadway revivals of Godspell, Evita and Porgy and Bess, as well as new shows such as Frank Wildhorn and Don Black's Bonnie and Clyde. Though this inclination towards contemporary repertoire means the label caters better for some tastes than others, the first five releases are all superbly produced and excellently presented.

That the label's ambitions are great and intentions genuine can be instantly gleaned from the EP of the final cast of last year's revival of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. The production was mounted for Danielle Radcliffe of Harry Potter fame, for which Decca produced a full cast album, but Broadway Records have taken the orchestral tracks and added new vocals to document the performance of Nick Jonas, who finished the run, as Finch. Aside from the title song, we get to hear most of Finch's main songs, including "The Company Way", "Rosemary", "I Believe in You" and "The Brotherhood of Man". As much as I enjoyed Radcliffe's lively and dedicated performance on Broadway, Jonas is a much better fit for the role and this record of his interpretation is very welcome indeed. Broadway history is full of interesting second and third casts who never recorded their interpretations, so I hope this EP is a sign of things to come from the new label.

I also very much welcome the two new Broadway cast albums of two shows that closed quickly, Lysistrata Jones and Bonnie and Clyde. Both are a bit too "poppy" for my taste, but both casts give committed performances and the quality of the recordings is high. Jones is on the silly side, mixing Aristophanes with basketball, and Lewis Flynn's score is sometimes too broadly written for a dramatic show, but Patti Murin leads a talented young ensemble to fun effect. A bonus track has Broadway veteran Jennifer Holliday singing the number "Hold On", again a sign of how the label is trying to give the listener a quality package.

Altogether more serious is Wildhorn and Black's Bonnie and Clyde, which struggled through a brief Broadway run but clearly has many good things about it. As with a number of Wildhorn's scores, the eclecticism of musical styles can be more distracting than engaging, so that the leap from the catchy "This World Will Remember Me" to the generic "You're Going Back to Jail" to the wistful "How ‘Bout A Dance?" doesn't quite work on record, at least for me. However, the lead parts could surely not be better performed than they are by Jeremy Jordan and Laura Osnes, and, like Lysistrata, the booklet is lavishly illustrated with essays from the writers and full lyrics. No doubt Wildhorn will go on to refine the piece, as it deserves, and in the end it will probably become critic-proof, as did Jekyll and Hyde before it. The latter show has also received a new concept recording from BR, and no doubt it will delight the show's many fans. To my ears, the new arrangements and some of the vocals drain all sense of the theatre from the show, in contrast to (for instance) the old Colm Wilkinson recording, but I can easily see that for a new generation of Broadway audiences a more pop-oriented sound is appealing – and it is, after all, a studio concept album rather than a traditional cast album. It's not my scene, but if it brings more people into the theatre, that's all to the good.

Finally among the new releases is Laura Osnes "Dream a Little Dream": Live at the Café Carlyle, a delightful programme that originates from Osnes's recent New York cabaret performance. Osnes came to fame as the winner of an American TV competition to cast the lead role in a revival of Grease, and she has gone on to star in Broadway's South Pacific, Carnegie Hall's The Sound of Music and Encores!'s Pipe Dream (recently released on an excellent CD), in addition to Bonnie and Clyde, from which she performs "How ‘Bout a Dance" here; she's also scheduled to appear in a new revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella, from which she sings "In My Own Little Corner" in a bonus track. This album includes all her introductions from the cabaret, which are sweet but tend to break up the listening experience on multiple hearings. Nevertheless, Osnes seems very comfortable in a wide range of repertoire, which covers everything from Irving Berlin's "Shaking the Blues Away" to Randy Newman's "When She Loved Me" and from Livingston and Evans's "Femininty" to "Dream a Little Dream of Me". She also sings three entertaining duets, with Pipe Dream co-star Tom Wopat ("Baby, It's Cold Outside"), Bonnie co-star Jeremy Jordan ("Anything You Can Do") and her husband Nathan Johnson ("A Whole New World"). On the whole, it's a classy and engaging disc, and with more cabaret shows promised, Broadway Records promises to become an important force in recording musicals.

By Dominic McHugh

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More information and a wealth of additional material is available on the Broadway Records website.