Top 10 Musical Theatre Cast Recordings of 2016
If you're a musical theatre fan then there's no doubt that your cast recording collection is your pride and joy. Whether you're a digital music fan, CD collector or even a lover of traditional vinyl, there is simply nothing better than adding a new cast recording to your collection, either to bring back fond memories of your favourite show or preparing yourself to hum along to the newest musical hit.
I've frequently written of my personal love of Cast Recordings with a collection that's now upwards of 600 physical CD's and a great deal of vinyl, offering a musical library of theatre music to enjoy time and time again. Whilst 2016 has certainly been a year of ups and downs, one thing it has provided is an excellent crop of new cast albums, and here just in time for Christmas I offer a Top 10 List of 2016 Cast Recordings for your listening pleasure...
1. She Loves Me
One of the most enchanting revivals of the 2015/16 season, She Loves Me is one of my favourite musicals from the 1960s, featuring a score of solid hits by Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick. The Roundabout Theatre Company's glorious production featured an impeccable cast of talent including Laura Benanti, Jane Krakowski, Gavin Creel and Zachary Levi, each delivering career defining performances alongside a fantastic orchestra. I watched the show once live in New York and then again in the comfort of my own living room as the show was the first Broadway production to live stream a performance around the world in association with Broadway HD, offering viewers around the world the opportunity to enjoy this score realised to near perfection.
Despite having four or five recordings of this tuneful show, the 2016 recording is almost definitive, spectacularly produced by Kurt Deutsch and featuring all of the songs including small moments of dialogue that hold the musical comedy together. Beautifully packaged, this is a must for any cast recording collector and a disc that will survive multiple listens.
2. A New Brain
After falling in love with the original off-Broadway cast recording that features Kristin Chenoweth and Norm Lewis during university I was delighted to see the Encores! Off-Broadway series present the show at the City Center in the summer of 2015 in a production that starred Jonathan Groff in the leading role. The show was recorded later in the year and released at the beginning of 2016 featuring Ana Gasteyer and Aaron Lazar, reprising their roles from the production. Christian Borle stood in for Dan Fogler on the recording by PS Classics who released the new double disk CD that captured the show in its entirely, along with new music that had never previously been recorded. A perfect keepsake for those who enjoyed the sell-out performances as well as a wonderful introduction to William Finn's fantastic musical style. A rare combination of a perfect cast delivering a deeply moving and comical score that will no doubt find new audiences each year - a fantastic listen!
3. Half a Sixpence
The trend for live London recordings continued this year with both Half a Sixpence and Funny Girl releasing non-studio recordings, presumably to keep the costs down to producers. Whilst Funny Girl fails to capture the spirit of the production, Cameron Mackintosh's live recording of Half a Sixpence in Chichester brings the show to life and makes the best case for this being one of the most exciting London musicals of the year. Featuring David Heneker's original score blended by Stiles and Drewe's magic pen to include fresh arrangements and a whole host of new material, this 1963 British musical has never sounded stronger.
With a leading cast that includes Charlie Stemp in the breakout role of Arthur Kipps and musical theatre stalwart Emma Williams, this is a perfect showcase for the musical which features wonderfully fresh orchestrations by William Brohn. "Pick Out a Simple Tune", "If the Rain's Got to Fall" and "Money to Burn" are instant classics and will have your toe tapping along in no time at all.
4. The Hunchback of Notre Dame
The start of the year also brought with it an outstanding recording of Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz's stage adaptation of The Hunchback of Notre Dame which ran at the Papermill Playhouse in New Jersey in 2015. Whilst the show didn't make the leap to Broadway it lives on in this remarkable studio recording that preserves the size and scale of the production alongside an exceptional cast that includes Patrick Page, Michael Arden and Ciara Renée, a 25 piece orchestra and choir of 32 singers. Fans of the original Disney film will be familiar with this dramatic retelling of Victor Hugo's novel, complete with Menken's powerfully romantic and deeply chilling score. Featuring many of the numbers from the original film, the stage show takes a darker look at 19th century Paris and explores the story in a brand new light. Produced by Michael Kosarin, Alan Menken, Stephen Schwartz and Chris Montan, this recording features incredible orchestrations by Michael Starobin, and will bring back vivid memories to anyone familiar with the epic story and score.
