The Stephen Sondheim Album
Performances by various artists (including Liz Callaway, Lea DeLaria, and Ruthie Henshall)
Produced by Bruce Kimmel
Conducted by Todd Ellison
Orchestrations by David Siegal
Available at: <http://www.fynsworthalley.com>
Every time a new compilation of Stephen Sondheim’s comes out, I get very excited. Maybe it’s insanely obsessive to have six versions of some songs, but I don’t care. For those of you who aren’t tuned into the Broadway musical scene, Stephen Sondheim is a living legend. He has written the music and lyrics for eleven musicals that made it to Broadway, as well as other musicals that have achieved cult status without ever having played the Great White Way.
The new Sondheim compilation, entitled The Stephen Sondheim Album, is the second in the series dedicated to capturing highlights of a composer’s career on one CD. I absolutely adore the first one, The Stephen Schwartz Album, and absolutely adore this one too. The thing that makes this series so great is the fact that some of best singers on Broadway perform on it. Now obviously they cannot get Bernadette Peters or Barbara Streisand to do a number, but the people that contribute are unarguably very talented. The other amazing thing about this series is the full orchestrations. Every song comes spectacularly alive!
This new album includes mostly music that Sondheim wrote in the 1970s. There are many songs from Anyone Can Whistle, Follies, and Company, which were Sondheim’s first three musicals after the successful farce, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. Also, two songs from Saturday Night, the musical Sondheim wrote in the 1950s which never got produced until recently, are featured. Finally, two numbers from Into the Woods and one from Merrily We Roll Along are thrown in for good measure.
The highlights of the album are the three songs that have never been recorded before. The first one is a song cut from Follies, “It Wasn’t Meant to Happen,” sung by the wonderful Michele Pawk (who is currently in Seussical). Next is “Who Could Be Blue?” also cut from Follies and sung by the amazing Norm Lewis (Side Show). Finally, the last one is from the show Sondheim wrote during college, All That Glitters. And the special bonus track (only available if you order from the website) “I Must Be Dreaming” is beautifully sung by Emily Skinner (Side Show).
Another highlight is Alice Ripley’s (Side Show) amazing rendition of “Another Hundred People” from Company; I think that this is the best recording of the song available. Also, Brian D’Arcy James’s (Titanic) rendition of “Giants in the Sky” from Into the Woods is very well done. His voice quality is quite impressive. I also love the renditions of the two songs from Saturday Night and Dorothy Loudon’s rendition of “I’m Still Here” (Follies). The final highlight is the outrageous version of “Losing My Mind” (Follies) performed by Dame Edna, the international superstar (who will be performing in Boston in the spring). For those of you who don’t know, Dame Edna is actually Australian Barry Humphries in drag. He/she provides hilarious commentary during the instrumental parts of the song, and she even screeches a few of the sung notes. It is definitely the most entertaining track on the CD.
There are a few disappointments with the new album, however. Although the orchestrations are consistently amazing, some of the singers do not live up to the par of the others. For instance, Jane Krakowski’s (Ally McBeal) rendition of “Anyone Can Whistle” (Anyone Can Whistle) is cute, but not great. Compared to Bernadette Peters’ version, it is quite mundane and mediocre. Furthermore, Guy Haines’s (not famous for anything) version of “Sorry/Grateful” (Company) is purely boring. This is one of my favorite songs from Company, and I was very, very unimpressed with Guy’s average tone. Finally, although she has a really pretty voice, Christiane Noll cannot hope to compare to Bernadette Peters on “Not a Day Goes By” (Merrily We Roll Along) which is my favorite of all the songs Peters has ever sung.
Overall though, I was very happy with the album. The great singers and great performances of most of the tracks make it fairly easy to overlook the few banal ones. The performances will not upset anyone who has not heard the better versions of Sondheim’s songs. This is the perfect collection for anyone itching to learn more about musical theatre. It is also perfect for any die-hard Sondheim fan out there who is itching to listen to Sondheim’s more obscure material. I look forward to the next album in the series with great anticipation.