October's CD looks begin with traditions and twists ... Traditional theatre songs in traditional arrangements from theatre favorite Christiane Noll, then Lua Hadar's album of new and old songs called Lua With Twist, and a new twist on the traditional story of Cinderella: a gay twist.
In her latest album, rich-voiced Christiane Noll goes traditional, providing well-covered, big musical theatre numbers in lush orchestral settings, sometimes using the original orchestrations. Thus, the album title My Personal Property does not imply that she has reinvented them with unique arrangements or tempi or given them a twist to make them her own special "personal property" by staking claim with new or definitive approaches. (Personally, I wish she had; the renditions lack a stamp of individuality, so it feels more like a sweeping, musically pleasing concert than nuanced, lyric-driven involvement. Some acting instincts or personalization potential may be reigned in, but vocally crystalline Christiane reigns supreme.)
The album is titled after the song added to the movie version of Sweet Charity, and her joyful version is a very good start to a very good collection that will make you glad the soprano has at least rented or staked a claim on these grand pieces of musical real estate. In glorious voice, she sails through one giant landmark after another, most on the seriously romantic or grand scale. One number could be considered her personal propertyor at least grant her co-ownership. It's "In His Eyes," a song she did in one of her stage appearances, in the cast of Jekyll and Hyde heard on stage and previously on disc as a diva duo with Linda Eder. This time her partner is Christie LaVerdiere, and it's another passionate outpouring that goes over well, without going over the top or going for broke. Christiane tends not to go for mega-diva moments or melodramatic grandstanding: so her "With One Look" from Sunset Boulevard is not the self-congratulatory intense determination we've heard by others; it's shyer and shy of histrionicsnot by any means bland, but not riveting with high drama or implied high stakes. The same can be said for another Andrew Lloyd Webber melody, Evita's centerpiece of "Don't Cry for Me, Argentina."
Other duet partners are sturdy-voiced men singing roles they have played onstage: scoring on the soaring "And This Is My Beloved" from Kismet with Ron Raines; former Phantom of the Opera Davis Gaines on board for its title song, finding Miss Noll easily scaling the heights on the high-voiced finish; Doug LaBrecque for Show Boat's "Why Do I Love You?"; and for West Side Story's "Tonight," her Tony is a man who's played the role on stage as recently as this summer in Pittsburgh's CLO production, Max von Essen. Proving her versatility musically as well as the ability to partner well with all these voices, with no sense of competition or one outsinging the other, the duets are all fine and of course add vocal variety.
Some of these tracks have been released before, such as the showy Show Boat duet, on Labrecque's own excellent 2005 album. The two tracks that provide comic moments are also among those released before: "Johnny One Note" is on The Musicality Of Rodgers, part of the JAY label's series of composer tribute compilations, and Candide's grand "Glitter and Be Gay" is one of the tracks taken from the hard-to-find Three Broadway Divas album.
The album is vocally impressive and it's a feast for traditionalists and those who want to revel in the sounds of big voice, big ballads and big orchestras. But the occasional gentler, introspective moments in songs are more subtly satisfying and, perhaps oddly, have more real dramaI would have liked far more of those. In that area, "Is It Really Me?" (110 in the Shade) is the prime example.
Nevertheless, there's plenty to enjoy always with this vocally gifted lady pouring out her golden voice or flexing her ample vocal muscles. It's a welcome voice, whether on stage or numerous recordings: some of my favorites are her very first solo album, A Broadway Love Story, and her Town Hall appearances in Broadway by the Year (several on CD). Christiane Noll is also on the just-released cast album of Frankenstein I'll cover later this month. She recently appeared in the Signature Theatre (Washington, D.C.) production of the musical Ace; you can hear her singing Bernstein with the New York Pops in Manhattan today at 5:30 in Bryant Park (for free) and at Carnegie Hall on the 17th. This collection demonstrates she has the chops and theatrical sophistication for Bernsteinand apparently just about anything.
LUA HADAR WITH TWIST
For her second solo album, Lua Hadar (once one-third of a female vocal group called The Kitchenettes who recorded a cool CD before going their separate and distinct ways) does music with a twistunexpected approaches and song selections all over the map. The album title literally refers to the bandwhich goes by the name Twist. Showing her wide range, vocally and stylistically and singing in a few different languages, Lua and her album are full of surprises and satisfying trips to musical landscapes bordering on opera and pop and folk. Like the pacifist one-world wish celebrated in the convincing song "No Borders," she also makes a good case for music having no borders as she easily drifts from one genre to another like a chameleon. That song is one she co-wrote with album producer Candace Forest and her skillful musical director Jason Martineau, who plays piano and udu on the album as one of six musicians. His fine piano work throughout is a major attraction, especially on the final cut, the album's longest (over six minutes), "Vorrei."
