Sound Advice by Joseph Molnar

star -
  • any of the heavenly bodies appearing as bright points in the sky at night.
  • a person who is distinguished in some art.
  • a celebrated actor, singer, etc., esp. one who plays the lead in a performance: a movie star.

These are the definitions the dictionary gives us for the word "star." Any of them can be applied to Caroline O'Connor. Upon hearing her debut solo recording, I am positive that this woman is destined to join the ranks of Patti LuPone, Betty Buckley, Elaine Paige and Bernadette Peters as one of the great divas of the musical theater world. As evidence of that, she is currently wowing them in Australia as "Velma" in the hit revival of Chicago.

For her debut disc, "What I Did For Love," (JAY records) Miss O'Connor has chosen a program of familiar theater standards, opening and closing the disc with two songs from Chicago, "All That Jazz," and "Nowadays." In between these numbers she becomes Fanny Brice - "Don't Rain on My Parade", Lola - "Whatever Lola Wants", and Betty Rizzo - "There are Worst Things I Could Do." Few musical theater actresses could sound comfortable in all three of those roles. Miss O'Conner has one of the most versatile voices I have heard in along time. In fact, it would be hard to name one single female performer to emerge in the past decade with a range this impressive. She can belt as well as she dances which is a very rare thing nowadays.

Some of the other tracks on this CD include "Who Will Love Me As I Am?" from Side Show (sung as a solo), "What I Did For Love" from A Chorus Line, and "The Night It Had to End" from Romance, Romance, a show in which she played the lead role in the London premiere. There are a few tracks recycled from previous JAY recordings on which she has appeared: "Life Upon a Wicked Stage" from Show Boat and "America" from West Side Story. In the latter track she gives Chita Rivera a run for her money, even sounding eerily like her.

From Mack & Mabel, the show for which she originated the role of "Mabel" in the West End, she re-recorded "Time Heals Everything." I don't recall being impressed by her considerable talents on the 1995 original London cast recording of Mack & Mabel, but she certainly shines here on each and every number.

Some of the original orchestrations are used, but most are new ones by Larry Moore. They resemble the originals, so almost all of these songs sound as if they are from cast recordings rather than from a solo recital. This CD is certainly the solo recital of the year as far as I'm concerned and I couldn't recommend it more highly. I look forward to her Broadway debut, which shouldn't be too far away.

Petula Clark, who is most famous for the pop song "Downtown," has just released her debut CD from Varese Sarabande, "Here for You." While Miss Clark is primarily known as a recording artist, she has ventured onto the silver screen and the musical theater stage from time to time. She has starred in the musical films, Finian's Rainbow and Goodbye Mr. Chips and on stage she has appeared as "Maria Rainer" in The Sound of Music, "Mrs. Johnston" in Blood Brothers, and "Norma Desmond" in Sunset Boulevard. She has recently reprised that role in the redesigned U.S. national tour of Sunset Boulevard.

While I have never been a fan, I was mostly familiar with her appearance in the film Finian's Rainbow; that was, until I attended a performance of Blood Brothers. I attended this show because I knew the score from its previous recordings and I wanted to see the Cassidy brothers. To my surprise, Petula Clark completely won me over with her magnetic stage presence, great acting ability and soaring voice. I have been equally thrilled by her voice on a mini-disc of songs from Sunset Boulevard.

"Here for You," is a mixture of pop tunes and theater songs. She starts the set off with a song called "Here We Are" and ends with "Here for You" which she penned. Both are very pretty pop tunes. Among the showtunes on this CD are Kismet's "Stranger In Paradise," Tommy's "Pinball Wizard" (an unusual choice, but Miss Clark sounds 20 years younger on this track) and Rent's "Seasons of Love." Also included is "Easy," a song from Someone Like You, the musical she co-wrote and starred in on the West End. Miss Clark also revisits "Look To The Rainbow" from Finian's Rainbow.

