The year 2019 was a fantastic one for theatre albums, but these nine stood out from the pack for their sound and singularity.
Why it’s on the list: The ultimate pop playlist, sung by Broadway’s best, with explosive arrangements and orchestrations
Like the film that inspired it, Broadway’s Moulin Rouge! features a jukebox song list that covers decades of popular music, from “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend” to “Chandelier,” among 69 others. But since it’s a Broadway cast recording, this album features all of those top 40 hits made their own by such Broadway favorites as Aaron Tveit, Tony winner Karen Olivo, and six-time Tony nominee Danny Burstein. Plus, original mash-ups like the “Shut Up and Raise Your Glass,” which combines Walk the Moon’s “Shut Up and Dance” with P!nk’s “Raise Your Glass” and Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody.” The production of the Grammy-nominated cast album is aces, and the theatrical interpretation of the songs will make you hear the lyrics in a whole new light.
A Strange Loop
Why it’s on the list: A debut work from a fresh and exciting musical theatre writer
Michael R. Jackson may have written the world’s most meta musical; A Strange Loop tells the story of a black queer man writing a musical about a black queer man writing a musical about a black queer man. The show enjoyed its world premiere earlier this year at Off-Broadway’s Playwrights Horizons, where it quickly sold out and extended due to popular demand. The tuneful score takes a cue from subversive writers like Kander and Ebb, packing a punch by pairing insightful, bold lyrics with pop-infused music that you’ll be humming long after listening to this album. The work is Jackson’s first musical to receive a major New York run, and was quite the debut.
Why it’s on the list: The 2019 Tony winner for Best Musical and Best Original Score, the album of folk, funk, and jazz, proves musical theatre is no one genre
Though developed with a stage production in mind, most people first came to Anaïs Mitchell’s Hadestown through its concept album, released in 2010. The show has continued to develop and evolve through an Off-Broadway production (which was recorded live) and the current Broadway edition, fine-tuning Mitchell’s original vision to near perfection. Telling the mythical story of Orpheus and Eurydice (and Hades and Persephone) but with modern New Orleans-inspired flair, Hadestown is an emotional journey fully realized by Mitchell with a knock-out Tony-winning score and performances from such Broadway luminaries as Reeve Carney, André De Shields, Amber Gray, Patrick Page, and Eva Noblezada. As 2019’s Tony Award-winning Best Musical (and now a 2020 Grammy nominee), Hadestown’s Broadway cast album belongs on every theatre lover’s shelf.
Fiddler on the Roof in Yiddish cast album
Why it’s on the list: The only complete recording of Fiddler in Yiddish, plus bonus tracks of rarely heard cut songs in English
Any theatre fan worth their salt is liable to have at least one Fiddler cast album in their collection already—if not more—but this latest recording of the Bock and Harnick score makes a good case for adding yet another. Most importantly, the album preserves the score sung in Yiddish, the language that the denizens of Anatevka would have spoken themselves. Hearing Fiddler in Yiddish gives the entire affair another layer of authenticity and nuance, hearing the story of a people trying to hold on to their culture as their homes are being taken away in their language, a language that is in danger of disappearing completely in many parts of the world today. (Though the production was inspired by the recording of Shraga Friedman’s Israeli production of Fiddler in Yiddish, that Israeli album does not contain every song and musical interlude.) The recording also preserves Steven Skybell’s Drama Desk-nominated performance as Tevye. This particular recording is also one of the most complete Fiddler albums ever released, with never-before recorded material from the show and several tracks of fully-produced songs cut during Fiddler’s development period (some sung by orginal cast members like original Motel Austin Pendleton), making it a true must-have for Fiddler fans.
