Sound Advice by Joseph Molnar
Everything's Coming Up Sondheim

For this first column, I'd like to take a look at three new Stephen Sondheim recordings from the Varese Sarabande label.

Sondheim at the Movies, is a collection of songs that Sondheim has written for film. This CD is a "must have" for any Sondheim fan as there are four never-before-recorded songs on this disc. From the unfilmed movie musical, Singing Out Loud, "Dawn" and "Sand" are quite enjoyable. "Sand", in particular, has a beautiful melody and is exquisitely sung by Christiane Noll. The other two new songs are from the film, The Birdcage. "Little Dream," which was heard briefly in the film, is heard complete here and performed by Susan Egan as a jazz waltz. "It Takes All Kinds", which went unused, was written for the opening credits. It is a bouncy 70s style disco tune bordering on cheesy, but fun nonetheless.

The disc also includes the four songs written for the film Dick Tracy. "Sooner or Later" is given a sultry rendition by Jane Krakowski. "More" and "Back in Business" both sound as if they have been taken directly off an original cast album. Both have a big "Broadway" sound complete with tap dancing. "What Can You Lose" is given a plaintive rendition by Guy Haines. Also on the set is "The Glamorous Life" which was written for the film version of A Little Night Music and three orchestral suites from the score for Stavisky.

To round out the set is the 1967 score to the TV movie musical, Evening Primrose. This score was previously recorded by Mandy Patinkin and Bernadette Peters on Mandy's Dress Casual CD. So Gary Beach, who would not have been my first choice for this role, and Liz Callaway have some mighty big shoes to fill. Both, I am happy to report, do quite well with the material and compliment each other very nicely.

The next CD is Sondheim: A Celebration, from the recent APLA concert, recorded at the annual Los Angeles S.T.A.G.E. AIDS benefit. While I have a feeling that seeing the concert would help immensely, there is still plenty to enjoy here. What I love most about this CD is that it contains many different types of performances; showstoppers, renditions that sound as if they are taken from cast albums, and new interpretations of old favorites.

Of the showstoppers, the highlights are Sally Mayes in "Everybody Loves Louis". Although the band seems to be struggling with the rhythm at times, this doesn't seem to throw Sally off one bit. Nancy Dussault's "Getting Married Today", Susan Johnson's "Who's That Woman" and 'Nita Whitaker's "Good Thing Going" stand out in my mind as the most memorable. "Someone in a Tree," "Quartet" from Sweeney Todd, and "Barcelona" are all self-contained scenes that sound as if they were taken directly from cast albums. Hearing these tracks makes you realize what a master Sondheim is at integrating spoken dialogue and music.

Billy Porter adds a bit of gospel flavor to "Not a Day Goes By/ What Can You Lose?" and brings down the house. The cast of Forever Plaid puts an amusing spin on "The Ballad of Sweeney Todd." "More" is done jazz style by the Tonics in their usual four-part harmony. David Cassidy sings "Sooner or Later" without changing gender ("I always get my man") and the other two Cassidy brothers, Shaun and Patrick, join him for "You Could Drive a Person Crazy."

The final CD, A Little Night Music reinterpreted by Terry Trotter, is a novelty item. For those who think Sondheim is not melodic, I dare you to listen to this CD and tell me you still feel the same way. Sondheim's haunting melodies for Night Music are a perfect match for Terry Trotter's jazz improvisations. Terry gives just enough improvisation without going off the melody too much so that you can still recognize the melody. This CD is only for the true Sondheim fan, who, like myself, must simply have everything.

That's all for this week. Join me in two weeks for my next column when I will be reviewing three more recordings, this time from three musical theater stars Down Under.

Till then, happy listening!

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