Stage Sounds 2023


Cast Recordings reviewed by Peter Pinne


Some Like It Hot (Marc Shaiman/Scott Wittman) (Concorde Theatricals)


Billy Wilder’s 1959 film Some Like It Hot was comic genius. Two jazz musicians witness a mob killing in Chicago, then flee for their lives, joining a traveling all-girl band dressed in drag to escape. A classic. This new version of the plot may not be perfect, but it comes pretty close. With songs by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman (the guys behind Hairspray and Smash), direction by Casey Nicholaw, and a revamped plot by Matthew López and Amber Ruffin, it instantly gets your feet tapping.


Moving the story to 1933, to coincide with the end of prohibition, allows the songwriters opportunity after opportunity to create a score that at times mirrors Harold Arlen, with his blue-note harmonies, and Cole Porter, with his sassy list songs.


But the biggest overhaul is in the casting, with the two musos played by Christian Borle as Joe/Josephine and non-binary actor (and Tony winner) J. Harrison Ghee as Jerry/Daphne. The Marilyn Monroe role is played by Adrianna Hicks, a woman-of-color, as far removed from the blonde bombshell as possible, with Kevin Del Agulia as Osgood, while NaTasha Yvette Williams as Sweet Sue threatens to run away with the show whenever she gets the spotlight. The casting couldn’t be better.


Standout songs include Hicks’ ‘At the Old Majestic Nickel Matinee’ and ‘A Darker Shade of Blue’, Ghee’s ‘You Coulda Knocked Me Over With a Feather’ and Borle and Ghee’s ‘You Don’t Have Me (If you don’t have him)’. ‘Let’s Be Bad’ has been repurposed from the Smash score as a number with a Latin feelfor Del Aguila, whilst the title tune is a Nicholaw tap dance delight.


A 17-piece orchestra plays Charlie Rosen and Bryan Carter’s era-appropriate, and Tony winning, charts. A more traditional version of the story, Sugar by Jule Styne and Bob Merrill, played Broadway in 1972, whilst Wilder’s original movie was inspired by the French film Fanfare of Love.




Kimberly Akimbo (Jeanine Tesori/David Lindsay-Abaire) (Ghostlight Records)


Apart from its regular diet of popular tourist attractions that feature sequins, singalongs, and tap-dancing, Broadway of late has offered smaller off-beat musicals that fall into the category of Arthouse - Dear Evan Hanson, Fun Home and A Strange Loop. Frequently they take out the top prize and win awards. Kimberly Akimbo is this year’s Best Musical Tony winner.


Based on a play by David Lindsay-Abaire, it’s about a girl born with a rare genetic disorder called progeria – Kimberly Levaco (Victoria Clark) is a 15-year-old whose body resembles that of a woman well into her seventies. Knowing she will not live much beyond 16, she wants to experience everything the world has to offer, including skating, being a model for a day, and puppy love. It sounds like a downer, and it is, with an avalanche of sorrow underlying the material, but it’s also joyous and funny.


Anyone who saw Clark in The Light in the Piazza knows she can deliver the goods, and she does. It is no surprise she won the Tony. ‘Make a Wish’ is heartbreaking. But Clark is not the only standout in this show. Bonnie Milligan as Aunt Debra, a grifter with little conscience, wipes the floor with ‘How to Wash a Check’ and won a Tony for it, whilst Alli Mauzey, as the mother, has a fabulous blues-tinged ‘Father Time’.



Shucked (Brandy Clark/Shane McNally) (Sony Masterworks)


The initial idea for Shucked dates back to 2015, and earlier, when there was an attempt to get one of book writer Robert Horn’s projects up as Moonshine: That Hee Haw Musical, a stage version of the TV variety hour. After stalling for years, then being cancelled due to Covid-19, it finally opened, much revised, in Salt Lake City, Utah, in 2022, to positive reviews. Heading to Broadway, it went on to receive nine Tony nominations, winning one for openly non-binary performer Alex Newell - their song ‘Independently Owned’ is one of the joys of the cast recording.


The show is set in the rural Midwestern community of Cobb County. Maizy is forced to postpone her wedding when the corn crop is blighted, and, on the advice of her cousin Lulu, the local whiskey distiller, leaves town to try and find a way to save the corn. What results is a country-themed romp with lots of jokes about corn. Rodgers and Hammerstein it ain’t! The score is friendly, hook-heavy, and sweet. Andrew Durand’s ‘Somebody Will’ and Caroline Innerbichler’s (Maizy) ‘Maybe Love’ have a chance of becoming ear-friendly. Bonus tracks are by the composers, with an acoustic workshop of ‘Friends’ and ‘Maybe Love.’



