By now, all the cast recordings from the 2013-2014 season have been released, and there are a lot of good ones this year! But the budget-conscious Broadway fan can’t buy them all, so here’s a handy list of the ones worth checking out.
I’m only considering the ones with entirely brand-new music. And before anyone decries the omission of Aladdin – yes, it did get a Best Score Tony nomination, but most of the worthwhile songs are already available on the movie soundtrack.
Gentleman’s Guide won the Tony for Best Musical, and that does not happen unless there are some good songs in the show! Most of the songs are comedic in nature, though I feel the comedy stems more from the staging than from the music itself. Still, there are quite a few songs that are worth listening to out of context. Oddly enough, none of the truly memorable tunes are sung by Jefferson Mays, who received all the awards attention for his performance.
The best song is “I’ve Decided to Marry You,” the showstopper that was performed at the Tonys. The murderous protagonist Monty is proposed to by Phoebe D’Ysquith as his mistress Sibella eavesdrops, leading Monty to sing about his difficult choice between the two ladies. The two ladies get a second chance to sing together to great effect in “That Horrible Woman,” where they enact a scheme to spring Monty from jail. Also worth a listen are the funny ensemble numbers that begin each act, “A Warning to the Audience” and “Why Are All the D’Ysquiths Dying?” (Amazon)
The polar opposite of Gentleman’s Guide, there is not a single moment of levity in this romantic drama that won Tony Awards for Best Score and Best Orchestrations. The music is penned by Jason Robert Brown (13 the Musical). The songs are long and complex, at times almost operatic, and leads Kelli O’Hara (as Francesca) and Steven Pasquale (as Robert) bring a lot of raw emotion to their songs.
The first act of the show was not particularly memorable, and the cast recording reflects that. The only standout in the first half is “Another Life,” a country song sung by the Robert’s ex-wife. The album picks up in the second half, and the last four songs are where you get your money’s worth. The standout is “One Second and a Million Miles,” the romantic duet to end all romantic duets. Beginning softly, the seven-minute song builds to a belting climax that will be sure to give chills.
Pasquale’s eleventh-hour solo, “It All Fades Away,” tells the story of a lifetime of loving from afar, and will be sure to break your heart. The melancholy will stay for the closing song, O’Hara’s “Always Better.” Since Bridges of Madison County had an early demise on Broadway, we should be grateful for this cast album preserving such a beautiful score. (Amazon)
If/Then is from Tony winners Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey of Next to Normal fame. It’s essentially “Idina Menzel: The Musical,” and the cast album can sit snugly on the shelf next to Wicked and Rent.
The highlights are Menzel’s belty ballads, which showcase an incredible range both vocally and emotionally. Chief among them is “Always Starting Over,” which Menzel performed at the Tonys. Other great songs include “The Moment Explodes” and “Some Other Me” (which also highlights Anthony Rapp). If you want your heart broken, listen to the quiet and emotional “You Learn to Live Without.”
For some much-needed levity, skip back to “What the Fuck?” That song perfectly encapsulates mornings after, with Menzel’s character questioning her poor life choices of the previous night. Though as evidenced by that song title, some of this cast album is not suitable for younger kids, no matter how much they love Queen Elsa. (Amazon)
First Date was created by no one you’ve ever heard of, opened the 2013-2014 Broadway season, closed in January, and was promptly forgotten about by Tony season… unless you had the cast album. The score of First Date is in the Wicked style – pop-rock, with a good mix of fun numbers and Broadway ballads. It starred Zachary Levi (Tangled) as Aaron and Krysta Rodriguez (Smash) as Casey, who are on a first date. The ensemble bemoans the perils of dating in “The One” to open the show, and get several fun songs about dating like “The Awkward Pause” and “The Check!”
Casey’s sassy gay friend gets the hilarious “Bailout Song” plus reprises, while Casey’s douchey ex-boyfriends get “That’s Why You Love Me.” Any Jewish listeners will be cracking up during “The Girl For You” – the ghost of Aaron’s grandmother scolds Aaron for dating a non-Jewish girl. Rodriguez and Levi get one true duet and a solo each – the very funny duet is “First Impression.” Rodriguez gets a power-ballad, “Safer;” Levi gets one of the best ever NSFW kiss-off songs to an ex in “In Love With You.”
Lest you think the show is all fun, there is true emotion on display in “The Things I Never Said,” a song from Aaron’s mother that had the entire audience and some of the cast weeping. The First Date cast recording is remarkably consistent in quality – there’s a song now and then that can be skipped, but most of the music is well worth listening to. (Amazon)
Indeed, the best score of the season was not even heard on Broadway, but off-Broadway at the New World Stages. Heathers is an adaptation of the 1980s cult classic – think Mean Girls with a body count. The score is written by Laurence O‘Keefe (Legally Blonde), and is absolutely infectious. It is hilarious, and entirely NSFW, with some very clever rhymes. There is not a single song on the cast album that is not worth listening to over and over; listing them all would be redundant.
“Candy Store” is the biggest earworm, sung by the Heathers to display their bitchiness. The lead characters, Veronica and JD, get three awesome romantic duets: “Freeze Your Brain,” “Our Love Is God,” and “Seventeen.” The score is full of dark reprises, so expect those romantic lyrics to get turned on their heads.
The best song sung during sex since Avenue Q is “Dead Girl Walking,” which shows off impressive vocals (and also gets a dark reprise). For a song to party to, look no further than “Big Fun.” The single funniest song to come out of cast albums this season is “Blue,” a drunken ode to blue balls that will have you laughing out loud and feeling terrible about it. Finally, be ready for the showstopper “My Dead Gay Son,” a very comedic take on homophobic parents learning to love their gay sons. (Amazon)
These five cast albums should tide us over until the next Broadway season begins. Which songs and scores have been your favorites this year?
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