Why it’s on the list: A quirky, irreverent score—and fan favorite—that put the show on the map, plus exclusive album-only material
This musical adaptation of the cult classic film is just as spookily hilarious as its source material, complete with a tour-de-force title role performance from its Tony-nominated leading man, Alex Brightman. Eddie Perfect’s score has quickly become a fan favorite, and the performances by Brightman along with Sophia Anne Caruso, Rob McClure, Kerry Butler, Leslie Kritzer, and the complete cast are, well… to die for. The album also includes special lyrics changed exclusively for the Broadway album, and you can’t hear them in the theatre or on any public performances. Any Beetlejuice fan will want the album, but this special material makes the album an even more unique memento of the Broadway show.
Ben Platt: Sing to Me Instead
Why it’s on the list: A Broadway performer for the ages meets original, soul-bearing songs
To say Ben Platt embarked on a meteoric ride to stardom after starring and winning a Tony for his performance in the title role of Dear Evan Hansen is a vast understatement. After making a splash on Broadway, Platt quickly came to lead such high profile TV and film projects as Run This Town and The Politician (and the upcoming 20-year film adaptation of Merrily We Roll Along). Theatre fans might have to wait a while to see Platt back on the stage, but he isn’t letting his vocal chops go to waste. Platt’s debut solo album Sing to Me Instead, which he co-wrote, is a powerful mix of soulful original songs that show the Tony winner’s incredible vocal range. His music makes him a vulnerable yet relatable storyteller, his lyrics prove him an astute poet. Songs like “Grow As We Go” to “In Case You Don’t Live Forever” make Platt seem wise beyond his years, yet bops like “Share Your Address” make you feel his youthful energy. A journey of romantic, familial, and self-love, Sing to Me Instead is a must-listen.
Brian Stokes Mitchell Plays With Music
Why it’s on the list: One of the great remaining baritones of Broadway singing a symphonic album that includes the premiere recording of a Sondheim trunk song.
Whether starring on Broadway in Ragtime and Kiss Me, Kate or appearing in concert around the world, Brian Stokes Mitchell has a velvety-smooth voice that always makes for a wonderful album experience. In his latest solo album, Mitchell tackles some of the all-time great showtunes for Broadway baritones, including “If Ever I Would Leave You” and “I Won’t Send Roses;” flips the script and covers several tunes usually sung by women, including “Getting Married Today” and “Hello, Young Lovers;” and even offers the premiere recording of Stephen Sondheim’s “Flag Song,” which was cut from Assassins. Not to mention the full symphonic album includes orchestrations and arrangements by Mitchell himself.
Three-time Tony nominee and Broadway favorite Marin Mazzie sadly passed away in 2018, but thanks to a Kickstarter campaign started by Mazzie’s husband and fellow Broadway star Jason Danieley, a recording of their final New York concert performance together lives on. Captured live at the pair’s 2017 concert series at Feinstein’s/54 Below, this truly special album features both Mazzie and Danieley revisiting songs from their Broadway careers—Ragtime’s “Back to Before” for Mazzie and Curtains’ “I Miss the Music” for Danieley—along with their takes on works by Kander and Ebb, Stephen Sondheim, Rodgers and Hammerstein, and more.
Musical Film Scores
Why it’s on the list: More original songs by winning team Bobby and Kristen Lopez sung by some of the best voices in the biz
With songs by Broadway writers Bobby and Kristen Lopez and voice performances by Idina Menzel, Kristen Bell, Josh Gad, and Jonathan Groff, Frozen has been a favorite among theatre fans since the film premiered in 2013. The entire crew is back this year for the follow-up film Frozen 2, which sees Anna and Elsa in an action-packed adventure that features even crazier vocal pyrotechnics than the original. This time, Groff gets a boy-band-style solo, Gad reminds us of his stellar comedy, and both Bell and Menzel have everyone wondering “When are they coming to Broadway?” Elsa’s new anthem “Into the Unknown” has been shortlisted for Best Original Song and the score has been shortlisted for Best Score at the Oscars 2020—though nominations have not yet been announced. The The album also features a pop cover of “Into the Unknown” sung by Broadway Kinky Boots–alum Brandon Urie.