An American in Paris. George and Ira Gershwin's lush Broadway classics are heard anew in the stage adaptation of the Oscar-winning film that features Robert Fairchild, Leanne Cope, Jill Paice, Brandon Uranowitz, Max von Essen and Veanne Cox. While the stage production is a visual delight thanks to Christopher Wheeldon's choreography, the orchestrations by Christopher Austin and dance arrangements by Sam Davis are a highlight of the cast album. Top tracks: "An American In Paris," "I'll Build a Stairway to Paradise" and "I've Got Beginner's Luck."
Hamilton. Lin-Manuel Miranda's highly theatrical hip-hop riff on American history – which dazzles listeners with hip-hop references and historical veracity – was named Best Rap Album of 2015 by Billboard. Produced by The Roots band members Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson and Tariq "Black Thought" Trottera, Hamilton is a rarity among theatre albums with nearly every song feeling as though it's tailor-made for both the stage and the pop charts. Top tracks: "Satisfied," "Wait for It" and "The Room Where It Happens."
Honeymoon in Vegas. The Jason Robert Brown musical based on the film of the same title may have received a short-lived Broadway run, but the contemporary, rock-edged score – infused with a brassy Vegas big-band feel – lives on in the original Broadway cast album. Thankfully, Rob McClure and Brynn O'Malley's charming performances are captured on a disc that also features beloved TV star Tony Danza. Top tracks: "I Love Betsy," "Anywhere But Here" and "When You Say Vegas."
John & Jen. Another intense and emotional two-hander that resurfaced again this year was the Keen Company Off-Broadway revival of Andrew Lippa and Tom Greenwald's John & Jen that starred Kate Baldwin and Conor Ryan. The album is a fine preservation of Baldwin and Ryan's performances. The album also introduces "Trouble with Men," which was new to the revival. Top tracks: "It Took Me a While," "The Road Ends Here" and "Every Goodbye Is Hello."
"The Last Five Years." Jason Robert Brown's emotional rollercoaster of a musical received its big-screen debut this year with Anna Kendrick and Jeremy Jordan co-starring as a New York couple whose relationship unspools at different moments in time. The two young stars deliver strong performances, navigating the emotional highs and lows of Brown's pop-driven score, to thrilling effect. Top tracks: "I Can Do Better Than That," "Moving Too Fast" and "Summer in Ohio."
School of Rock. Andrew Lloyd Webber returned to his rock roots with his latest Broadway outing. Based on the 2003 Paramount Pictures film of the same title, the show's score features 12 original songs by Lloyd Webber and lyricist Glenn Slater, in addition to three songs from the film. Alex Brightman makes a stellar showing in the musical that also boasts Sierra Boggess (an ALW favorite), who proves she's a Broadway chameleon with her comic turn as an uptight school principal. Top tracks: "When I Climb to the Top of Mount Rock," "Where Did the Rock Go?" and "If Only You Would Listen."
Something Rotten! Songwriters Wayne Kirkpatrick and Karey Kirkpatrick gave theatre fans a brand-new musical with a score that harkens back to the era of old-school Broadway audience charmers with the new comedy Something Rotten! A first-rate cast, including Christian Borle, Brian d'Arcy James and Heidi Blickenstaff, is showcased on the album of songs that is brimming with musical theatre references. Top tracks: "Welcome to the Renaissance," "Right Hand Man" and "A Musical."
The Visit. Kander and Ebb's final Broadway project left theatregoers with one of the Tony-winning songwriting team's finest scores. Chita Rivera, still at the top of her game at 82-years-old, starred as the revenge-seeking widow Claire Zachanassian in the dark, atmospheric musical punctuated with Kander and Ebb's signature vamps, and lush romantic melodies. Top tracks: "At Last," "Winter," "Love and Love Alone" and "In the Forest Again."
What's Inside: Songs from Waitress. Is it technically a cast album? No, but Sara Bareilles' solo album of character-driven material written for her upcoming Broadway musical paints a complete picture of the world that awaits us with Waitress. The score is so strong and full of depth that we have to consider that perhaps some of our best new theatre writers don't actually know they're theatre writers yet. Bareilles is giving us a glimpse into what is surely to be one of the strongest writing debuts Broadway has seen in many years. Top tracks: "Everything Changes," "You Matter to Me," "When He Sees Me" and "She Used to Be Mine."
The Wiz Live! The Tony Award-winning 1975 musical received a high-profile make-over this year with NBC's starry live broadcast in early December. (It's also in the pipeline for a Broadway revival next season.) Tony and Grammy-winning Broadway music director Stephen Oremus collaborated with music legends Harvey Mason, Jr. and Jerry Hey to give the score a contemporary edge that remained true to the original. In addition to knock-out performances by Elijah Kelley, Queen Latifah, Mary J. Blige, Amber Riley and Ne-Yo, it welcomed back original star Stephanie Mills alongside newcomer Shanice Williams, who became an overnight star with her performances. Top tracks: "He's the Wizard," "You Can't Win," "Be a Lion," the newly-written "We Got It" and "Home."