His Characters (Music Thoughts: Plays With Music, Brian Stokes Mitchell)

There’s no question that Brian Stokes Mitchell is one of Broadway’s modern leading men, so an album of theater songs would always be welcome from him. His 2019 album, ‘Plays with Music’ is even more welcome than usual because in this collection, he envisions each song as plays in themselves, making each song character pieces with story arcs. And this is a great collection of great theater songs like ‘I Won’t Send Roses,’ from ‘Mack and Mabel,’ and ‘If Ever I Would Leave You,’ from Camelot. He does great justice to these songs, and even throws in an obscure piece or two, like ‘Gesticulate’ from ‘Kismet. ‘ As characters, you really have to let your imaginations wander, as the arrangements are on the generic side (though they are well done)

Sing Your Face Off (Music Thoughts, Face to Face, Hayden Tee)

hayden-hiHayden Tee has played numerous musical theater roles in Australia, New Zealand and the West End, and in his new album ‘Face to Face,’ he sings songs from these various shows. He is backed by a symphony orchestra and the album sounds swell, with lush arrangements by Nigel Ubrihien. The repertoir skews pop musicals, and works by new composers. It sounds a little too antiseptic for my taste, but listened to as a whole, a little too monotonous. But I am sure taken piece by piece on a playlist, the track wold be more appealing. I have sound numerous times that on these theater vocal albums, I prefer the female voice, so this just played by for me and to be honest, I did not feel any emotional connection to most of the songs. The Les Miz songs are fine, but singing them in original show orchestrations does not give me any meat to chew on. His duet with Jown Owen-Jones is a little more interesting, but I couldn’t help but yawn from the rest of the tracks.

Bland Journey (Music Thoughts: The Journey, Luke Murgatroyd)

81I3M718pFL._SS500_Luke Murgatroyd played Phantom in Ireland and he has released an album, called ‘The Journey’ and you know me, I am always a sucker for vocal albums of theater performers. But this one kind of bored me – for me it felt kind of lifeless. While it is sung well enough, it seemed bland for me, akin to a lounge performance that would serve as ‘background.’ more than anything else. Do we need another ‘white’ version of ‘Can You Feel the Love Tonight,’ or ‘Circle of Life,’ for example?

Happy Hippie (Music Thoughts, Renaissance, Cheyenne Jackson)

2016-07-04-1467674740-6122782-Renaissance-thumbThe great Michael Feinstein describes Cheyenne Jackson as someone who “can sing anything!” Jackson is a modern man’s renaissance man, someone who can effortlessly move from stage to television to movies. And musically, he can move from one genre to another without missing a beat. His new album ‘Renaissance’ proves that. Thematically this is a collection of songs from the 60s, culled from songs he sings from his cabaret show ‘Songs From The Mad Men Era.’

So he goes from Broadway (‘Feeling Good’ from ‘The Roar Of The Greasepaint, The Smell Of The Crowd) to bluesy R & B (‘A Change Is Gonna Come’) to pop rock ‘(Elton John’s ‘Your Song) with ease and confidence. I love the variety of arrangements here, from the Latin flair of ‘Besame Mucho,’ to Ska-ish ‘Americano,’ sung with the English lyrics of The Brian Setzer Orchestra. And I get positively giddy when he duets ‘Something Stupud’ with his 30 Rock co-star Jane Krakowski. They certainly put a lot of their characters in singing that song, and it’s mirth is infectious. He gets serious and artsy with Joni Mitchell’s ‘A Case Of You,’ and in a song he composed with Feinstein himself, ‘Red Wine Is Good For You.’ It’s a song about his late grandmother who used to say that phrase to him.

I guess if I were to nitpick, I could say that I wish the repertoire were¬† little more adventurous, as most of these songs are too familiarly associated with the era, but I guess I would be repurposing his theme. The good thing about the album is that not only do you see Jackson’s great musicality, but also his great personality in the way he sings his songs. In both ways, a win-win!