When one year comes to the end, I always enjoy doing my “best of” lists. So it’s time to take a quick tour through the cast recordings, plus a few soundtracks, that were released during 2014 and to reveal my 10 favorite ones.
I don’t know if this is strange, but I guess it happens to most people. Sometimes, what you feel when you listen to a recording for the first time, change after repeated listening or with time. Some scores need to grow on us, so we should always give them a second or third chance. It happened to me with two new scores, IF/THEN and HONEYMOON IN VEGAS; I found myself going back to both more than I thought I would and each time I’m enjoying those scores more and more.
Before I go on my tour here is the list of my favorite recordings of 2014 (I didn’t include reissues), with the fabulous YANK! at the top:
TOP TEN (in preference order):
YANK! – Original Off-Broadway Cast
ALADDIN – Original Broadway Cast
LADY DAT AT EMERSON'S BAR & GRILL – Original Broadway Cast
IF / THEN – Original Broadway Cast
HONEYMOON IN VEGAS – Original Broadway Cast
INTO THE WOODS - Original Movie Soundtrack
LI'L ABNER – Original Movie Soundtrack
PETER PAN LIVE! – 2014 Original Television Soundtrack
ROBERTA – Studio Cast
ON THE TOWN – Original London Cast
And now that you know what I like, here is a quick look to all the recordings I listened, some of them with a link to my review.
ALADDIN – I know many of you dismiss any Disney musical, but this is a funny, contagious and, at the same time, pop and conventional score. Personally I think it’s one of the best of the year, with a killer cast and two of my favorite new songs of 2014: the very Broadwayish “Somebody’s Got Your Back” and the emotional “Proud of Your Boy”. To read my review click here.
ANDROCLES AND THE LION – A score by Richard Rodgers is always attractive, but this TV soundtrack is recommend only to die-heard musical fans. I love Rodgers music, but this is far form his best work; nevertheless, there are more than a couple of interesting songs. To read my review click here.
ANNIE – What were they thinking? This soundtrack simply destroys the beloved score by Charles Strouse & Martin Charnin and the new songs are terrible. As for the cast, what can I say? Not one of the actors sounds convincing. Just forget this disaster and get your hands on the Broadway Cast or, my favorite, the soundtrack of the 1982 movie adaptation.
BEAUTIFUL – THE CAROLE KING MUSICAL – Jukebox musicals being what they’re, this one sounds good and have a winning performance by Jessie Mueller. It’s true, this isn’t my kind of music, but I enjoyed it. To read my review click here.
BIG FISH - Andrew Lippa came up with a lively score, brilliant orchestrated by Larry Hochman, that mixes Broadway traditional show tunes with contemporary songs. The show failed on Broadway, but I hope this rewarding cast recording will keep it alive. To read my review click here.
THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY – I know I’m probably alone with my thoughts regarding this one. Although I think Jason Robert Brown wrote a melodious score, it’s also monotonous and boring; it only comes alive when Steven Pasquale sings. But it won the 2014 Tony for Best Original Score, so what do I know? To read my review click here.
BULLETS OVER BROADWAY – Like the Woody Allen movies, this musical is a jukebox of jazz age songs. With terrific orchestrations by Doug Besterman, the songs are a joy to hear, the cast don’t take themselves serious and there’s a foolishness in the score that is contagious. To read my review click here.
FROM HERE TO ETERNITY – Can someone feel embarrassed by listening to a cast recording? Well, this one is sometimes so bad that I felt embarrassed. The action takes place in the 40s but the score by Stuart Brayson and Tom Rice is an uninteresting pop one. To read my review click here.
GENTLEMAN’S GUIDE TO LOVE AND MURDER - Robert L. Freedman & Steven Lutvak take us back to the glory days of the operetta and the English Music Hall and gives us a delicious comic score. The cast couldn’t sound better and I promise you’ll have a smile on your face while listening to this recording. To read my review click here.
HONEYMOON IN VEGAS – I love musical comedy and I never thought Jason Robert Brown, who I see as a serious and boring composer, could write one, specially as enjoyable as this. That’s what happens when you have preconceived ideas. The cast is in perfect tune with the songs and the result is a lively and funny recording, that have two of my favorite new songs of 2014: “Forever Starts Tonight” and “Waiting for You”. To read my review click here.
IF / THEN – For someone who, like me, doesn’t usually enjoy contemporary musical scores this may be a nice surprise. The cast, lead by Idina Menzel in great shape, is a strong one and the melodious songs by Tom Kitt, with unpretentious realistic lyrics by Brian Yorkey, make this a strong emotional score that grows on you. To read my review click here.
