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What Is the Sound of a Theater Season Interrupted?

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Thirteen musicals were scheduled to open during the 2019-20 Broadway season. Only seven did, and of those only a few released more-or-less traditional cast albums. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty to listen to — including some Off Broadway highlights. Here’s what’s out there.

A live recording of David Byrne’s sui generis performance piece about what divides and connects us quirky residents of a quirky nation radiates an irresistible energy. Songs like the exuberantly ambivalent “Everybody’s Coming to My House” assume a new resonance in the time of sheltering in place. (Nonesuch)

Tonya Pinkins’s monumental performance as a woman caught in the crosswinds of the civil rights movement was beautifully preserved on the 2004 cast album of this musical by Jeanine Tesori and Tony Kushner. But Sharon D. Clarke’s take on the role in the recent West End revival — and in this spring’s postponed Broadway production — needs to be recorded. Until then, we have Clarke singing “Lot’s Wife” at the Olivier Awards in London in 2019.

A recast version of Marianne Elliott’s highly acclaimed London production — which changed the gender of its singleton protagonist — was to have opened on Broadway this season. In the meantime, you can hear the 2018 West End recording, with the undeniable Patti LuPone (who was slated for Broadway as well) making her own distinctive toast to “The Ladies Who Lunch,” as she memorably did before at an 80th birthday celebration for the show’s composer, Stephen Sondheim. (Warner Classics)

The new musical about the so-called people’s princess did not get to record its cast album, so unless you saw it during its San Diego tryout, you will have to wait to hear Erin Davie as Camilla Parker Bowles sing “I Miss You Most on Sundays” or Judy Kaye as Queen Elizabeth sing “Only The Monarchy Is On the Line.” Until then, we have video of Jeanna de Waal as Diana in the show’s 11 o’clock number, “If,” with the composer David Bryan (of Bon Jovi) at the piano.

Proof that musicals make strange and inspired bedfellows is this work by the Irish playwright Conor McPherson, in which the songs of Bob Dylan give voice to the inner selves of hope-starved Minnesotans during the Depression. A Thanksgiving moment of rare, exuberant communion is expressed by “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere,” heard on the London cast album. A recording of the Broadway version is scheduled for release this spring. (Sony Music/Legacy Recordings)

​Most of the songs in this musical about a suburban family flying apart at the seams come from Alanis Morissette’s 1995 album of the same name. But as recontextualized by Diablo Cody in her furious book and reimagined for theatrical use by the arranger and orchestrator Tom Kitt, they acquire additional emotional power — power that rattles the rafters in Lauren Patten’s reading of “You Oughta Know.” (Atlantic)

Like many musicals aimed at younger audiences, this modern spoof of ancient myths recorded a cast album well before it got to Broadway in 2019. The new, deluxe release includes the whole score (including the prescient finale, an anthem called “Bring on the Monsters”) plus five numbers cut on the road but sung by the Broadway cast. (Broadway Records)

This exploding jukebox of a show about doomed love in bohemian Paris, inspired by the Baz Luhrmann movie, gleefully combines pop standards into single, high-calorie confections, including “The Sparkling Diamond,” in which Karen Olivo, as a consumptive but full-voiced vedette, musically quotes Madonna, Beyoncé and Lorelei Lee. (House of Iona and RCA Records)

Performances of this new musical based on the 1993 Robin Williams movie were suspended after three previews, well before a recording could be made. Instead, the brothers Karey and Wayne Kirkpatrick, who wrote the songs, produced a Zoom video of the finale, “As Long As There Is Love” — an early example of a new genre: the socially distanced cast album track.

Adapted from John Carney’s wistful movie about New Wave dreams in dreary Dublin, this Broadway transfer from the New York Theater Workshop shuttered during previews. The cast album is scheduled to be released in April, but this video rendering of the song “Up” offers a sense of the show’s double-sided fantasy-reality existence. (Sony Masterworks Broadway)

A cross between a rock concert, a revisionist history lesson and a musical about the wives of Henry VIII, “Six” was shut down 90 minutes before its Broadway opening. But you can join the millions who had already heard the score (and in many cases memorized its diabolically catchy pop tunes) from the 2018 London studio recording. (6 Music Ltd.)

The bio-musical starring Adrienne Warren and featuring songs made famous by Tina Turner has no plans to record a Broadway cast album. But Warren’s phenomenal channeling of Turner’s grit and defiance are well preserved on the London cast album, especially in cuts like “River Deep — Mountain High.” (Ghostlight Records)

Ivo van Hove’s 2020 revival of the 1957 classic — reimagined for a digital age — divided opinion even more than the last one did, in 2009. But Jonathan Tunick’s orchestrations were a standout, drawing out the rhythmic urgency of Leonard Bernstein’s score in numbers like the 12-tone bop fugue “Cool.” Until you can hear them, listen to the original cast recording, never bettered.

Lauren Yee’s tragicomic play about the warping legacy of the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime of the 1970s is punctuated by songs from the Cambodian surfer rock band, Dengue Fever. This rousing, rough-edged fusion of genres is performed by cast members portraying the doomed group of the title, with pulsing numbers like “One Thousand Tears of a Tarantula.” (The New York cast album will be released on May 8, on the Yellow Sound Label.)

The spirited Off Broadway revival of this comedy horror classic about a cannibal plant plies the rhythmic grooves of Brill-Building-style pop to reflect the perils of all-devouring fame, with a crackerjack cast led by Jonathan Groff and Tammy Blanchard, who make sweet, dopey music together in “Suddenly, Seymour.” (Ghostlight Records)

At a 12-step meeting for victims of online obsession, people much like ourselves testify, confess and even — in songs like “Hymn: The Forest” — pray. Dave Malloy’s “Octet,” an a cappella songfest, turned the exhilarating, exhausting, clarifying and degrading world of the internet into the kind of music previously reserved for reaching out to God. (Nonesuch)

David Henry Hwang and Jeanine Tesori’s musical within a play gets high scores for difficulty: It’s a political allegory, a crazy romance (involving Hillary Clinton) and a gleeful riposte to “The King and I.” Using clever pastiche and paradox to question American assumptions of supremacy, it is always working on many levels, as you can hear on the cast album scheduled to be released on April 17. (Ghostlight Records)

Michael R. Jackson’s audacious memoir musical about a black, queer composer of musical comedies takes place in the very conflicted, equally imaginative mind of its central character, portrayed by Larry Owens, who introduces the audience to his divided selves in “Today.” (Yellow Sound Label)


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