The world may have been created in seven days, but production can take longer in the world of recordings. While some CDs have a short turnaround between plan and reality, others linger and languish for years. Anna Karenina played Broadway 15 years ago and now we have a recording with two of the original cast members. Today's column ends with one of that production's ensemble members making her long-planned CD debut. In between, a singer making her USA-release bow after a few releases in Asia, and a never-before-issued 1993 jazz duo concert.
No, this is not the first time Anna Karenina, the tragic heroine from the Russian novel, has burst into song while bursting into tears. There's another musical theater version on disc, and there are opera versions, one having had its world premiere in Florida this year. This exciting and noble musical version by composer Dan Levine and lyricist-bookwriter Peter Kellogg appeared on Broadway in 1992 and, like its heroine, had its life cut short. The recording features new orchestrations and arrangements by the composer, and a large orchestra.
Turning in a committed and engaging performance, Gregg Edelman (Tony nominee) recreates his role as Levin, the character generally regarded as a "stand-in" for the novel's author, Leo Tolstoy. He's the man smitten with 18-year-old Kitty, who had been played by Melissa Errico in the 1992 production. Here Ms. Errico commandingly takes the title role, which she had also understudied then. She sings on half of the CD's 20 tracks and is heard in some dialogue. She performs with grace and passion; in thoughtful moments there's vulnerability and the lovely tones we've come to expect from her, and there's fire in the more angst-ridden sections. The best is saved for last, the final track being the most dramatic and heartbreaking with the most beautiful vocal opportunities of all.
That secondary female role of Kitty is sung now by perennial ingenue Kerry Butler, who brings spunky and quirky comedy to the role. Comedy in this saga? That will surprise or alarm some, but it's fun and welcome, at least on disc. Levin and Kitty provide comic relief, with her girlish glee and self-absorption and his reprised tongue-tied tremblingly timid marriage proposal.
Appearing in two solos and a trio, Jeff McCarthy is forceful and effective as Anna's husband, with "Only at Night" revealing the sensitive side behind the spiteful spurned spouse. Brian d'Arcy James portrays the the man Anna leaves him for, and he provides romantic flair. Heart-on-sleeve rhapsodizing creates the standouts, his solo "We Were Dancing" and the love duet "Waiting for You" also sounding like traditional Broadway love songs of longing that echo soaring Broadway ballads of the classic era. If this show had been produced in another generation, we'd probably have found these two numbers and the women's duet, the excellent and well-performed "I Never Dreamed," on various Broadway's Greatest Love Songs compilation albums.
The delightful Marc Kudisch is only heard on the second track, a playful duet with Melissa called "There's More to Life Than Love." As Anna's brother who has been unfaithful in marriage (it runs in the family), he relishes the triple rhymes and attitudes copped with vocal mannerisms in this lyric that's a list of lust's advantages. It should be mentioned that there is a seven-singer ensemble; they are used very little, but fit in well.
The more obvious moods and the subtext are brought out both by the actors and the wisely crafted orchestrations. The orchestra sounds marvelous, especially in the grander sections and quick-paced numbers. Strings sound fine in the heartfelt proclamations of love, too, with just a couple of angry confrontations feeling less than creative all around (the actors are least interesting there, too). The intentionally awkward struggling-for-conversational-ease quartet "In a Room" requires little room for improvement: the tension is all there in the way things go in fits and starts and re-starts, with the orchestration's stuttering and stammering matching and reinforcing the acting. There are occasions where it seems there is some holding back a bit and others where the melodrama may have been too tempting and is overindulged, but these are the exception, not the rule. If it doesn't seem especially period-specific and Russian, what rules here is a rush of melody and dynamic work by some favorite Broadway veterans.
She's been waiting for an official wide U.S. album release, and now PS Classics has issued her latest. Emily Saxe's earlier three albums were released overseas, and those are hard to come by now. Listening to this easy-to-take, easy-to-like album will make you want to dig up the others, especially if you're a show tune-a-holic because they have lots of theater songs.
