ON THE RECORD: A Gentleman's Guide, Les MisÚrables, Billy Porter and More

By Steven Suskin
20 Apr 2014

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Another new Broadway album — though not a cast recording — is Billy's Back on Broadway [Concord]. Billy being Billy Porter, who copped last year's Best Actor in a Musical Tony Award for Kinky Boots. Porter has long been recognized, in limited circles, as an exciting theatre vocalist; his performance as Lola finally brought him mainstream notice. Hence, Billy's Back on Broadway, and he is back in style.

Porter seems to have had an open hand at selecting songs, personnel, sculpting arrangements (mostly with Rob Mounsey) and more. As it turns out, his musical taste matches his talent. We get ten tracks, mostly show tunes including two Styne, two Sondheim, and one Loesser, one Loewe and one Lauper. Lauper not only provides "I'm Not My Father's Son," from Kinky Boots; she joins Porter as vocalist on a very nice duet combining "Happy Days Are Here Again" and "Get Happy."

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As I prepared to store away the CDs I've been unable to get to, I figured I should at least listen to a track or two of Christine Ebersole's "Strings Attached" [Motema Birdland], which was released last Thanksgiving and thus is already old. And I couldn't stop listening. Ebersole's latest, which features the jazz violinist Aaron Weinstein (who also wrote the piano/violin/bass arrangements and produced the CD), is pure delight.

The star of Grey Gardens and other entertainments gives us fourteen songs, including a couple by Gershwin (led by "Shall We Dance"), a couple by Mercer, and single selections by Styne, Rodger & Hart, Porter and others. There are also assorted standards like "Am I Blue," "After You've Gone," and "I'll Be Seeing You," that are swell to hear. I never gave a second thought to "Something There" — yes, that's from Alan Menken and Howard Ashman's Beauty and the Beast — but it sounds brightly breezy here.

Having missed "Strings Attached" in 2013, I naturally enough wasn't able to include it in last year's holiday gift column. But it belongs on the list, and I promise that in the future I will listen to Ebersole albums in a more timely fashion.

(Steven Suskin is author of "Show Tunes," "The Sound of Broadway Music: A Book of Orchestrators and Orchestrations," "Second Act Trouble," the "Opening Night on Broadway" books, and "The Book of Mormon: The Testament of a Broadway Musical." He also writes the Aisle View blog at The Huffington Post. He can be reached at Ssuskin@aol.com.)