Theatre is an inherently live art form, so it’s no surprise that our favorite Broadway stars often shine brightest when they’re in front of an audience. While that’s not to discount the brilliance of a well-produced solo album, live albums tend to capture something a bit more special and ephemeral, bringing the listener closer to that magic connection that happens between a performer and his or her audience.
We’re taking a look at some of the best live albums recorded by Broadway stars, presented in no specific order.
Patti LuPone: Live
Released in 1993, this album was LuPone’s first solo album, live or otherwise. She had, of course, by then already established herself as a true Broadway star, having appeared in Evita, Anything Goes, Oliver!, and the original West End production of Les Misérables. This two-disc album allows LuPone to cover a lot of territory, ranging from pop songs like “Get Here” to her thrilling take on Sondheim’s “Being Alive.” She also revisits the major roles from her career up to that point, offering “Meadowlark,” “As Long As He Needs Me,” “I Dreamed a Dream,” “Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina,” and “Sleepy Man,” among many others.
LuPone fans can also look to the legendary live album Patti LuPone at Les Mouches. In 1980, LuPone was appearing on Broadway in what would become her first Tony Award-winning performance, Evita. Though the role was and is one of the most vocally demanding roles in all of musical theatre, LuPone would head to NYC nightclub Les Mouches after her Saturday evening performance to do a solo concert that quickly became the talk of the town. After years of being passed around as a bootleg, live soundboard recordings from this concert were digitally remastered for a commercial release on CD in 2008. You can hear LuPone perform showtunes like “Rainbow High” and “Not While I’m Around,” but also some unexpected choices like Springsteen’s “Because the Night” and Bob Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man.”
This self-titled album was also Buckley’s first released solo album, recorded in 1984 at Saint Bartholomew’s Church in New York City. At the time, Buckley had already brought her nearly unprecedented and signature rafter-reaching belt to such shows as 1776, Promises, Promises, Pippin, and Cats. Her playlist doesn’t really pull from those performances, but what she does choose to sing is impressive regardless. Standouts include “Meadowlark,” “The Wind Beneath My Wings” (four years before Bette Midler sang it), and “Dark Blue-Eyed Blues,” the latter of which Buckley co-wrote with Lyle Mays.
Barbara Cook At Carnegie Hall
This album was a comeback of sorts for Barbara Cook, who, in 1975 when the album was recorded, was in a career slump after originating leading roles in Plain and Fancy, Candide, The Music Man, and She Loves Me. Though she’d been struggling with alcoholism, depression, and a food addiction through much of the 1970s, it was composer and pianist Wally Harper who urged her to begin a concert career. Cook revisits her major Broadway roles, singing three songs from She Loves Me, an earlier and expanded version of The Music Man’s “My White Knight,” and Carousel’s “Mister Snow.” The success of this concert and accompanying album launched Cook as one of the major cabaret performers of the last half-century, and listening to this album is perfect evidence of why.
Laura Benanti: In Constant Search of the Right Kind of Attention
Laura Benanti is known equally for her singing voice, acting ability, and sense of humor—the Tony winner has been seen on TV starring in dramas like Supergirl and as an Melania Trump impersonator on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. It’s no surprise that live cabaret performance gives Benanti her best opportunity to use all of her talents, and luckily one of them has been recorded. In Constant Search of the Right Kind of Attention, released in 2013, was recorded at Feinstein’s/54 Below. Benanti’s song list runs the gamut, from showtunes like “My Time of Day” and “On the Street Where You Live,” to pop songs (“Mr. Tanner”) and original tunes as well, notably the hilarious “Ukulele Song.” The album also includes all of her banter between songs, where Benanti’s charisma and personality particularly shine through.
Sondheim, Etc: Bernadette Peters Live at Carnegie Hall
Speaking of Broadway performers with a flair for comedy... Bernadette Peters! Peters came up working in the theatre, appearing in Off-Broadway’s Dames at Sea and on Broadway in George M!, Mack and Mabel, and Song and Dance. Once she was an established star, she became closely associated with composer Stephen Sondheim, creating the roles of Dot in Sunday in the Park with George and The Witch in Into the Woods, so Peters decided to focus on the Sondheim songbook when planning her 1996 Carnegie Hall concert. Titled Sondheim, Etc., this concert has Peters interpreting some of Sondheim’s best songs, including a one-woman version of “You Could Drive a Person Crazy,” “Broadway Baby,” and a soul-wrenching rendition of “Not a Day Goes By.” She covers some of her non-Sondheim career as well, with “Time Heals Everything,” “Raining in My Heart,” and “Making Love Alone,” a song she famously sang when hosting Saturday Night Live in 1981. And if you enjoy this album, you’ll be happy to know there’s more. Sondheim, Etc. Etc., with songs from the 1996 concert not included on the original album, was released in 2005.
A Happening in Central Park
Stage, film, and recording star Barbra Streisand has recorded several live albums, but it is perhaps her first that is most impressive. Recorded in 1967—three years after Streisand opened Funny Girl on Broadway and one year before the film adaptation would be released—A Happening in Central Park captures Streisand early in her career and at her best. She is in fantastic voice singing songs like “I Can See It,” “People,” and “Happy Days Are Here Again.” If you want more, there’s a DVD of the concert that offers some performances not included on the original album, including “Down With Love” and “The Nearness of You.”
Merman in Vegas
When this album was recorded, Ethel Merman was at the height of her fame as the Queen of Broadway, having starred in musicals like Anything Goes, Annie Get Your Gun, Call Me Madam, and Gypsy. Merman was a little unusual for Broadway stars of her day in that she spent the vast majority of her career on Broadway, seldom taking shows on tour or playing concert engagements. She made her night club debut at the Flamingo Hotel in 1962, and that’s the performance that was captured for this album. Merman mostly sticks to her hits, singing “I Got Rhythm,” “They Say It’s Wonderful,” “You Can’t Get a Man with a Gun,” “Blow, Gabriel, Blow,” and “There’s No Business Like Show Business,” but it’s interesting to hear her covering songs like Bye Bye Birdie’s “A Lot of Livin’ to Do” as well. For a performer who didn’t get to preserve many of her stage performances on film, this album is a fascinating glimpse at what one of Broadway’s biggest stars was like in front of an audience.