Keeping You in Mind is more eclectic, if downbeat, and should appeal to a broad cross-section of music fans. There are songs subtly tinged with country, jazz or folk flavors, plus pop and a few theater songs. What's most impressive is that these diverse styles are filtered through Emily's sensibilities and persona so they aren't jarring as next-door neighbors on the disc. Almost everything becomes moody, acoustic, thoughtful experiences that seem cut from the same cloth. Emily's approach is intimate and reflective, often in confessional mode. Wisely, she generally picks deeper songs that can handle this weight, such as Mary Chapin Carpenter's "Goodbye Again" or those that are flexible to redressing, like the 67-year-old standby of a show tune, "Taking a Chance on Love," which is countrified with an atypical (for this album) light approach.
From very different eras, the Cy Coleman-David Zippel "With Every Breath I Take" (City of Angels) and Rodgers & Hart's "He Was Good to Me" both come across as serious ruminations on the ache of loss. Emily takes her time with these and most others, as if to let every new realization and twinge of pain sink in for herself and the listener. "Languid" and "introspective" are words one can imagine being written atop the sheet music as reminded instructions while recording.
You may find new depth to a song you thought you knew like the 1960s pop hit "Walk On By" when it's taken more seriously. This under-the-microscope approach to lyrics as the tempo is loosened and slowed could be deadly dull and gimmicky if her voice weren't so intrinsically appealing and full of vulnerability and complex emotion and psychological underpinnings. The musicians carefully and purposefully adding layers of mood rather than "just playing" is an important factor, too. Avoided is acoustic piano, which Emily used to rely on, accompanying herself in past efforts. There is some fine instrumental work here, with a focus on guitars and gentle percussion, creating a tapestry of colors, most prominently (as you've guessed by now, maybe) blue, as in the Duke Ellington classic "Azure." This one may go a bit far in taking its cue from the lyric's key words "Drifting, dreaming" and "haunted."
An attempt to be more positive for needed variety, oddly, doesn't work too well on "Rainbow Sleeves." Its tender quality that's made me choked up in beautiful, rather recent renditions by Jonathan Rayson and Julia Murney as well as its author, Tom Waits, is lost and buried in this cheerier, rhythmic arrangement that seems cursory. But "Get Happy" is rewardingly reinvented with major surgery that works, proving what a sturdy work the 1930 piece is, with both its mournful and gospel potential realized and reshaped.
The album is arranged and produced by the singer and David Pilch who is in the band and wrote the last song, "You Wake Me Up." It's one of three songs whose lyrics are included in the booklet with some notes and photos also on her website. Be sure to look for the PS Classics issue, as an earlier version last year does not have the especially pretty and timely song for this month, "The Last Day of Summer."
If you've been looking for rich music that expresses a grown-up vision of life and love without a fear of facing the clouds before the silver linings, the wait is over. Now that this American-born singer has returned from living for years in Thailand where she sang in clubs and played the lead in Cabaret, the wait for wider Western recognition may be over.
BILLY TAYLOR & GERRY MULLIGAN
A short report on another album that's had a long wait for release:
Dr. Billy Taylor has been presenting special programs at Pittsburgh's Manchester Craftsmen's Guild Music Hall since its opening 20 years ago. A 1993 concert found him playing with an old friend: another jazz legend, baritone sax player Gerry Mulligan (who died a little more than two years later). Also on the bill: bass player Chip Jackson and drummer Carl Allen. It's an all-around tasty and classy affair.
The Hall recently began a record label, with some of the proceeds going to jazz education, and this concert has been issued on their label. The two had collaborated in the past, such as on the studio albums Dr. T. (which featured one of the numbers heard here, Mulligan's original tune, "Line for Lyons") and a look at a classic Broadway score, My Fair Lady Loves Jazz. This new CD includes the charming "Capricious," written by Billy Taylor, and it appears on other albums by each of our jazz giants (but not playing together).
