Dozens of theatre albums were released this past year, but five of them stood out for their sound and singularity.
Why it’s on our list: The ultimate musical theatre showstopper, “Put On Your Sunday Clothes.”
While leading lady Bette Midler was the definitive draw for this revival, the stand-out song for this Dolly, or any Dolly for that matter, isn’t “Before the Parade Passes By”—time and again it comes down to “Put On Your Sunday Clothes.” Jerry Herman’s score is a joyous concoction crafted simply to delight and enthrall audiences, and it kicks into high gear with this first act production number.
This is the moment when the 28 musicians in Hello, Dolly!'s orchestra steal the show without ever stepping foot on stage. Expertly handled on this revival by conductor/music director Andy Einhorn, Philip J. Lang’s original 1964 orchestrations are spiffed up thanks to sparkling new charts by orchestrator Larry Hochman and vocal arranger Don Pippin, who ends the number with a thrilling new vocal flourish.
The orchestra seems to nearly tumble over itself and derail with excitement in the last 60 seconds of the number as the trumpets wail on those half-note triplets in the final verse. In a brilliant moment of orchestral magic, the entire orchestra chugs perfectly into place, bells and whistles toot in locomotive rhythm, horns blare, and the entire Shubert Theatre is steaming toward New York City along with Dolly Levi and company.
There can be no better seat on Broadway than in the pit of the Shubert Theatre every night during “Put On Your Sunday Clothes.”
Dear Evan Hansen
Why it’s on our list: Ben Platt’s “Waving Through a Window.”
If Broadway had a song of the summer, or the season, it would hands down be Ben Platt’s thrilling delivery of Pasek and Paul’s twisting gut-wrencher “Waving Through a Window.” Musically, the song is filled with extreme peaks and valleys, and Pasek and Paul’s risky move to pull the rug out from under listeners (on several occasions during the song) pays off. From the rhythmic layers of the show’s opener to the overwhelming fullness of “You Will Be Found,” from Rachel Bay Jones’ tenderness in her solo “So Big/So Small” to the song that stops everyone in their tracks (“Words Fail”), ingredients collide in one of the most satisfying pop scores since Next to Normal.
Why it’s on our list: Ahrens and Flaherty’s superb score was the most overlooked of the season.
It’s been 20 years since Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty earned an Academy Award nomination for “Journey to the Past” from the 1997 Fox animated feature Anastasia. When it came time to bring the production to the stage, the writers seamlessly picked up where they left off, crafting a dramatically complex score that threads familiar motifs from the film into the historic realism of the musical. Anastasia has come of age with her fans. Anya’s new numbers, “In My Dreams” and the ravishing “Crossing a Bridge,” are paired with the rousing “Still,” written for the new character Gleb. All of this is balanced with light-hearted material like “We’ll Go From There,” which conjures the joy of the original film. Only Ahrens and Flaherty could make this sound easy. Ask any musical theatre team who attempted to write a sequel to one of their hits, going back in time is often impossible.
Natasha, Pierre, and The Great Comet of 1812
Why it’s on our list: It may well be Broadway’s first immersive cast recording.
It’s a miracle that The Great Comet exists at all, let alone that it shone its light on Broadway for however fleeting its run was. The daring and endlessly inventive work, which rocketed from the mind of Tony-nominated creator Dave Malloy, was staged in a dazzling immersive production by Tony nominee Rachel Chavkin that overtook the entirety of the Imperial Theatre. This unconventional staging, paired with Malloy’s score that melded electro-pop and lush acoustic orchestrations, required a completely new sound design never before tested on Broadway (with software invented for the production). What sound designer Nicholas Pope achieved at the Imperial has been preserved on the show’s Broadway cast album, which completely envelops the listener, somehow managing to place us right back in the middle of Malloy’s Russian samovar. The soundstage and reverb on Deneé Benton’s “No One Else” will stop you in your tracks. And, unlike the original 2013 recording, this Broadway cast album features the additional song “Dust and Ashes,” immortalized by the sonic greatness that is Josh Groban. Long live The Great Comet.
Why it’s on our list: In the words of Lin-Manuel Miranda, it’s the “best jazz score since either Jelly’s Last Jam or City of Angels, take your pick.”
Written by Broadway first-timers Robert Taylor and Richard Oberacker, Bandstand’s score—and, subsequently, its album—exudes an unparalleled explosive energy and vitality. From blaring brass in “Ain’t We Proud” or the thrumming bass solo in Act 2 opener “Nobody,” the recording preserves the combined musicality of the orchestra and the onstage Donny Nova Band. The musical storytelling is at an A+ with songs like the love duet sung by Corey Cott and Laura Osnes “This Is Life” and lyrical cleverness meet musical impact in Act 1 closer “Right This Way.” Not to mention, Cott and Osnes are at the height of their vocal prowess—Cott nailing Donny’s pins and needles aura and an ungodly belt in “Donny Novitski” and Osnes sheds her ingenue persona and demonstrates her strength and versatility on the power ballad “Love Will Come and Find Me Again” and unconventional 11 o’clock number “Welcome Home.” This is a sonic don’t-miss.
Honorable Off-Broadway mentions: Of course, musical theatre albums outside of Broadway also made an impressive showing this year and honorable mentions go to the live cast recording of Hadestown: The Myth The Musical, written by Anais Mitchell and featuring The Great Comet’s Amber Grey, Spider-Man’s Patrick Page, and This Is Us’ Chris Sullivan and The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical, produced by Broadway Records featuring Chris McCarrell, Carrie Compere, Sarah Beth Pfeifer, Jonathan Raviv and more.