5. First Daughter Suite
Any new musical by the genius that is Michael John LaChiusa is sure to be big news, and this glorious recording of his off-Broadway follow up to his 1993 musical First Lady Suite certainly catches the essence of the production. With a stellar cast of Broadway royalty including Mary Testa, Barbara Walsh, Alison Fraser, Rachel Bay Jones and Caissie Levy this recording marks The Public Theater’s ninth album in collaboration with Ghostlight and their sixth album with Tony nominee LaChiusa. A challenging yet intricate musical that demands attention, First Daughter Suite follows Patricia Nixon and daughters Tricia and Julie, Rosalynn and Amy Carter, Betty and Susan Ford, Patti Davis and mom Nancy Reagan, and Barbara Bush and daughter-in-law Laura as they strive to live meaningful lives in the public eye, while dealing with the complex private relationships all of us face with our parents and children. In a year of Presidential chaos the show strikes a deeper note for both history and musical theatre fans and offers a complex imagining of conversations and situations that go on inside the world's most famous address.
After releasing an album of songs from this new musical called "What's Inside", singer-songwriter and Tony nominee Sara Bareilles generated much interest in her first musical Waitress which is running to sold-out houses on Broadway and is now looking at a run in London's West End. One of the biggest hits of the season, the show is inspired by Adrienne Shelly's film of the same name and follows Jenna, a waitress and expert pie maker in a small town who dreams of a way out of her loveless marriage. Featuring an all-female musical team with score by Bareilles, book by Jessie Nelson and direction by Diane Paulus, the Original Broadway Cast Recording captures the spirit of the show thanks to the set of incredible performances led by Tony winner Jessie Mueller. Witty lyrics sit against memorable melodies that mix the heartfelt with the humorous - I challenge you to get through "She Used to Be Mine" without welling up. This recording is a must have for new musical fans and those who have enjoyed the Broadway production.
Waitress is available now.
7. Red Eye of Love
The beauty of cast recordings mean that shows can live on for those who didn't get the chance to see them in their original form. I stumbled across this fantastic recording earlier this year and was gripped by both the score by Sam Davis and Arnold Weinstein and the performances by Kelli O'Hara, Brad Oscar and Josh Grisetti. Based on an original play by Arnold Weinstein, the musical tells a girl-meats-boy love story that follows Selma Chargesse who finds herself torn between her love of great wealth and her passion for idealism. A sharp and interesting story, the score includes a number of standout moments, expertly delivered by this first rate cast. A gem of a recording that'll continue to release its delights slowly over time, and with any luck a London production may well materialise soon!
One of 2016's biggest new musicals was David Bowie and Enda Walsh's off-Broadway hit Lazarus which played to sell-out audiences in New York throughout the winter season in 2015. Following the death of Bowie at the start of the year, the musical has grown in magnitude and dramatic death, and is now Bowie's final creative effort to be completed in his lifetime. After opening to positive reviews in London at the purpose built King's Cross Theatre, the Original off-Broadway Cast Recording features Michael C. Hall and Sophia Ann Caruso who both feature in the London cast. The album has been sensitively produced and features a string of Bowie hits in new an exciting musical arrangements. Beautifully packaged, the double CD also includes a disk of Bowie performing new material written for the show, offering a musical treat for both musical theatre and pop music fans.
9. Bright Star
Steve Martin and Edie Brickell's short lived Broadway musical was a sort of underground sleeper hit this season, lost somewhat against the noise created by Hamilton and a number of bigger shows that succeeded at the award ceremonies. Despite running for just over 100 performances the show gained a strong fan base and thanks to the release of the cast recording, found a new audience around the world. The musical, which features a soft yet authentic bluegrass sound certainly had its fans and was nominated for Tony Awards for Best Musical and Best Score. Carmen Cusack stole the show and her impressive contribution to the Broadway season is unlikely to be forgotten. For a bonus listen, make sure you check out her solo CD "If You Knew My Story", released by Broadway Records which features her singing songs from the show alongside other musicals and songs that have shaped her career.
10. The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz
One of the most recent cast recordings to be released is Alan Menken and David Spencer's musical based on the literary classic and 1974 film The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz. Preserving the invigorating musical energy of the 2016 World Premiere at Canada's Segal Centre for Performing Arts in Montreal the show was described by Peter Filichia as a “masterpiece,” placing it alongside Hamilton as “the other best musical of 2015.” Set on the streets of 1950s Montreal and the countryside of St. Agathe. Ambitious, spiky, relentlessly driven, Duddy Kravitz is on the cusp of adulthood and hustling to climb the social ladder. Obsessed with his grandfather’s maxim, “A man without land is nobody,” and desperate to prove himself, he risks making his name at the expense of those he loves; it all comes down to choosing what kind of man he’s going to be." Whilst the musical may not be on everyone's radar, this cast recording is a rare gem featuring an exciting score by multi-Oscar winner Alan Menken, which is sure to have future life in productions around the world.