I first became aware of Carolee Carmello when I saw the original Broadway production of Falsettos. The only recording of the piece is from the Off-Broadway version with Janet Metz playing Cordelia, so it was mostly Metz's performance that lived on for me after the show. What I remembered of Carmello was a gifted comedic actress with unique and commanding stage presence. My impression of her would soon expand, as Carmello is one of the greatest singers in Broadway history.
There really aren't any other voices out there quite like Carolee Carmello's. I suppose the closest comparison might be the great Susan Johnson, original star of The Most Happy Fella, whose abundant mezzo-soprano spun and trilled so effortlessly, but Johnson's voice had an almost operatic, classical quality and Carmello is decidedly a belter. Equally at home starring in Cole Porter's Kiss Me, Kate and ABBA's Mamma Mia!, Carmello's rangy, muscular instrument is also impressive for its versatility. Despite an extensive and eclectic resume of Broadway shows, Carmello has astonishingly never recorded a solo album — yet! Fortunately for her many fans, her myriad stage credits have yielded a lengthy discography of recordings to treasure.
Click through to read my selections for the essential Carolee Carmello on disc.
Carolee Carmello received her first Tony nomination as Best Actress In A Musical for Parade in 1999. Parade was a complicated, somewhat controversial musical, but chief among its assets was Carmello's galvanizing, thrillingly sung performance as Lucille Frank. Fifteen years later, I can still remember the goosebumps I felt at the Vivian Beaumont Theater, absolutely transported by Carmello. The cast recording is an indispensable portal to the power Carmello wielded in this role. She's commanding and affecting in "Do It Alone," heartbreaking in "You Don't Know This Man" and absolutely soaring in Jason Robert Brown's two gloriously passion-filled duets for her and Brent Carver (as Leo Frank), "This Is Not Over Yet" and "All The Wasted Time."
Elegies: A Song Cycle, William Finn's 2003 chamber musical inspired by various deaths and tragedies including the 9/11 attacks and AIDS, was a somewhat somber affair peppered with warmth and humor, and Carolee Carmello was on hand to provide anything asked of her with her trademark panache. "Passover" is a fun example of Carmello in a lighter mood and "Anytime (I Am There)," a lost loved one's longing promise to stay close, is gut-renching and gorgeous as sung by her in tremendous voice. A kind of companion piece is the William Finn concert, "Infinite Joy," which was recorded live at Joe's Pub in 2001 and also starring Carmello. Adding this to the Carmello-Finn playlist means you also get her stunning recordings of "I Have Found" and "When The Earth Stopped Turning."
Last season's Scandalous: The Life and Trials of Aimee Semple McPherson with book and lyrics by Kathie Lee Gifford and music by David Pomeranz and David Friedman, may not have been a smash as a Broadway musical, but it is certainly a triumph as a recording of Carolee Carmello. Carmello received her third Tony nomination for Scandalous and it was a nod well deserved for her tour de force performance as early 20th-century superstar evangelist McPherson. Carmello brings down the house track after track with big gospel-style numbers clearly arranged to showcase her incomparable powerhouse vocals.
Andrew Lippa's Off-Broadway musical, John & Jen, took great advantage of Carolee Carmello's emotional richness as an actress and singer. There is no doubt this 1995 hit caused a major surge in Carmello's fanbase, particularly thanks to the cast recording. She is especially listenable rallying in "Hold Down the Fort," raging in "Run and Hide" and ruefully letting go in "The Road Ends Here" and "That Was My Way."
Hello Again, Michael John LaChiusa's adaptation of Arthur Schnitzler's play, La Ronde, was acclaimed in Graciela Daniele's scintillating original 1994 production at the Mitzi Newhouse Theater and has gone on to be produced frequently around the world, including the Transport Group's well-received revival in 2011. An ensemble piece by nature, Hello Again has no starring roles, but Carmello's original cast album performance as The Young Wife is nothing short of stellar. She's hilarious fighting her own fight to resist seduction in the duet "Story Of My Life," and exquisite in the staggering "Tom."
The birth of her son precluded Carolee Carmello from transferring to Broadway with A Class Act, but, lucky for her fans, the cast recording is of the original Manhattan Theatre Club Off-Broadaway production, in which Carmello — late in her pregnancy and beaming with earthy power — shone as Lucy. A supporting role, Lucy doesn't sing much, but Carmello's distinctive vocal presence is a rich addition throughout the group material and she is great fun singing "Broadway Boogie Woogie." The track to write home about, though, is clearly the driving ballad, "Under Separate Cover," which Carmello irresistibly tears into with palpable intention.
With Broadway's 2010 The Addams Family, Carmello was once again singing an Andrew Lippa score, albeit this time in a supporting role as Alice Beineke, the ostensibly normal, all-American mother to Wednesday Addams' love interest. The cast album still nets a few winning tracks for Carolee Carmello fans in the jazzy, wailing "Waiting" and her duet with Terrence Mann, "In the Arms."
The popular 1930 musical Fine And Dandy, with music by Kay Swift, lyrics by Paul James and book by Donald Ogden Stewart, finally received its first cast recording in 2004 and Carolee Carmello essayed the plum role of Nancy Ellis. It's a joy to hear Carmello take on Swift's smart, sassy, comic quasi-operetta style, and she's especially enjoyable duetting with Gavin Creel on "Let's Go Eat Worms In The Garden" and Mario Cantone on the title song.
(Ben Rimalower is the author and original star of the critically acclaimed Patti Issues. Read Playbill.com's coverage of the solo show here. Visit him at benrimalower.com and follow @benrimalower on Twitter.)