INTO THE WOODS – I’ve loved this Stephen Sondheim score since the first time I heard it and this new recording is really good. It’s true, a couple of songs are missing, but the orchestrations are lavish and the female cast is a strong one. Meryl Streep delivers one of the best “The Last Midnight” I’ve listened to and Emily Blunt is a surprise. It’s a great way to introduce this music to everyone who never heard about the show.
LADY DAY AY EMERSON’S BAR & GRILL – In this recording the great Audra McDonald metamorphoses into Billie Holiday and the result is brilliant! With a fabulous catalogue of golden oldies this was one of the best releases of 2015. To read my review click here.
THE LAST SHIP – A musical by Sting is the kind of thing that doesn’t appeal to my traditional musical tastes, but he came up with an interesting score sung by a good cast. There’s melody here, a little bit of “Riverside”, but in the whole is kind of depressing and turns me off.
LI’L ABNER – This movie soundtrack takes us back to a time where musicals were supposed to be fun and no one cared about messages and real life. Better than the Broadway Cast, it’s a highly entertaining score with catchy songs and the cast sounds like they we’re having fun. To read my review click here.
THE MAN WHO SAVED CHRISTMAS – Ron Lytle, like he did with his previous musical OH MY GODMOTHER!, takes us back to a innocent time with a melodious and feel good score, sung with heart by the cast. Among the songs the best is “No More Love Songs”, a kind of Jule Styne love song. To read my review click here.
MISS SAIGON – I’m sure this new recording will have all the MISS SAIGON fans (I’m not one of them) excited. It doesn’t bring anything new to the original score, but the new cast delivered strong voices and make the songs theirs. I never loved this score, but I always enjoyed some of its songs and this new recording is a good one.
MURDER FOR TWO – Two actors, Jeff Blumenkrantz and Brett Ryback, sing all the songs and play all the roles of this Off-Broadway whodunit musical by Joe Kinosian. It seems like it could be funny on stage, but the songs sound too much alike and it didn’t conquer me.
A NIGHT WITH JANIS JOPLIN – A jukebox rock musical isn’t, without any doubt, for me. This one sounds more like a rock concert than a cast recording, with a strong performance by Mary Bridget Davis. Personally, I prefer the songs not sung by her like “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out” and “Maybe (Cantels)”. To read my review click here.
ON THE TOWN – The Original London Cast of this musical was finally released on CD and it’s probably the less operatic recording of this classic. Light, easy and fun, with a good cast, it’s a joy to listen. To read my review click here.
PETER PAN LIVE! – I haven’t seen the TV production, but this soundtrack took me by surprise. I read terrible things about it and I expected the worst, what I got was a lively recording and I don’t have anything against the added songs. The cast sounds more than okay and I had a great time with it!
ROBERTA – It was about time for this terrific Jerome Kern & Otto Harbach score to have a luxurious cast recording and finally we have one. I confess I would have preferred for this two-disc release to have less dialogue, but even so it’s a must for all musical lovers. To read my review click here.
SAMSON AND DELILAH – Contemporary pop/rock musicals aren’t my thing and this one is uninteresting and repetitive. I doubt this concept recording can be improved, but you never know. To read my review click here.
SECOND CHANCE – It’s easy to see the Stephen Sondheim influences in this new score by Ted Shen, sung with talent by Brian and Diane Sutherland. The songs are melodious, sometimes a little bit jazzy, but kind of repetitive. Nice if you are on a quiet mood.
STARS OF DAVID – This new musical revue celebrates the lives of some famous Jewish public figures and does it with the help of a huge group of composers and lyricists, plus a good cast. The result is a diversified score, with songs for every taste. My favorite tracks are, no surprises here, “Smart People“, “Just Be Who You Are and specially “Book of Norman”.
VIOLET – I’m not very fond of country music and Jeanine Tesori’s score is a country-flavored score, but a terrific cast lead by a wonderful Sutton Foster delivers the songs with heart and soul making this an interesting recording. To read my review click here.
YANK! – For me this is the best cast recording of 2014! Brothers David & Joseph Zellnik came up with a heavenly delightful old fashion score that really made my day (many days to be correct). The songs have an innocent, humoristic and melodic quality that seems to be missing from most new musicals. The cast is simply terrific and it has two of the best songs of the year: the nostalgic “Rememb'ring You” and the deliciously amusing “Click” (my favorite song of 2014). To read my review click here.
You can also take a look at CAST RECORDINGS OF 2013 - A PERSONAL LOOK.