Dozens of theatre albums were released this past year, but five of them stood out for their sound and singularity.
The Color Purple
Why it’s on our list: Cynthia Erivo.
After a large-scale 2007 premiere, the musical adaptation of Alice Walker’s novel returned to Broadway via London in an intimate and soulful new production that stripped the story down to its essence. Like the production, the entire 26-track album revolves around Cynthia Erivo’s earthy and deeply human performance as Celie. (It earned her the 2016 Tony Award). Standout tracks from the Grammy-nominated album include “What About Love?,” “Push da Button,” and “I’m Here.”
Encore: Movie Partners Sing Broadway
Why it’s on our list: Barbra Streisand makes a triumphant return to her theatrical roots.
Barbra Streisand’s latest album is a stellar achievement from the 74-year-old artist, whose vocals remain rich. While the album’s standard release focuses on duets with movie stars, including Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway and Patrick Wilson, it’s the Target Deluxe version that boasts the finest tracks, including Streisand’s solo takes on “Losing My Mind” and “Fifty Percent.” Other standout tracks include “At the Ballet” and “Loving You.”
The Hamilton Mixtape
Why it’s on our list: A rare chance to hear music’s biggest stars take on Broadway.
Never before has a Broadway cast album boomeranged into pop culture and back again the way Lin-Manuel Miranda’s hit musical Hamilton has. The Mixtape, which in some cases can’t compare to the actual genius that is the Broadway cast album, boasts covers by Sia, Busta Rhymes, Kelly Clarkson, Alicia Keys, and more. Standout tracks from the 23-track album: “Satisfied,” “Burn,” “Congratulations,” and “It’s Quiet Uptown.”
The Hunchback of Notre Dame
Why it’s on our list: The Broadway show that should have been.
While Broadway may not be in the cards for the stage adaptation of Disney’s animated feature, Hunchback remains one of the finest and most dramatic scores to come out of its theatrical department, thanks to the combined forces of Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz. The thrilling choral work that begins each act sets the tone for a tale of tormented characters who ultimately step forward from the shadows. The lush orchestrations on the studio album are by Michael Starobin. Standout tracks on the 23-track album: “The Bells of Notre Dame,” “Out There,” “Heaven’s Light,” “Someday” and the show’s “Ent’racte.”
Why it’s on our list: Sara Bareilles proves she’s a bona fide theatre writer.
Singer-songwriter Sara Bareilles made her Broadway debut with the musical adaptation of Adrienne Shelly’s 2007 film of the same title. The eclectic score is populated with quirky and rich character-driven material that bear Bareilles’ signature musical stamp. The Grammy-nominated, 18-track album is anchored by leading lady Jessie Mueller’s layered and folksy vocal performance that builds to a devastating “She Used to Be Mine.” Other standout tracks: “Opening Up,” “Soft Place to Land,” and “ When He Sees Me.”