Styles and sensibilities make for interesting, cross-pollinating musical bedfellows. One track blends the song of love (it's a sad song) from the 1953 movie Lili, "Hi-Lilli, Hi-Lo," with Francis Poulenc's setting of text by playwright Jean Anouilh, "Les Chemins de l'amour." Another interesting pairing is the well-covered Schwartz/Dietz standard "Dancing in the Dark" (whose profile this year is increased as it became the title song of a musical featuring their catalogue) with a much lesser-known number, "Twilight World" with a Johnny Mercer lyric and a melody by pianist-composer Marian McPartland. Lua brings an elegance and dignity to both numbersqualities she seems to come by comfortably and easily. She brings a mix of funkiness and classical approach to Dan Fogelberg's hit "Longer," and elsewhere dips into settings that could be called sultry, art song, jazz, and Latin ... and there are only nine tracks total!
If your musical tastes don't cover a broad swath, you might not find all tracks your cup of internationally flavored tea, and some might find the foreign languages and formal singing style in spots distancing. However, it might also broaden some horizons seductively with an open mind and some time (I like it more with each listen, as I did with her prior album.)
This month finds Lua Hadar performing in Bangkok, Thailandlike Christiane Noll, she's a native New Yorker, but she's more often found in the city where she's been based for quite a while: San Francisco. Her performances show not only serious classical and world music influences, but a flair for theatricality: she's also been on stage, such as work with the California 42nd Street Moon company and the new musical Emma. You can find her mostly back in the City by the Bay where she is an active part of its cabaret community, too. Expect the unexpected from Lua Hadar.
UNDER THE RADAR
Also from San Francisco is a new musical based on an old story, but with a twist. Taking place in that city, with a contemporary feel, the characters are mostly gay and/or gender-reversed and rowdier.
OH MY GODMOTHER!
Once upon a time there was Cinderella and, ever since it was first told how she and her stepsisters and stepmother stepped out to go to the ball and she stepped into glass slippers, the story has inspired variations and twists and turns and musicalizations. From the well-known Rodgers and Hammerstein and Disney scores and such modernizations as an Off-Broadway Cindy and the show Cindy-Ella, not to mention Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine making her one of the characters traveling Into the Woods, there's been a theatrical attraction for retellings of this literal rags-to-riches rich story.
As in the musical Mr. Cinders and the old Jerry Lewis movie Cinder-Fella where the Cinderella character got a gender switch, it's a guy in the very broad Oh My Godmother!. This time he's smitten with another guy in the City by the Gay Bay, a fellow who has been raised by two gay men. The fairy godmother is a straight-talking no-nonsense drag queen and, as the plot thickens, there's some confusion with the central character cross-dressing to disguise himself, causing the Prince to be uncertain of what gender he is attracted to at the ball.
Though outrageous, highly silly and high camp, Oh My Godmother! has a real love for old-fashioned musical comedy sparkle in its song styles and performance. Equal parts bouncy and bitchy, the score has a strong sentimental streak with perky and melodic songs and lyrics that have some zip and zingers. It's also rather sweet and sentimental underneath the showy and cheeky daffy doings. The catchy, reprised "CinderAlbert" is an ingratiating, rewarding tune and there are lively numbers, comic tour de forces with snippiness and snarkiness present, but there's lots of romantic bliss and idealism in the songs, too, with an extra layer: self-acceptance no matter your sexual preference. In its own way, it's innocent, and its bawdiness does not sink to smuttiness.
This is a somewhat modest effort with some performers far more polished as singers than others. Though all are enthused and dive into their stock character types and some gay stereotypes, some vocals leave something to be desired. But the comedy and sincerity come through and it's a very happy, fun listen with cleverness and high energy. Talented composer-lyricist Ron Lytle, with an obvious affection for his characters and musical comedy traditions, also produced the recording. A six-person band plays the bright, loopy and heartfelt melodies. For more on the show, waltz over to www.ohmygodmother.com but be sure to return by midnight.