We haven’t written about show tunes in a while. Four relatively recent CD releases motivated us to take up the subject again.
“She Loves Me.” This is my favorite musical. The 1963 classic by Joe Masteroff, Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick inspired me as a youth and made Barbara Cook a vocal idol to this day, even as her voice has undergone enormous changes. Over the years, I’ve relished revivals of the romance about feuding co-workers who unknowingly fall in love via mail in New York, Boston and Austin, including a recent winner at St. Edward’s University. This well-received 2016 Broadway revival with Laura Benanti, Zachary Levi and Jane Kraskowski charmed in a live-streamed broadcast in June. The CD confirms the airy brightness and comic sharpness of their performances.
“Close to You: Bacharach Reimagined.” What to make this? Charismatic Canadian singer-songwriter Kyle Riabko’s takes on Burt Bacharach’s pristine pop masterpieces force one to listen to them in an entirely new way. The composer’s hard, smooth surfaces are softened by Riabko’s folky, heartfelt renditions. A small, powerful 2016 London West End cast backs him in this 2-CD recording, which includes demo bonus tracks. It’s hard to imagine how this revue works on the stage, but it just goes to show that Bacharach can be interpreted and reinterpreted, a sign of greatness.
“The Robber Bridegroom.” Despite the darkness at the heart of this Southern Gothic story, adapted from an old fairy tale by Eudora Welty and set in Natchez, Miss., the musical translation is also a lot of fun. Recently staged in Austin by St. Edward’s University, it pops and booms in this 2016 Roundabout Theatre Company rendition. The 1975/1976 Broadway-and-touring version — set to guitar, fiddle, bass, banjo and mandolin — sounded almost alien back then, but this recent off-Broadway revival comes at a time when country, western and bluegrass hold their own in show-tune land. Although the accents applied to Alfred Uhry’s lyrics sound a bit cartoonish on this recording, Robert Waldman’s music rolls along gloriously from start to finish. Makes me want to see the show again.
“Bright Star.” Speaking of bluegrass, the sound boosted Broadway, too, this year — if briefly — as Steve Martin and Edie Brickell’s “Bright Star” finally made it to New York. Inspired by their album, “Love has Come for You,” it’s a sort of “memory musical” set in North Carolina, shifting from the 1940s to the 1920s and back. The opening song, “If You Knew My Story,” sets the reflective tone. This is another show that I had a hard time imagining on stage, but its score is so strong and accessible, I’m confident that one of the area companies will stage it fairly soon.