One of the great things about writing the Cabaret column here on Talkin' Broadway is that I am constantly being introduced to performers whom I had not known existed until their press kits and CDs arrived in my mailbox. The number of talented performers out there is truly astounding, and I wish I could interview all of them. Unfortunately, the column would have to expand to a weekly missive, and somehow I don't think my fingers would ever forgive me for that. So to help rectify this situation, I would like to introduce you to four performers whose CDs I think are particularly noteworthy, but for various circumstances have not worked out as interviews.
The first of these albums is At the Beginning by Stacy Sullivan. Last year I received this CD unaccompanied by any press information (word to all of you aspiring interviewees out there ... this is a big no-no!). But the CD, and more importantly the voice behind the album, impressed me to such an extent that I tracked Stacy down to find out more about her.
Currently living in the Los Angeles area, Stacy has been seen in many PAWS/LA, S.T.A.G.E., and Equity Fights AIDS benefits. Her musical theater credits include Christine in the Los Angeles area premier of Phantom, Rosabud in The Mystery of Edwin Drood with Karen Morrow and the late George Rose, and Babes in Toyland with Robert Morse. And yes, she is the sister of another great cabaret performer, KT Sullivan.
Stacy possesses one of the most sensual, smoky altos I have ever had the pleasure of hearing and producer/arranger/orchestrator John Boswell has crafted an elegant and delightful mix of standards and unfamiliar songs to show off the various facets of her voice and personality. From the sultry "I Know a Place" to the reflective "Don't Move a Muscle;" from the playful "On Broadway" to the joyous title song by Ahrens and Flaherty, this is an incredibly well realized and put together album. John Boswell has done an incredible job of making the CD sound unified without making the songs sound overly similar or stylistically repetitive.
It is hard for me to pick out a favorite track, as this CD was one of my favorite albums of last year and is in constant rotation on my CD player. But if I were forced to, I would pick "Carpet Ride," written by another sister, Heather, as it made me all misty-eyed when I saw Stacy perform it at the West Coast Cabaret Convention in June.
At the Beginning is distributed through LML Music.
Another LML CD and one that has received a great deal of time on my CD player this year is Lisa Richard's Born to Entertain. While the album contains few surprises, being comprised primarily of familiar show-tunes, there is a lot to be said for hearing comfortable, known songs performed well.
Lisa has a big brassy voice out of the old belters school of musical theater, and her album is equally bold and brassy with an orchestra larger than most Broadway shows. The CD contains a nice blend of styles from the big band feel of Frank Wildhorn's "Big Time" to the quasi-disco "Downtown." While Lisa can belt with the best of them, it is on her quiet numbers that she really shines. In the simple, heartfelt "I Will Be Loved Tonight" from I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change, and "Never Enough" from Inside Out, Lisa displays a touching emotional honesty that sometimes gets lost in the bigger numbers. My favorite track on the CD is the old standard "Nevertheless (I'm in Love with You)" as Lisa performs it with a verse I had never heard before, and the whimsical arrangement by Bill Liston is delightful. For more information visit Lisa's website.
One of the few female lyricists to achieve any notoriety and definitely one of the most under-appreciated is Carolyn Leigh. She is also one of the most diverse in terms of style, swinging with ease between Sinatra standards like "The Best is Yet to Come" and "Witchcraft," and big Broadway numbers like "Hey Look Me Over" (Wildcat), "The Other Side of the Tracks" (Little Me), and "Step to the Rear" (How Now Dow Jones).
Sara Zahn, with the help of Barry Kleinbort and Christopher Denny, has put together a wonderful tribute to Carolyn Leigh with an album entitled Witchcraft - The Songs of Carolyn Leigh. The CD is as eclectic and diverse as its subject and alternates between jazz-ensemble backed tracks (the scintillating pairing of "You Fascinate Me So" and "Witchcraft,") and simple piano/vocal numbers, many of which have never been previously recorded.
It is worth purchasing the CD solely for one such unrecorded number, "When Jeremiah Can Be With Me," a touching, almost heartbreaking song delivered by a weekend-only mother. Sara has great empathy for lyrics and a versatile instrument that is well suited for the myriad styles of music attached to Carolyn Leigh's words. This is a must-have CD for any fan of musical theater or cabaret. Not only is it a wonderful resource of songs from non-produced shows like Gatsby, Flyers, and the Hamlisch/ Leigh version of Smile, but it is also a delightful listening experience by a very talented performer.
Lest you think that there are no good recordings by men out there, I submit to you last, but certainly not least, Bobby Belfry's Imperfect Rhymes . Unlike the rest of the CDs profiled here, Bobby's CD is comprised primarily of original songs that he wrote with music director Christopher Marlowe. These songs range from the pure pop of "Is Someone Out There" to the infectious jazz/R&B "One of These Days." This is not your typical cabaret album and may be a bit too 'pop' for some people's tastes, but for those who like a dash of intelligently written pop/R&B styled songs every now and then, this is definitely an album to sample.
Bobby Belfry has a lively, pure tenor that is at home in any genre, and he has a flair for writing lyrics that are more than a little tongue-in-cheek. Throw in a winning personality that comes across loud and clear on Imperfect Rhymes and you have a force to be reckoned with. One very interesting note about the CD: I did not realize until popping it into my computer that Imperfect Rhymes is an enhanced CD with a photo gallery, a link to his website, and best of all, a video clip of Bobby performing on MSNBC's Morning Blend. This should have been mentioned somewhere prominent on the CD as it is a treat to see Bobby performing a sample of "One of These Days."