By Ellis Nassour
“It’s been a season filled with creativity, diversity, innovation, exciting debuts, and a thrilling comeback,” says Charlotte St. Martin, Broadway League president. “There’s nothing like live theater, and no better way to see it than on Broadway.”
If you haven’t been fortunate enough to grab tickets for the season’s hot musicals, however, these bargain-priced original cast albums are a perfect way to enjoy aspects of the in-person experience.
Dear Evan Hansen by Benj Pasek, Justin Paul, and Steven Levenson (Atlantic: 14 tracks): Tony winner for Best Musical. This musical is a moving experience exploring the devastating emotions of an emotionally-repressed teen, who is hiding a secret. He uses tragedy to become close to a suicide victim’s sister and family, only to pay a life-altering price. Tony’s Best Actor Ben Platt gives a wrenching performance. Tony-winning (Featured Actress) Rachel Bay Jones is outstanding as his mother. The deep empathy of the ballads captivate and haunt. Highlights include: “If I Could Tell Her,” “You Will Be Found,” “So Big/So Small,” and “Words Fail.”
Come from Away by David Hein and Irene Sankoff (Musical Company: 25 tracks): Tony nominee for Best Musical. In the wake of the 9/11 attacks, 38 U.S.-bound planes were forced to land at Gander, Newfoundland due to air space closure. In a variety of motifs (ranging from folk reels to lush ballads), unprepared locals rise to the occasion, making lifelong friends. The winning cast includes Tony nominee Jenn Colella, as American Airlines’ first female pilot, and, in a variety of roles (like many in the cast), Chad Kimball (Memphis). Highlights include: “Lead Us Out of the Night,” “Me and the Sky,” and “Stop the World.”
Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812 by Dave Malloy (Reprise: 27 tracks on two discs): Tony nominee for Best Musical. This piece, blazing with romance and adapted from 70 pages of War and Peace, is a mesmerizing spectacle. It stars Tony nominees Denée Benton, who impatiently awaits her fiancé following the Napoleonic Wars, and Lucas Steele, a dashing, married scamp, as ravenous lovers. Josh Groban (no longer in the show) is interloper Pierre, who returns to Moscow to renew his soul and becomes Natasha’s redemption. The exceptional Brittain Ashford co-stars as Sonya. Highlights of the rousing score include: “No One Else,” “Dust and Ashes,” and “Sonya Alone.”
Groundhog Day by Tim Minchin (Masterworks Broadway: 19 tracks): Tony nominee for Best Musical. Tony-nominated and Olivier-winning Andy Karl (Rocky; Mystery of Edwin Drood revival) is an arrogant television weather forecaster caught in a time warp. He repeats the same day over and over—until love conquers all. This musical is based on the 1993 film. Highlights include: “Hope,” “Everything About You,” and “Night Will Come.”
Hello, Dolly! by Jerry Herman (Masterworks Broadway: 16 tracks/42-page booklet with lyrics): Tony winner for Best Revival. This is a color-drenched adaptation of Thornton Wilder’s Matchmaker, starring the divine Bette Midler who redefines ‘razzle-dazzle.’ In one show-stopping moment after another—whether she is singing, doing fancy footwork, or eating—Midler is the ultimate entertainer. Excellent support is provided by Tony nominee David Hyde Pierce, Tony winner Gavin Creel, and Tony nominee Kate Baldwin. Sadly, numerous cuts have been made on the cast album, shortchanging some marvelous stage moments. However, you won’t feel jilted on the Overture, “Dancing,” “Before the Parade Passes By,” or the title song.
Other cast albums include:
Amelie by Daniel Messé and Nathan Tysen (Rhino Warner Classics). The luminous Tony nominee, Phillipa Soo (Hamilton), returned to Broadway in this charming musical based on the book by Pulitzer Prize nominee and Tony nominee Craig Lucas (Light in the Piazza), and the beloved Oscar- and Golden Globe-nominated French film. (This show is now closed.)
Bandstand by Richard Oberacker and Rob Taylor (Broadway). In this musical, returning WWII soldier and singer/songwriter, Corey Cott, forms a band with vets to seek Hollywood fame. Haunted by memories of his dead pal, he meets his young widow, Tony nominee Laura Osnes, who reluctantly joins the band. There’s an instant attraction until a shattering secret is revealed. The show boasts pulsating Big Band orchestrations.
A Bronx Tale by Alan Menken and Glen Slater (Ghostlight). This is an adaptation of Chazz Palminteri’s 2007 streetwise play (also a 1993 film) about a father who challenges a mob boss to retain influence over his son. The show is set in the rough-and-tumble 1960s Bronx, where crime does pay. You will notice traces of Wise Guys and Jersey Boys doo-wop.
Also available are: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Scott Wittman and Marc Shaiman (Masterworks Broadway), which is based on Roald Dahl’s novel; and a two-disc revival of Falsettos by William Finn and James Lapine (Ghostlight: 60-page booklet), which his now closed. The latter is a Tony nominee for Best Revival and explores the changing relationships in modern families. The cast featured Tony nominees Christian Borle, Stephanie J. Block, Andrew Rannells, and Brandon Uranowitz. (The production was video recorded for theatrical release.)