A few of the songs in the set have musical theater roots, but found fame as stand-alone songs. "Body and Soul" taken here at a luxurious tempo (one of four at over eight minutes in length) was written for Gertrude Lawrence, then was in the 1930 revue Three's a Crowd. The classic "All the Things You Are" from the non-smash Very Warm for May has been a perennial favorite among jazz musicians, and is treated with care here, but taken at a more sprightly tempo than many use for it. It works, being refreshing without at all irreverent toward the sturdy and rather serious Jerome Kern melody from 1939. "Darn That Dream" comes from the same year and is from the musical that featured jazz players, Swingin' the Dream, based on Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. It's a moody ballad here and very ingratiating.
There's great variety among the ten selections, with uptempo tunes and moodier pieces. It's fairly low-key, though, no grandstanding tour de force stuff - just good, solid playing, comfortably shared between the two stars. They balance each other nicely, naturally taking turns being prominent on solos. Both excel at intelligent playing that respects yet explores melodic intents of the composers. One of those composers is Taylor himself, whose "Capricious" appears on other recordings by each of our stars.
Good taste abounds throughout with this belatedly issued live concert that seems ageless.
UNDER THE RADARAmong Naz Edwards' credits is being in the original company of Anna Karenina (see above!) 15 summers ago. She played in Zorba and many other shows around the country and has done cabaret, voice animation, etc. Her liner notes and album title emphasize that she's always wanted to do a solo CD but never did until now. The long-awaited, long-procrastinated moment has come and it's quite a laudable listen.
Yes, she's been performing for years without making her own CD, but the title is actually picked up from one of the lyrics. She always wanted to do a recording, to quote one of the song titles, "Sooner or Later." That slow-sizzling seductive sass, from the film Dick Tracy, is one of two neatly done choices from Stephen Sondheim, the other being the contrastingly tender "Take Me to the World" (from the score for the TV production, Evening Primrose).
Theatrical singer Naz Edwards is at her best with bittersweet lyrics that reflect on the passage of time. Ed Kleban's "The Next Best Thing to Love" (A Class Act) and Marcy Heisler and Zina Goldrich's sadder-but-wiser "Now That I Know" are especially well done. Clear-eyed reflection that has a tear threateningly and stubbornly nearby suits her talents well.
She also successfully takes on the heavier lamenting for a lost son and life's other no-punches-pulled litany of regrets in William Finn's "The Music Still Plays On." These all bring out a survivor's instincts, as does the more cut-to-the-chase declaration of the CD's closer, "I'll Be Here Tomorrow" from Jerry Herman's The Grand Tour. This is a short (less than a minute and a half) understated finale. Rather than wave the flag and sound the trumpets, Naz sings with a calmer restrained confidence that makes a point without fanfare, ending with the piano echoing something thought-provoking to linger in the air instead: it's the melody of the first song, "Since You Stayed Here" from Off-Broadway's Brownstone by Josh Rubins and Peter Larson.
The accompaniment throughout is just piano on all 15 tracks and player-arranger Jerry Depuit is skillful, sensitive and pleasingly prominent, matching the singer strength for strength. Even so, perhaps Naz's strong belt would have worked better on some of the brasher sections if there'd been other instruments; her brassy sound could use some brass in there. It can sound harsh at times, especially with Peter Allen's "Don't Wish Too Hard" coming off as too screamy a rant. She's joined by Wayne Bryan for a chipper yet also maybe too strident duet on the sarcastic Rodgers & Hart classic "I Wish I Were in Love Again."
The more nuanced work with thoughtful phrasing is so involving and touching that it makes the few more perfunctory renditions frustrating. "I'm the Girl" (James Shelton) is especially well realized, perhaps the most perfect track on an album that has much to recommend it and make you wish the waiting hadn't taken years, because it would be great to have a few albums by this artist. Hopefully, we won't have to wait years for the next one.