There’s only a few weeks left to catch Aladdin onstage in London so what better time to sample the debut album from Agrabah’s finest son. Matthew Croke’s Only Dreaming was released earlier this year and serves as an excellent showcase for his smoothly appealing voice. He’s a Disney leading man through and through and whether paying tribute to his current home in the sweetly lovely ‘Proud of Your Boy’, or urging us to ‘Go The Distance’ with Hercules, it’s hard to resist him.
The emphasis in this collection is mainly on classic musicals, so we get ‘Singin’ in the Rain’, ‘Something’s Coming’ from West Side Story (though I’m not the biggest fan of the arrangement used here) and a gorgeous ‘Beautiful City’ from Godspell. There’s a nod to more modern musical theatre too, in the form of powerful versions of ‘Fight the Dragons’ from Andrew Lippa’s Big Fish and ‘This Is Not Over Yet’ from Jason Robert Brown’s Parade. Top of the pops for me though is the stirring rendition of The Wiz’s ‘Home’ which more than justifies the whole album.
Also dreaming her way to a debut album is Anna O’Byrne who released Dream back in 2016. Born in Australia, she can be currently be seen at the Charing Cross Theatre in Amour, though more immediate thrills can be found here. O’Byrne is a soprano of the old school and this is reflected in the canny choice of material that delves deep and far back to create a tracklisting full of unexpected gems, orchestrated to a dream by Jason Carr with Guy Simpson conducting an orchestra, just in case you were under any illusion she’s coming here to play.
So Patrick Doyle’s setting of ‘Weep You No More, Sad Fountains’ from Sense and Sensibility is tenderly elegiac in its beauty, Jerome Kern’s ‘Can’t Help Singing’ reveals her vocal strength all the way up the line, ‘Diamonds Are Forever’ reaches sparkling new heights in a thrilling new interpretation etc etc. There really are no weak links here, from the relaxed sways through ‘Blue Moon’ and ‘Sooner Or Later’, tender versions of ‘Love Never Dies’ and Randy Newman’s ‘When She Loved Me’.
The standout track for me though is the soaring duet on Casablanca’s ‘As Time Goes By’ with the irrepressible Rebecca Caine, their lush harmonising tingling the spine, the mid-song vocalese reminding us how sad it is that (contemporary) musical theatre doesn’t sound like this at least some of the time. More roles for proper sopranos please. A recommended listen.
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