ON THE RECORD: Holiday Gift List of 2013; New Musicals, Revivals, and Reissues, From Dogfight to Passion

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01 Dec 2013

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We have reached that time of the year when we look back over the hundreds of CDs that have come our way since our 2012 holiday column last November and draw a red circle around a few worthy titles that might have been overlooked.

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New Musicals

There have been quite a few Broadway cast albums over the last year, representing big hits (Kinky Boots, Matilda the Musical, Pippin) and the reverse (Scandalous, Chaplin, Leap of Faith). We've heard them all and reviewed them all, but we haven't seen fit to go back in our free time and listen just for fun.

One CD has received repeated plays, by me, at least: Michael John LaChiusa's Giant [Ghostlight]. The reasons are given in my Giant column, which can be found here. In the intervening months, I've found that repeated listening only enhances the experience. Giant might not have achieved commercial success — the hoped-for Broadway transfer of the Public Theater production never happened — but I place the score in the Most Happy Fella category, and that's a good category to be in.

This year's other new musical CD that I go back to is Benj Pasek and Justin Paul's Dogfight [Ghostlight] (which you can read about here). The show, which was produced by Second Stage, was one of those almost musicals. The creators picked a difficult story to tell, and in my opinion they weren't quite able to counteract the harshness. The score, though, contains some of the more interesting musical theatre writing we've heard recently. Pasek and Paul — who also gave us A Christmas Story, The Musical, which was high on last year's holiday list — top our "most promising" division.



Seeing as how this holiday list is restricted to items we've reviewed in the past year, Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812 [Ghostlight] — which has been released digitally but not yet on CD — is ineligible for inclusion. However, I have heard it (I wrote the liner notes), and let me tell you: It is pretty wonderful. The CD should appear this month, and I will duly review when it does. In the meantime you can rest assured that The Great Comet earns my full recommendation. I similarly await, with keen anticipation, Jay Records' recording of Kurt Weill's One Touch of Venus.

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Revivals

There is only one CD in this category this year, but it's a winner. The Classic Stage Company production of Stephen Sondheim's Passion [PS Classics] was immensely satisfying, and it has resulted in what I expect most listeners will deem the Passion recording of choice. Judy Kuhn, Ryan Silverman and Stephen Bogardus lead the CSC cast, with Rebecca Luker stepping into Clara's slippers due to the indisposition of Melissa Errico (as discussed in our Passion column which can be found here). No problem here, as Luker, who played the role in the 2002 production at Kennedy Center's Sondheim Festival, is my favorite Clara thus far.

Reissues

Why should we include reissues of old cast albums in our roundup? Because a reissue of an album you've never heard is as good as new, as far as I'm concerned. While many readers go back to the dark days of LPs and hifi systems — that's long-playing records and high fidelity — many more do not. Kurt Weill and Ira Gershwin's Lady in the Dark [Masterworks Broadway] is a prime example of the studio cast recordings that producer Goddard Lieberson and conductor Lehman Engel assembled for Columbia Records in the 1950s and 1960s. This 1963 album took a 1941 show that had scarcely been recorded and revealed a captivating and tantalizing score, with Risë Stevens (of the Met) and Adolph Green (of Broadway) leading the way.

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