Sound Advice by Joseph Molnar

Jonathan, Audra, Christiane and Patti. While the last three names will ring bells for most musical theater fans (no, Patti isn't Patti LuPone, but Patti Cohenour), the first name is the name most people won't recognize. Well, Jonathan is none other than Jonathan Frank. Now, you might still be asking yourself, who is he? Jonathan Frank is an up and coming cabaret singer who has been a regular on the Seattle cabaret circuit for many years. He has just released his debut CD titled Sleeping in the Arms of Love and is currently making plans to take New York City by storm with his laid back vocal style. Mr. Frank is also a regular visitor to Talkin' Broadway and often participates in discussions on the All That Chat message board.

For his debut recording, Mr. Frank has spared no expense; he uses real instruments where other record companies go the cheap route and use synthesizers. Each song is lushly orchestrated by Steven Applegate and Glen Mehrbach. Mr. Frank has chosen a program in which almost all of the songs are an homage to love and the highs and lows one can experience while being in love. Among the choice cuts here are "You're There", a medley of "No Moon" from Titanic (the first cover version of a song from that show) and "Sailing On" (which was first recorded by the late Laurie Beechman), the obscure "Mama, a Rainbow" from Minnie's Boys and "Baby Mine" from Disney's Dumbo, which he lovingly dedicated to his goddaughter. There is a "first" on this CD as well. "Sentimental Interlude," which was written by a World War II bandleader Gaby Rogers, is getting its American recording debut here. Less familiar tunes on this disc include "Cappuccino," "My One and Only Love" and Amanda McBroom's "Dance."

From beginning to end, this CD is just about perfect in every way; there isn't a bad tune to be found. Mr. Frank is faithful to the original versions of most of these tunes, taking the most liberties with "My Ship", from Kurt Weill's Lady in the Dark, by giving it more of a jazz sound. Mr. Frank's vocals are strong and consistent throughout the recording, occasionally singing near the top of his range. Overall, this is a very impressive debut recording, and I am looking forward to hearing more from this fresh new talent.

Night after night in Ragtime down on 42nd St, three-time Tony Award-winner Audra McDonald is wowing 'em with her powerful portrayal of Sarah. She first caught the eye of the critics and theater fans when she made a splash as Carrie Pipperidge in the Broadway revival of Carousel, for which she won her first Tony. She then won another Tony for her first Broadway play, Master Class, which was quickly followed by Ragtime. Now, at long last, she has released her debut album, Way Back to Paradise.

Though most theater singers might record Broadway standards for their first solo disc, Miss McDonald decided to go with new material by up and coming composers and lyricists. Miss McDonald is blessed with a voice that can easily cross between the opera and musical theater worlds with ease, and these composers rise to the challenge to give Miss McDonald material that blurs the line between the two. Among the composers represented here are Adam (Floyd Collins) Guettel, Michael John (Hello Again) La Chiusa, Robert Jason (Songs for a New World) Brown, Ricky Ian Gordon and Jenny Giering. There are two songs from forthcoming musicals: "You Don't Know this Man", from Mr. Brown's Parade; and "Way Back to Paradise," from La Chiusa's Marie Christie, which will reportedly star Miss McDonald in the spring. Also included are two strong numbers from Mr. La Chiusa's Hello Again, "Tom" and "Mistress and the Senator". Mr. Brown is also represented on this disc with a song from Songs for a New World, "Stars and the Moon". Of the four numbers with music by Ricky Ian Gordon, three have words by Langston Hughes and are from a song cycle called "Only Heaven". My personal favorite on this CD is "Come to Jesus" (from Saturn Returns) by Adam Guettel, who joins Miss McDonald in this duet. Mr. Guettel wrote three other songs on this disc as well. In addition to Adam Guettel making a guest appearance, Miss McDonald is joined by Theresa McCarthy and Dawn Upshaw on a few numbers.

Throughout the disc, Miss McDonald constantly reminds us why she is a star. She is brilliant and sings gloriously, but she doesn't just "sing". She acts out each song as if it were a scene from a play. I couldn't recommend this CD more highly. Because of the unique song selection, one never tires of hearing these songs and wants it to never end.

