Carmen Cusack in <em>Bright Star</em>

2016 in Review: Theater Recordings

Jay Gardner and James McQuillen pick their favorite theatrical and cabaret recordings of the year.

published Friday, December 30, 2016


James McQuillen and Jay Gardner, who began reviewing Broadway, musical theater, cabaret and vocal recordings for TheaterJones this year, each pick their five favorite recordings of 2016. A list of recent columns is at the bottom of the story.


James McQuillen’s Top 5 


Photo: Joan Marcus
Carmen Cusack in Bright Star


Of the recordings I wrote about (and one I didn’t) in 2016, here are five recordings truly worth visiting and re-visiting, in no particular order:


Bright Star

Original Broadway Cast

The recording is excellent in every way, and the show deserved a much longer run on Broadway.  I hope this beautiful piece finds a life in regional theatre.

Photo: Courtesy
Kristin Chenoweth


Fiddler on the Roof 

2015 Broadway Revival

It’s wonderful to hear these new orchestrations and dance arrangements played so beautifully, and the singing is generally great. Let’s keep our collective ear to the ground about a tour.


The Art of Elegance

Kristin Chenoweth

While not her best recording (for me, that’s “Let Yourself Go”, her first solo album), this release tells a more interesting story: a much-beloved Broadway star re-imagining and re-defining herself as she matures.  This was a good year for her — she was just splendid as Velma von Tussel in NBC’s live Hairspray.


Come Together

Barb Jungr & John McDaniel 

Take great material, do compelling arrangements of it, sing with intelligence and intention, put it out in the world.  What more do you want?



2016 Broadway Revival

I’ll review this recording that came out December 23 in January’s column.  Having seen the show twice, I must say that it’s an exceptional production of material that feels as “ripped-from-the-headlines” today as it must have 35 years ago.  A critically important piece from one of Broadway’s most under-appreciated writers. No one tells stories like William Finn.


Jay Gardner’s Top 5


Photo: Joan Marcus
The Robber Bridegroom revival


1. The Robber Bridegroom

2016 off-Broadway Revival

This recording of the successful Roundabout theater Company’s Off-Broadway revival leaves one wondering why this show has wallowed in mythic obscurity since its short-lived 1975 Broadway run. This adaptation of the Eudora Welty short story features a high energy score that combines country western, folk and bluegrass musical styles with some first rate performances from Stephen Pasquale, Leslie Kritzer and Ahna O’Reilly among others. Well worth a listen.

Photo: Courtesy
Charles Busch


2. She Loves Me

2016 Broadway Revival

A perfect recording of a perfect show. She Loves Me is a continuation of Roundabout Theater Company’s success as revivalists of classic and obscure American Musicals. Everything about this cast album is spot on from the performances lead by Laura Benanti, Zachary Levi, Gavin Creel and Jane Krakowski to the engineering of the recording, something not usually discussed in a review, which harkens back to the sound achieved by producer Thomas Z. Shepard during his time at Columbia Records and later at RCA. Listen to it. Love it.


3. Close to You: Bacharach Reimagined

Sh-K Boom Records

This show began life Off-Broadway at New York Theater Workshop, had a run at London’s Menier Chocolate Factory and eventually transferred to London’s West End. New York actor, singer, and musical arranger Kyle Riabko has cracked open and reinterpreted the Burt Bacharach/Hal David catalogue and given these iconic songs new and sometimes shocking life. This cast album sheds innovative light on what you may have thought were hackneyed pop tunes. This is not your parents’ Burt Bacharach!


4. Songs From the Lion

Benjamin Scheuer

Singer/song-writer Benjamin Scheuer compiled the songs for his one man musical memoir The Lion while playing gigs around New York City. The show, which deals with his fathers death, Scheuer’s romantic relationships, and his battle with cancer, has earned a Drama Desk Award, a Theatre World Award and an Off-West End Award. The music, a mix of folk, rock, and contemporary pop, never shies away from difficult subject matter. The melodies are haunting. The emotions are intense. You won’t be sorry.


5. Charles Busch Live at Feinstein’s/54 Below

Broadway Records

The two-time Mac Award winner, Tony nominee and drag artist infuses the music of the Great American Songbook with his droll sense of humor and virtuosic storytelling. His performance  evokes Mabel Mercer and Helen Morgan, two great ladies of New York Cabaret.  Like them, he is at once melodramatic and subtle. Always heartfelt but never, ever campy. 


Photo: Mark Oristano


» The Music Men runs periodically on TheaterJones. See below for a list of previous installments

» James McQuillen is an award-winning music director, teacher and pianist. He produces Front Line Cabaret with Gardner, and is teaching this fall at Binghampton University in Binghampton, New York.

» Jay Gardner is an actor and singer working in musical theater and cabaret. He is currently taking time out of his schedule to start a business selling his handmade pottery, which can be seen here. He can be seen in the chorus at the Dallas Opera this fall.



February 2016The Broadway revival of The Color Purple, the Encores! Off-Center revival of William Finn's A New Brain, Alan Cumming Sings Sappy Songs: Life from the Cafe Carlyle, and an album of Lea DeLaria singing David Bowie songs.

March 2016New York City Center Encores! staging of Lady, Be Good; the 2015 Broadway revival of Fiddler on the Roof; the Public Theater's 2015 premiere of John Michael LaChiusa's First Daughter Suite; and the latest from British cabaret great Barb Jungr.

July 2016: Cast recordings of Bright Star, the revival of She Loves Me, Cheyenne Jackson's solo album Renaissance, and Benjamin Scheuer's Songs from the Lion.

August 2016: James and Jay discuss some of their favorite things, including the cast recording they each first fell in love with.

September 2016: James and Jay discuss the year of Hamilton

October 2016: Reviews of new albums by Kristin Chenoweth, Jay Armstrong Johnson, Diana Sheehan and cast recordings of Disaster! and The Robber Bridegroom.

December 2016: Reviews of new albums by from Carmen Cusack, Leslie Odom Jr., Charles Busch, Barb Jungr and John McDaniel, and Adam Pascal and Anthony Rapp.



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2016 in Review: Theater Recordings
Jay Gardner and James McQuillen pick their favorite theatrical and cabaret recordings of the year.
by James McQuillen and Jay Gardner

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