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Craig RubanoA few years ago, Craig Rubano (one of the myriad of Mariuses Broadway has seen) came up with an intriguing concept for a cabaret act: to put together an evening devoted to first act closing numbers. His CD, Finishing The Act, contains twenty such numbers and is largely a success. The biggest problem with the concept is that first act closers are, by their very nature, big emotional numbers designed to get the audience revved up and ready to come back after intermission. Thus, they all have similar energies and drives, which can get tedious after a while. Rubano largely solves this problem through his interpretations and arrangements. The album opens with a delightful fusion of the optimistic "Give My Regards To Broadway" (42nd Street) and the acerbic "Welcome To The Theater" (Applause, which complement each other with their opposition. These are followed by a sensual, low-key "Anything Goes" and a passionate flamenco-inspired "Impossible Dream" (Man Of La Mancha), which is partially sung in Spanish. These last two numbers, however, are the most laid back songs on the disc, and the rest of the songs possess similar builds and intensities, giving the album a feeling of sameness. There are a few other puzzlements in selections. The changing of lyrics in "You're Nothing Without Me" (from City of Angels and sung with Jeff Harnar) makes little sense when everything else has been faithfully interpreted. A medley of love songs with Rubano's Fantines (Catherine Hickland, Andrea McArdle and Alice Ripley) fails to build upon each other or tell a story. "Momma, Look Sharp" (1776) and "Father To Son" (Falsettos) have a lovely arrangement and musically blend well, but lyrically they don't work, as the point of view changes from dying son to a father giving advice. A much more effective choice would have been to stick with the latter song, as Rubano has a deep and very effective emotional connection with it. However, it remains a very enjoyable album largely due to Rubano's liquid baritone, which is a delight to hear. To sample Craig's CD, visit www.craigrubano.com

Craig SchulmanCraig Schulman has played the part of Jean Valjean in Les Miserables more than any other actor in the world. He also is the only one who has played the lead role in the triple crown of modern musical theatre: Les Mis, Phantom of the Opera and Jekyll & Hyde. [For more about Craig's career, see this interview]

The fact that he is also an accomplished classical singer made me more than a little reticent about listening to his CD, as I was afraid I was in for yet another 'blast the listener to the walls' tenor album. Happily, Schulman possesses a light lyricism and never oversings his material. His album, Craig Schulman On Broadway, was recorded at Abbey Road Studios in London with The Philharmonic Orchestra of London. It is a big, dynamic album of Broadway hits, many of which he has performed on stage, and Schulman sings the songs as if he were in character, which is a plus/minus situation. On the plus side, he sounds glorious and the album provides a nice souvenir for those who have seen him in the various shows. On the minus side, however, I rarely felt like I was hearing Craig the person singing, just the characters. Also, interpretations and choices that work on stage do not necessarily transfer well onto disc. For example, Schulman's take on "Music Of The Night" is very creepy and stalker-like, which perfectly fits the character and the context of the song within the show. On disc, however, the song proves to be more than a little off-putting when played on your home stereo. Also, with so many songs written for tenors, it makes no sense for Schulman to record "Night And Day" as he has to manipulate the melody to avoid all the low notes, thus robbing the song of its depth and haunting quality. For more information, visit www.craigschulman.com

Parker ScottLast year, Parker Scott's album, company of strangers, received a MAC nomination for Best Pop Vocal Recording and after listening to it one can readily understand why. Parker has a light, supple, soothing pop tenor that caresses each song and brings out each facet of emotionality contained within. The album is bookended by musical theater songs, a driving "Let It Sing" from Violet and a hard-hitting guitar version of "My Funny Valentine." In between are pop songs by Nick Drake (the haunting "River Man"), Jimmy Webb (an airy, emotionally effective "Shattered"), and Janis Ian/Kye Flemming ("She Must Be Beautiful"). All this makes for a very pleasant album (with a bonus track, that I'll let you discover on your own). For more information visit www.parkerscottnyc.com

Rex SmithRex Smith, currently on tour with Kiss Me, Kate, has returned to his pop roots with his latest album, You Take My Breath Away, a collection of '70s/'80s pop songs. If you have no stomach for the light ballads from the late '70s/early '80s, then this definitely isn't the album for you, as it contains the Manilow/Anderson "Could It Be Magic", Goodrum/Perry "Foolish Heart" and of course, Rex's 1979 hit "You Take My Breath Way (by Lawrence/Hart). Rex also co-wrote four songs on the album, which are also in that style and as such, are as effective (and enjoyable) as their brethren. The songs are all newly recorded and Rex remains in possession of a smooth, pop tenor that perfectly suits the songs. The orchestrations are smoothed down versions of the originals and provide an enjoyable dose of nostalgia. To order the CD, visit his website, www.rexsmith.com.

Danny ZolliFor some razor-sharp rock-and-roll tenor offerings, you need go no further than Danny Zolli's latest album, a story for another day. Zolli is best known for the myriad productions of Jesus Christ Superstar he has been involved with (including the 20th Anniversary National Tour and the North American Resurrection Tour) where he won critical acclaim for his portrayal of The High Priest Annas and his more than occasional performances of Jesus and Judas, which he understudied. [Also see this interview with Danny]

This album is mostly a collection of '70s and '80s pop/rock numbers like Stevie Wonder's "Don't You Worry 'Bout A Thing," Harry Nilsson's "One (Is The Loneliest Number)" and Don McLean's "Vincent (Starry, Starry Night)." Zolli's voice is perfectly suited for this style of song, sounding like a harder edged Phil Collins with a stratospheric range that never strains and an emotional connection, making for some moving moments. While I could have done without the harder, funkier "Under The Gun," as it doesn't match the rest of the album stylistically, Zolli shines on the quieter ballads, like "I Won't Hold You Back." My only qualm with the album is that the numbers are basically recreations of the original versions, possessing similar arrangements, sound, and vocal quality. The most effective song on the album is "Gethsemane" from Jesus Christ Superstar, which he truly makes his own through an arrangement and interpretation that are simply stunning. If he had done this with all the numbers, Zolli would have had an incredible album on his hands, rather than a very good one. For more information and samples from this and other albums, visit www.dannyzolli.com.


-- Jonathan Frank


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