Sound Advice by Joseph Molnar

It's been nearly two years since Side Show valiantly fought (and quickly lost) its battle to find an audience on Broadway, but despite this tragically short run, its lauded stars continue to shine brightly both on stage (most recently in The Dead, which transferred to Broadway this month) and off. Just in time for the impending millennium, Varese Sarabande has released the second album from Emily Skinner and Alice Ripley, and it is truly a smashing sophomore entry from the duo.

Last year's Duets featured Alice and Emily singing (what else?) classic duets from several well known shows including Little Me, Sweet Charity, and Chicago. In Unsuspecting Hearts , they have branched out from the usual fare and have even thrown in a few pop and original songs. While this could have been a risky venture, it makes for a diverse and extraordinarily enjoyable album, featuring two of the most talented, young stars on the boards. The close relationship between the two women is more than evident throughout the disc, and this connection adds an extra special dimension and a touch of irony to many of the songs (note: hang around after the last track for a hilarious treat). The finely orchestrated songs, courtesy of David Siegel, range from Steve Sondheim ("Pretty Women," "The Miller's Son") to classic Donna Summer ("Enough is Enough").

For rabid flop buffs (you know who you are), there is cause for rejoicing. The never before recorded title track is given a splendid performance by Emily and Alice. You might remember the duet from a little gem by the name of Carrie, which starred Betty Buckley, Linzi Hateley, and a bucket of well-placed raspberry topping.

When I first heard about Car-Jam's newest album A Christmas Survival Guide , I was absolutely thrilled. I've been dying for someone to jump in and record a spectacular, new Christmas album, and upon first listen of this disc, I was not disappointed. A Christmas Survival Guide offers many of theatre and cabaret's finest performers crooning the Christmas songs we have all come to know and love in addition to a few new tunes from popular composers. Of special note, Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty (Ragtime) contributed "All Those Christmas Cliches," sung by Christiane Noll, and Jason Robert Brown (Parade) penned the hilarious, quasi-Weill carol "Surabaya Santa," which is given a bravura performance by Mary Testa, killer German accent and all.

The starry lineup, including Marin Mazzie, Alice Ripley, Emily Skinner, LaChanze, Heather Mac Rae, Roger Bart, and a bevy of others, makes this disc a welcome addition to any holiday collection. Ultimately, the album's only fault lies with the laborious stretches between the truly great and the slightly grating. Several numbers wear out their welcome in a hurry, despite admirable performances by every person on the disc.

Darrin Baker's debut CD, What's a Nice Girl Like You ..., unfortunately suffers from the same foible. While Baker is a sharp performer and a great vocalist, I couldn't help but feel that his talent was sorely repressed on this predominantly bland album. The song selections, with tunes by Jerome Kern, Jule Styne, Jerry Herman, among others, often drone on long after their quaint first impressions have worn off. The bluesy, generously unhurried arrangement of many of the tracks is chiefly to blame.

Despite its tedious pace, the disc features Baker singing alongside some of Broadway's most talented leading ladies: Catherine Cox, Dee Hoty, Mylinda Hull (Baker's wife), Liz Larsen, Karen Mason, Donna McKechnie, Christiane Noll, the omnipresent Alice Ripley, and honorary dame Harvey Evans (La Cage aux Folles). Baker and Hoty's lusty rendition of "Baby, It's Cold Outside" is one of the album's jewels, along with the haunting "You're Far Away From Home/Angelina" featuring former ‘Norma Desmond' and cabaret star Karen Mason.

Next up, Joseph unveils his list of the Top Ten albums of 1999.

Best Holiday Wishes, and Happy New Year!

-- Harper ;-)

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