Camelot (Alan Jay Lerner/Frederick Loewe) (Broadway Records)


Lincoln Center’s recent revival of Lerner and Loewe’s Camelot has spawned an agreeable cast recording. Not as brilliant as the team’s masterpiece My Fair Lady, which preceded it, the work has tended to be overlooked. But it is a more than competent score with some felicitous rhymes and romantic themes.


Based on the novel The Once and Future King by T.H. White, it tells the story of King Arthur, his love for Queen Guinevere, and her love for Sir Lancelot. This new version has a book by playwright-of-the-moment Aaron Sorkin, and is headed by Andrew Burnap as Arthur, Phillipa Soo as Guinevere, and Jordan Donica as Lancelot. Burnap has the acting chops for the role, having appeared in King Lear in 2014, Soo won acclaim for Hamilton, and Donica was a Raoul in The Phantom of the Opera, so the vocals are spot-on. ‘I Wonder What the King is Doing Tonight’ and ‘How to Handle a Woman’ have a youthful vitality, Soo, the nearest thing Broadway has these days to Julie Andrews, mines the olde-worldy cadences of ‘The Simple Joys of Maidenhood’ with charm, and Donica is a worthy successor to Robert Goulet in ‘If Ever I Would Leave You’. He also gets to sing ‘I Loved You Once In Silence’, which has been repurposed in this production for Lancelot. A 30-piece orchestra is the icing on the cake.



Sweeney Todd (Stephen Sondheim) (Warner Bros)

The glorious sound continues with the recent entry of Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd at the Lunt-Fontanne. Not since Harold Prince’s groundbreaking production of 1978 have Jonathan Tunick’s superb orchestrations been heard in their entirety. A 26-piece orchestra re-creates Sweeney’s razors, Mrs Lovett’s pie-shop, and the piercing whistles of industrial London in all their gory, and glorious, detail.


Josh Groban as Sweeney and Annaleigh Ashford as Mrs Lovett give us one of the best sung versions of Sondheim’s masterpiece. Groban with his quasi-operatic pop baritone makes sure every word is bell clear, and Ashford, with apologies to Angela Lansbury, is hilarious, and a brilliant comic foil. Groban sings the heart out of ‘Johanna’, and ‘My Friends’ and ‘Epiphany’ are both chilling, whilst with Ashford in ‘By the Sea’ they become a rollicking riot. The other standout is Gaten Matarazz’s Toby, who sings a haunting ‘Not While I’m Around’. Sondheim has never sounded better. Rejoice!



Funny Girl – New Broadway Cast Recording (Jule Styne/Bob Merrill) Masterworks Broadway 19658788882)


Lea Michele has done the impossible by stepping into a floundering show and making it a hit. Not only a capacity, standing-room-only hit but a hit that keeps on setting new box-office records. From the moment she starts singing ‘I’m the Greatest Star’, she puts her stamp all over Funny Girl, the revival of the 1964 Broadway musical about Ziegfeld performer Fanny Brice. She is sensational. Of course we all knew she could sing the role, (she’s been auditioning for it for years on five seasons of Glee as Rachel Berry), and auditionees don’t come much better than this. It’s the best version of the score since Barbra Streisand made it her own in 1964. She effortlessly belts ‘Don’t Rain On My Parade’ and brings down the emotional quiver of ‘The Music That Makes Me Dance’ to a tender vulnerability.


This is not a new production, having already been seen in London in 2016 where Sheridan Smith essayed the title role. Directed by Michael Mayer, who directed Michele’s first Broadway outing, Spring Awakening, 26 years ago, her voice is still breathtaking with a new maturity. ‘Find Yourself a Man’ is still cut, but ‘Temporary Arrangement’ is included (it was dropped because leading man Sydney Chaplin couldn’t sing it), as is the duet of ‘Who Are You Now’, which is beautiful and heartbreakingly real. At last we have a leading man, Ramin Karimloo, who can really sing Nick Arnstein’s numbers. Not only does this help Fanny’s duets ‘You Are Woman, I Am Man’ and ‘Sadie Sadie’, but it helps flesh out the character. Tovah Feldshuh is a waspish joy as Brice’s mother, and gets full-mileage out of ‘Who Taught Her Everything She Knows’ with Jared Grimes. The song ‘Funny Girl’, which was used in the movie version, is performed by Karimloo, and at the finale by Michele. The orchestra is led by Michael Rafter, who does a great job with Jule Styne’s score. When you start off with an ‘Overture’ like this, who can go wrong? Along with Gypsy (also by Styne), it’s one of the Golden Age’s iconic masterpieces!



