Lauren Kennedy Sings Jason Robert Brown, While LaChiusa's First Ladies Soar, on CD Feb. 11

News   Lauren Kennedy Sings Jason Robert Brown, While LaChiusa's First Ladies Soar, on CD Feb. 11 Composer-lyricists Jason Robert Brown and Michael John LaChiusa, along with actress Lauren Kennedy, join the roster of artists on the PS Classics record label Feb. 11, with the web release of two new albums.
Lauren Kennedy
Lauren Kennedy

"Lauren Kennedy: Songs of Jason Robert Brown," with new and old songs by the Tony Award-winning composer of Parade, and the world-premiere recording of LaChiusa's First Lady Suite, first heard at The Public Theater, will go on store shelves March 4, but fans can get them early via web ordering. For web-release information about the much-anticipated discs, visit www.psclassics.com.

"Lauren Kennedy: Songs of Jason Robert Brown" features three songs from The Last Five Years, one from Parade, three from Songs for a New World, and four that Brown is premiering on this recording, including two he wrote especially for Kennedy, who was Cathy in the world premiere of The Last 5 Years in the Chicago area in 2001.

The recording is produced by Jeffrey Lesser and has musical direction and arrangements by Tony Award-winning composer-lyricist Brown (who also sings on one track).

Kennedy is the current Broadway Fantine in Les Misérables. She appeared in London as Nellie Forbush the Royal National Theatre's South Pacific (and is heard on the cast album) and is remembered for standing by for Emily Skinner in the Broadway musical, Side Show.

As early as the 2001 Skokie, IL, run of The Last Five Years she and Brown had talked about her singing an album of his work. "I think his music so interesting, the way he draws from folk and pop influences as well as theatre," she previously told Playbill On-Line. "I've always wanted to do an album of theatre music, but I always wanted to do a contemporary pop album as well."

The disc was recorded over a number of months and includes simple piano-vocal presentation, as well as fuller and richer instrumentation, she said.

"For it being one composer, it really runs the gamut of styles," Kennedy said, adding that they didn't want to repeat songs exactly as they had been previously heard on cast albums. Some lyric tweaks have also been made along the way, particularly to "Pretty Music," from Parade, which sounds like a honky-tonk show tune worthy of Broadway's Urban Cowboy (for which Brown in penning new songs and musical-directing and arranging).

Tommy Krasker, the producer who runs PS Classics with partner Philip Chaffin, devoting the label to theatre music and American popular song, told Playbill On-Line: "Lauren presented me with a working version of the CD over the summer. Needless to say, I enjoyed the performances, the songs, and the sound — but what most impressed me was the sense of collaboration between Lauren and Jason, and the fact that it had a strong point of view. Jason knew Lauren's voice and talents so well, and clearly admired them so much, that he had tailored lyrics and rethought music to best suit her — and that collaboration infused it all with a kind of joy."

The track listing for "Lauren Kennedy: Songs of Jason Robert Brown" is:

1. "And I Will Follow"
2. "Pretty Music"
3. "Letting You Go"
4. "I Can Do Better Than That"
5. "Christmas Lullaby"
6. "I'd Give It All for You" (joined by Brown on vocals)
7. "When You Come Home to Me"
8. "Dreaming, Wide Awake"
9. "Goodbye Until Tomorrow"
10. "If I Told You Now"
11. "Flying Home"

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The new recording of First Lady Suite — LaChiusa's mostly sung-through imagining of moments in the lives of a handful of first ladies — features the same cast that performed the work in spring 2002, by The Blank Theatre Company in Los Angeles.

The performers are Eydie Alyson (as Mamie Eisenhower), Bronwen Booth (as Jacqueline Kennedy), Mary-Pat Green (as Lorena Hickok), Evelyn Halus (as Eleanor Roosevelt), Gregory Jbara (as Dwight Eisenhower), Heather Lee (as Mary Gallagher), Paula Newsome (as Marian Anderson), Irene Piccininni (as Lady Bird Johnson) and Kate Shindle (as Amelia Earhart).

