Every year I get on a Tony high and binge listen to Broadway cast albums. This year’s show was pretty good, and it reminded me of some musicals from a couple of years ago that I haven’t heard yet. So here’s my list of current Broadway favorites:
Look. There is no way you can go wrong with Motown. There’s a reason these songs are classic. They are so damn good. It’s a rich catalogue, and it seems like all the songs of the era are in the album. You get new arrangements of favorites like “Reach Out and Touch”, and “My Girl”, which just never gets old. Most of the tracks are medleys, which is good because you get to hear as many of them as possible. But sometimes the pace gets a little too frenetic and you need to take a break in between songs. But hey, if you need a mood boost, this is perfect.
4. Bright Star The Musical
Well, to be honest, I’ve only heard two songs from this Steve Martin/Edie Brickell musical because I haven’t been able to score the album yet. But! I think my obsession about these two songs and my determination to finally get my hands on the album more than make up for anything lacking. “If You Knew My Story” grabs you with the music and lyrics. What is your story? I do want to know! It’s unfair how much of a genius Steve Martin is. How can he be insanely funny, and also gifted in music? And Edie Brickell! 90s babies out there will remember her wonderful hit “What I Am” and how it permeated the airwaves when we were growing up. On the shallow side (which is where I spend a lot of my time), Carmen Cusack, the lead in Bright Star, is so gosh darn pretty. She has an amazing voice of course, but she also looks like she would fit in perfectly if she were transported to the setting of her play. Bright Star is not limited by the type of music – bluegrass and country – which in itself is so unconventional. The setting just happens to be in the South, so naturally the type of music would be bluegrass and country. It all works precisely because it is not your traditional Broadway music.
I’ve always been ambivalent about Sara Bareilles, but that all changed after hearing this album. Bareilles wrote the music for this Broadway adaptation of the Keri Russell movie and for her efforts she was nominated for a Tony! You can hear Bareilles’ distinctive style all over the songs, and it does have more of a pop feel than you’d expect from cast albums. But then look at Hamilton and hip-hop, so really, who’s to say what Broadway music should sound like anymore? It does not mean that the music is lightweight either. The songs are quirky, heartfelt, and eccentric, perfectly capturing the spirit of the movie and the story. There are a couple of incredibly moving songs, like “Soft Place To Land”, “You Matter To Me” (which is one of the most touching love songs I’ve heard in a while), and the affirming “She Used To Be Mine”. Jessie Mueller is quickly becoming my new favorite Broadway singer because of the way her imperfect delivery perfectly expresses all the heartbreak that Jenna (our Waitress) carries with her.
2. Beautiful: The Carole King Musical
Carole King is an artist who has always been in my life. She was always in the background – my older siblings would play her songs, or I’d hear them on the radio. The Tapestry cover is ingrained in my mind – I’m pretty sure I must have seen it around the house at some point, or at a cousin’s house. And because I always heard her songs, I never bothered to go deeper. How wrong is that? I never realized that beyond the beautiful melodies of “You’ve Got A Friend” or “Will You Love Me Tomorrow”, there were layers and layers of magic! It took this cast album and learning a bit more about King’s background to really understand all the facets of her music. I also had to learn about the tonic – what the hell is a tonic?!? – to appreciate fully the beauty of “It’s Too Late”. Basically, the song ends on an unresolved note to reflect the state of the relationship. The only teeny tiny disappointment I have about the album is that we don’t hear “Tapestry”, except as part of the overture. But that’s understandable, given that the musical traces King’s life pre-Tapestry. And hey look! Guess who plays Carole King – Jessie Mueller! She really can do wonders with her voice, because here she sounds uncannily like King. It’s almost unnatural. Just listen to the first few lines of “So Far Away” and you’ll know what I mean. Also a bonus is Jarrod Spector singing “Walking In The Rain”. Just gorgeous!