THE MERM: For those who don't wish to purchase the entire Ethel Merman canon, here's an ideal chance to sample some of Merman's legendary recordings. From Razor & Tie Records comes There's No Business Like Show Business: The Ethel Merman Collection, a 21-track recording that spotlights Merman's many Broadway triumphs (Gypsy, Annie Get Your Gun, Call Me Madam) and a few other gems as well ("Life Is Just a Bowl of Cherries"). Merman had perhaps the most distinctive voice ever to grace the Broadway stage, a sound so powerful and crystal clear that every major composer of her era wanted to write for her voice. It's hard to choose highlights, but some of the most thrilling moments include Merman's spirited "Blow, Gabriel, Blow"; "You're Just in Love," the melodious duet from Call Me Madam; the three tracks ("Some People," "Everything's Coming Up Roses" and "Rose's Turn") included from the Jule Styne/Stephen Sondheim/Arthur Laurents classic Gypsy; and Annie Get Your Gun's rousing "Doin' What Comes Naturally."
KANDER & EBB: Last season, the celebrated musical-theatre duo, John Kander and Fred Ebb, were represented on Broadway with two works: the multi-award-winning revival of Chicago and their new musical Steel Pier. Although Steel Pier has since closed its doors, the stellar performances of the cast can now be heard on that show's original Broadway cast recording, just released from RCA Victor. David Thompson, who wrote the book for the musical that centers around a dance marathon on Atlantic City's Steel Pier in 1933, says that the creative team's desire was to write a show that celebrated a world where "anything is possible, anything can happen, as long as you have the courage of your convictions and your dreams." This theme is evident throughout the show's score in such songs as "Willing to Ride," where Rita (Karen Ziemba), the dancing heroine, dreams of the home she'll return to; the pilot's (Daniel McDonald) hope for a "Second Chance"; and "Leave the World Behind," where the pilot enters Rita's dream and takes her on a wonderful airplane ride. Some of the highlights of the score include Debra Monk's bawdy "Everybody's Girl," Gregory Harrison's "Dance with Me," Karen Ziemba's emotional second-act "Running in Place," and the wistfully melodic "Somebody Older," in which Monk unsuccessfully tries to seduce Happy (Jim Newman), the innocent country boy from Utah.
SOUND BYTES: Betty Buckley's newest recording, Much More, featuring orchestrations by Jonathan Tunick and Kenny Werner, is due for release in October on Sterling Records.