Mark Vincent – In The Eyes Of A Child (Sony Music 194399 914427)

Tenor Mark Vincent won Australia’s Got Talent in 2009 and since then has had a meteoric rise on the entertainment scene, having released ten studio albums. In the Eyes of a Child is more of the same: some Broadway and movie themes, plus a host of power ballad classics. The title song by Air Supply is a very affecting opening, with a symphonic sound and choir. Mariah Carey’s ‘Hero’, with backing chorus, and Ragtime’s ‘Make Them Hear You’, segue into a powerful vocal of Freddie Mercury’s ‘Love of my Life,’ followed by John Miles Errington’s 1971 hit ‘Music’, complete with a full orchestral break.Richard Marx’s hit for Josh Groban ‘To Where You Are’ and Bryan Adams’s ‘Have You Ever Really Loved a Woman’ (Don Juan DeMarco), rub shoulders with ‘The Power of Love’, ‘A Time For Us’, ‘Canto Della Terra’ and ‘Il Mondo’, to complete an excellent 12 track selection.

Chong Lim conducts a superb orchestra, the sound is incredibly lush, and Vincent’s vocals are jaw-droppingly thrilling.



Liz Callaway – To Steve With Love – Liz Callaway Celebrates Sondheim (Working Girl Records)


Liz Callaway has been in love with Sondheim since she appeared on Broadway in Merrily We Roll Along as a teenager. This album is essentially the program Callaway presented here in Brisbane, with a piano-bar vibe. She has fun with ‘What Do We Do? We Fly’ from Do I Hear a Waltz and ‘Another Hundred Lyrics’, a clever send-up of the difficulty of singing Sondheim set to Company’s ‘Another Hundred People’. She couples two of Sondheim’s most luscious numbers from Evening Primrose, ‘I Remember’ and ‘Take Me To The World’, and sings Merrily’s ‘Move On’ with her son, who just happens to have a robust baritone.


Callaway's patter is easy, with a conversational warmth. She talks of her parents loving Company, but walking out of Follies, suspecting the subject matter was a little too close to the bone. They divorced a few years later. Callaway’s vibrato is a little too wide these days, but there’s no doubt she knows her subject well. It’s a classic selection of the Sondheim oeuvre. ***   


Barbra Streisand – Live at the Bon Soir (Columbia Records, Legacy Series 19658713762)

This new release from Barbra Streisand has been sixty years in the making. Originally recorded at the Bon Soir Supper Club in Greenwich Village, New York, back in November 1962, Barbra, then 18, began her career singing Broadway standards. She earned a buzz, the contract kept being extended, and resulted in a recording contract from Columbia.


Never released before, the album of 24 tracks is everything that she sang on November 5, 6, & 7, 1962. If some things were a little bit kooky, for instance Cole Porter’s ‘Come To the Supermarket (In Old Peking)’ from the television musical Aladdin, and ‘Napoleon’ from Harold Arlen and Yip Harburg’s Jamaica, there was still plenty to get excited about - ‘Cry Me A River’, ‘A Sleepin’ Bee’ and a languid and haunting ‘Happy Days Are Here Again’, which later developed into her signature song. Nine of the tracks had previously been released on her four album Just for the Record box-set in 1991, and the pick of the bunch is one of those tracks, Rodgers and Hart’s ‘Nobody’s Heart’ from By Jupiter. The voice is pristine, youthful and bewitching!



The Musicality Of Bart – Lionel Bart (Jay CDJAZ9018)


For many years Jay Records have been releasing their ‘Musicality’ series of Broadway and West End composers. The latest is the music of Lionel Bart. Bart was a colourful Cockney who could pluck melodies seemingly out of the air and had great success with Fings Ain’t Wot They Used T’Be, Lock Up Your Daughters, Maggie May and Blitz! But his crowning achievement was Oliver!


There are songs from all of them, including his big flopperoo Twang!!, a musical version of Robin Hood. The big chorus numbers are a boisterous ‘Consider Yourself’ (Company), ‘Who’s This Geezer Hitler’ (Diane Langton)  and ‘Maggie, Maggie May’ (Graham Bickley), but for sheer emotional pull you can’t go past ‘As Long As He Needs Me’ from Oliver! Sung by Josephine Barstow, it has that marvelous theatrical presence of being sung in a theatre!