Christiane Noll, who is currently starring in Broadway's Jekyll & Hyde at the Plymouth Theatre, is another performer who has made the jump to recording artist. Since late last year, she had been making guest appearances on several of Varese Sarabande's compilation CDs, notably "Sondheim at the Movies", "Cinderella: Songs from the Classic Fairy Tale" and "Prime Time Musicals". On each recording Miss Noll was the highlight, so it is no surprise that when she approached producer Bruce Kimmel about recording her own CD, A Broadway Love Story that he said yes. It is also no surprise because she has had to hold her own against the powerhouse vocals of Linda Eder for nearly two years in Jekyll & Hyde. So, it goes without saying that Miss Noll possesses a strong set of pipes.

Mr. Kimmel had a concept that went like this - take existing songs from musical theater and tell a love story from start to finish. And he has accomplished his goal. Mr. Kimmel, along with Miss Noll, picked out a selection of songs that run the whole course of a love affair, from the ending of one to the ending of the new one. She tells us that she'd rather be "Wherever He Ain't" (Mack and Mabel) and will be made a fool of "No More" (The Goodbye Girl). She then tells us that at "Times Like These" (Lucky Stiff) a girl could use a dog instead of a lover. But all is not lost; she finds love and will meet him "Tonight at Eight" (She Loves Me), and falls in love the minute she takes a "Look at That Face". Like the show she is starring in, she pulls a "Jekyll and Hyde" on us, singing a duet with herself, playing the right and left halves of her brain telling her that she isn't sick, she's "Just in Love". But it's "A Quiet Thing", and she fell in love unexpectedly ("Unexpected Song/Last Man in My Life" from Song and Dance). Other songs include "Marry Me A Little", "Good Thing Going", "I Don't Remember Christmas" and "The Next Time It Happens".

Throughout the disc, there are recurring themes from the previous songs that give this CD a feeling of being a whole. In fact, I found it hard to listen to just one song without listening to the whole disc. This sounds like a lot, and it is. However, Miss Noll is up to the task, going from a woman scorned, to a contented lover in "Twenty-Four Hours of Lovin'", to a confident person in "The Next Time It Happens." She proves time and again why she was picked to star opposite Linda Eder, with whom she had to duet on "In His Eyes" night after night. She can belt with the best of them and is a terrific actress as well.

Patti Cohenour, who has been knocking 'em dead night after night in The Sound of Music with her exquisite rendition of "Climb Every Mountain", has just released her first solo CD as well, and it is long overdue. Miss Cohenour has been "on the boards" for quite some time now, so it is quite surprising to me that it has taken this long for her to release a solo disc. She first found fame in the original Broadway company of Big River, and then went on to star in The Mystery of Edwin Drood. But her big break came when she became the first American actress to play the role of Christine Daae in the Broadway premiere of Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Phantom of the Opera. She originally alternated the role with Sarah Brightman and then took over full time when Sarah left the production.

For her debut disc, Miss Cohenour has surrounded herself with only the best people in the business. Thomas Z. Shepard produced this disc, and Paul Gemignani conducted the American Theater Orchestra. To an Isle in the Water is a song cycle chronicling a love affair with music, by John Aschenbrenner and the words of William Butler Yeats. Miss Cohenour "plays" a woman who is looking back to a time when she once loved a poet. Years after the affair has ended, she now sings the words he had sent her so long ago. Mr. Aschenbrenner took 18 of Yeats poems and composed a continuous song cycle that never stops for a second during its 48 minutes. It is lushly orchestrated by Joe Castellon, who gives the music many different textures throughout and never loses its energy. Miss Cohenour possesses the voice of an angel and is a joy to hear, as always. Her soprano can go from a whisper to a belt with ease. I must admit I was a bit disappointed that she didn't record an album of showtunes, but the music and words here are exquisite, and this recording grows on you with repeated listens. So, while this CD may not appeal to all musical theater fans, I recommend it nonetheless.

That's all for this week. Join me next time when I will be taking a look at some new and very exciting cast albums, Triumph of Love, Follies, Violet and Zombie Prom. 'Till next time, happy listening!

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