Casting my eye over some recent musical theatre album releases: Audra McDonald’s live album Sing Happy, Louise Dearman’s latest collection For You, For Me and the long-awaited cast recording for Everybody’s Talking About Jamie.
There are few things as well-designed as Audra McDonald’s thrilling soprano to make you happy, so the title of her new album Sing Happy is apt indeed. Her first live album and her first backed by an orchestra (the New York Philharmonic), the gig was recorded just a few days ago on 1 May and no wonder they were so quick to turn it around.
Whether shimmering through Porgy and Bess’ timeless ‘Summertime’, proudly getting her life in La Cage aux Folles’ ‘I Am What I Am’ or absolutely nailing She Loves Me’s ‘Vanilla Ice Cream’, McDonald’s velvety textured voice is always so exciting to listen to. And the drama of songs like ‘Never Will I Marry’ sound glorious with the richness of the orchestral backing (conducted by Andy Einhorn).
An affinity for Sondheim comes into play twice, a medley of ‘Children Will Listen’ with South Pacific’s ‘You’ve Got To Be Carefully Taught’ and in a showstopping take on ‘Being Alive’, still manages to surprise with the heights to which she lifts the song. An unalloyed, absolute pleasure.
A glance at the tracklisting for Louise Dearman’s fourth solo album For You, For Me shows off a nice mix of old and new musical theatre. Instant modern classics like Hamilton and Waitress rub shoulders with Mack and Mabel and Yentl and it is a beguiling confection.
A committed ‘Easy as Life’ does more to make me want to see Aida than anything thus far, the tenderly beautiful ‘With You’ makes me miss Ghost, and a pair of duets with the marvellous Laura Pitt-Pulford almost make me want to reassess Side Show (or perhaps see it as a staged concert…).
Personally, I can live without another rendition of Hamilton’s ‘Burn’, but that’s only because there’s such riches elsewhere. A radical rearrangement of Carole King’s ‘Beautiful’ is just stunning but the album’s highlight comes with a subtle re-imagining of La La Land’s ‘City of Stars’ with current Simba Nick Afoa which imbues it with a soulful lightness that actually exceeds the original.
Everybody’s Talking About Jamie may not have won any Olivier Awards, from its 5 nominations, but it has won over many a willing (and unwilling) heart with its heart-warming, runway-stomping production at the Apollo. And though we’ve had Dan Gillespie-Sells’ concept album (with special guests) to tide us over, a cast recording has been released which captures much of the show’s joie de vivre.
For completists, it’s a good thing as it adds a couple of tracks that weren’t available on that concept album. It does mean that we lose the magnificence of Betty Boo’s rap but Tamsin Carroll is no mean replacement. And it’s so great to have these fully-realised versions of the songs to sit alongside the interpretations by their creator. Lucie Shorthouse’s simple but gorgeous ‘It Means Beautiful’, the full company ripping loose in the strutting ‘Work of Art’, Phil Nicol’s entirely charismatic ‘Legend of Loco Chanelle’.
The stars though remain the absolute highlight. John McCrea’s fiercely proud Jamie is as shining a presence on record as he is onstage, especially in setting the scene with opening track ‘And You Don’t Even Know It’. And Josie Walker is just perfect as his long-suffering mother, her two solo moments of ‘If I Met Myself Again’ and ‘He’s My Boy’ remaining absolute tearjerkers. A fitting testament to a top-notch show.
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