LaChiusa's varied and imaginative musical portraits about matrons of the White House was first seen at The Public Theater in 1993. Tommy Krasker and Joel Moss are the disc's producers. (The disc was expected for an early fall 2002 release, but a production delay now happens to make the disc available during the run of LaChiusa's Off Broadway musical, Little Fish, at Second Stage).

The Blank Theatre production includes added material by the composer-lyricist LaChiusa, who is known for Broadway's The Wild Party and Marie Christine. The disc includes an Opening and Finale — set in a museum exhibit devoted the First Ladies — written specifically by LaChiusa to tie his playlets together for this production. The two-piano arrangement created for this version is augmented with additional instruments for the recording, under the composer's supervision.

First Lady Suite opened March 9, 2002, at the Blank Theatre and enjoyed an extended run to April 28. Artistic director Daniel Henning directed the show, which revisits the lives of various 20th century presidential First Ladies. LaChiusa won an Obie Award for his work.

In First Lady Suite, Over Texas visits the secretaries of Jacqueline and John F. Kennedy as they fly into Dallas on November 22, 1963. In Where's Mamie?, Mamie Eisenhower travels through time and space to warn her husband off an affair and of the upcoming racial strife during his presidency. The brief interlude known as Olio features Margaret Truman attempting to sing at a recital while she is constantly interrupted by Bess (it was not recorded because it largely relies on visuals). The final piece, Eleanor Sleeps Here, finds Eleanor Roosevelt and Lorena Hickok flying over Washington with Amelia Earhart.

The musical director is Stephen Bates.

Record producers Krasker and Moss most recently collaborated on PS Classics' premiere recording of Vincent Youmans' forgotten show, Through the Years, and the live concert album of Dreamgirls.

"My relationship with Michael John goes back to working with him on Audra McDonald's 'Way Back to Paradise' [disc] almost five years ago, although I had been a fan of his work since seeing Hello Again a few years before that," Krasker previously told Playbill On-Line. "The notion of recording First Lady Suite was actually suggested to me by my colleague Eric Besner at Image Entertainment, who are now distributing the PS Classics line. He saw the L.A. production, was enormously enthusiastic, and suggested I take a look. I loved the piece itself, but also thought the cast, with a long run behind them, was giving the kind of committed, no-holds-barred performances that the show needed — and especially that a disc needed to really convey Michael John's vision. When I spoke with Michael John, he was equally pleased with the production, and specifically felt that it was a wonderful representation of the piece itself. We both agreed it should be recorded."

The track listing, reflecting spoken lines and songs and song sequences, includes "Over Texas," "Four More Years," "Caroline," "The Smallest Thing," "This Is What We Are"; "Where's Mamie?," "My Husband Was an Army Man," "Melba," "Algiers," Old Rules Are Old Rules," "Tomorrow I Will Love You More"; "Eleanor's Room," "Eleanor's Hand," "When Eleanor Smiles," "Eleanor's Letter," "Eleanor Sleeps Here," "Great Ladies."

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Discs from PS Classics so far include "Philip Chaffin: Where Do I Go From You?," a big-band flavored vocal album of film and pop music from the mid-20th century; "Windflowers: The Songs of Jerome Moross"; a studio cast recording of Vincent Youmans' obscure 1932 musical, Through the Years, with Brent Barrett and Heidi Grant Murphy; Jessica Molaskey's lauded "Pentimento," songs from the '20s and '30s; Ricky Ian Gordon's song cycle, "Only Heaven," which musicalizes works by Langston Hughes; Darius de Haas' "Day Dream (Variations on Strayhorn)," songs of Billy Strayhorn; and Christine Andreas' tribute to Broadway divas, "Here's to the Ladies." Still in the future for the label is a spring release for "The Maury Yeston Songbook," and the world premiere recording of Rodgers and Hart's Spring is Here. Tommy Krasker is executive producer of PS Classics and Philip Chaffin is A&R director.