The CD's best tracks have to be the four Sondheim songs in which she gets to use her acting skills: "I Never Do Anything Twice" (complete with sound effects), "Losing My Mind," "Not A Day Goes By," and "Children Will Listen." While her voice is still strong, there is a bit of wear and tear around the edges. She sometimes has a tendency to sound as if she cannot sustain a note, especially when singing in a softer tone, and she actually sounds better when she is belting. Nonetheless, she still has that distinctive style that is all her own and, while some of the arrangements are odd, Miss Clark still shines like the star she is.

"I Am Woman", "Delta Dawn" -- when one hears these songs the name Helen Reddy immediately comes to mind. While these songs and Helen will be forever linked, what most people don't know is that Helen's first single was a recording of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice's "I Don't Know How to Love Him." It is no surprise that Helen returned to her roots and recorded an album entitled "Center Stage," dedicated to show tunes for the Varese Sarabande label. In the time between the release of that first single and this CD, Helen has made numerous appearances in musicals, such as Anything Goes, Call Me Madam, The Mystery of Edwin Drood and Blood Brothers. This new recording features a tune each from the aforementioned musicals as well as several other theater standards.

While Miss Reddy's rather nasally voice might not be considered by some to be suited for show tunes, she manages to make each and every one of these tunes her own. As in all Varese Sarabande solo discs, there are new arrangements. This time, they are supplied by Steven Orich and they border more on pop than theatrical, so they are well-suited to Miss Reddy's voice. Sunset Boulevard's "Surrender" is done with a gospel arrangement (complete with a choir) that is quite nice and ranks as one of my favorite cover versions of any of Andrew Lloyd Webber's tunes. Miss Reddy shines on "The Writing's on the Wall," "With Every Breath I Take," " Tell Me It's Not True," and "Fifty Percent." Jessica Williams joins Helen for a powerful rendition of "My Friend" from the musical The Life. There are a few odd choices here, "A Boy Like That" from Street Scene and Flower Drum Song's "Love, Look Away", and some of the arrangements are a bit questionable, such as the slow jazz arrangement given to "You're Just in Love" from Call Me Madam. While Miss Reddy doesn't always give these songs emotional weight, she, like Miss Clark, exhibits the great amount of star quality that she has always had. This CD ranks as one of Varese's finest solo recitals.

Varese Sarabande has released their first ever single from this CD. For us show tune fans who occasionally like our Broadway music with a beat, Andy Zulla has produced a dance version of "Surrender." It is a typical techno dance remix that makes Helen sound like a true dance diva. The album version is included to round out this disc.

While Side Show didn't set any box office records, it did develop a cult following and made stars of its two leading ladies, Emily Skinner and Alice Ripley. While most critics didn't have many nice words to say about the show itself almost all the critics agreed that Miss Skinner and Miss Ripley were two good reasons to see the show. They were so good, in fact, that they received a joint Tony award nomination for best actress in a musical. Since being cast in this musical, these women have become the best of friends, so it is no surprise that they were more than happy to do an album of duets together.

"Duets" contains nothing but duets for two female voices, ranging from very famous to obscure. There are tunes from pop-operas such as "I Know Him So Well" from Chess, "In His Eyes" from Jekyll & Hyde, and, from classic Broadway shows like Gypsy ("If Momma Was Married"), Bye, Bye Birdie ("One Boy/What Did I Ever See in Him?") and Chicago ("My Own Best Friend/Nowadays").

There are a few tunes that are less familiar like "We Make a Beautiful Pair" (Shenandoah), "Two's Company" (The Magic Show), "Little Me" (Little Me) and "Perfect Strangers" (Â…Drood). This last is the best track on the CD. A few of the other highlights include "Every Day a Little Death" from A Little Night Music, "Sisters/Ohio" from White Christmas/Wonderful Town and "If We Never Meet Again" from Rags. Wisely avoiding any of Side Show's tunes, they have instead included 2 songs which were cut from that show, "Stuck with You" and "Ready to Play." Most of the arrangements on the CD are well suited to their voices and pleasant. There are a few exceptions that I found a bit questionable, "Baby Dream Your Dream" for instance.

Both women have lovely voices that blend beautifully together, but on a few occasions it is hard to tell them apart, perhaps due to the pumped up sound. While this CD will mostly appeal to Side Show fans, every musical theater fan will find something here to enjoy.

Well that's all for this week. 'Til next time, happy listening!

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