My Top 10 Broadway Cast Recordings

It’s really no secret to anyone who knows me that I absolutely adore Broadway and musical theater. However, because I’m only 19—and unfortunately too young to see these shows when they premiered, or, in some cases, was not even born when they premiered—, a college student, and currently living and studying in Ohio, my chances to see live theater are seriously limited. But thankfully, cast albums of these shows are here to save the day, ready to give me and other Broadway fanatics the chance to experience our favorite shows from the comfort of our own homes. Here is a list of some of my very favorite cast albums performed by some of my favorite artists—the top 10 I selected very carefully from a list of 33 favorites. Hopefully, they bring as much joy to you as they have to me.

 

10. Into the Woods (Original Broadway Cast Recording)

How could any list of musical theater favorites be complete without Into the Woods? Into the Woods tells the story of fairy tale characters before and after their wishes come true, and about what happens when even after your wish is granted life is not how you thought it would be. Life is truly the most important word used in describing Into the Woods—its characters grapple with parenting, maturing, the loss of innocence, loss in general, and having to make difficult and often life-changing choices. Bernadette Peters and the rest of the original cast are absolutely perfect in their roles, and bring this wonderful and thought-provoking story and Stephen Sondheim’s difficult music to life with ease and immense skill.

Favorite songs: “I Know Things Now,” “Stay With Me,” “On The Steps of the Palace,” “Giants in the Sky,” “Children Will Listen,” “No One is Alone.”

 

9. A Chorus Line (The New Cast Recording)

A Chorus Line is the story of dancers auditioning for a job—a job they all desperately need. Throughout their audition, they tell their stories, their motivations for entering show business, and their personal struggles and burdens. Their stories range from hilarious to heartbreaking, and the upbeat dance numbers are just as beautiful as the ballads. “At the Ballet” is my personal favorite, and Maggie’s solo and crescendo at the very end make my heart ache every time I hear them. I’ve yet to listen to it without getting goosebumps. The heart of this show, and what draws me to it, is expressed most clearly in A Chorus Line’s most well-known song: “What I Did For Love”. When asked the question “If today were the day you had to stop dancing, how would you feel?” Diana Morales responds with her song: singing that because she’s done what she loves, she could never regret the choices that she has made, even if they don’t lead to success—no matter what happens in regards to her career as a dancer, she is still happy that she got to do what she loves. And what artist doesn’t feel the same way?

Favorite Songs: “At the Ballet,” “Montage Part 2: Nothing,” “The Music and the Mirror,” “One,” “What I Did For Love.”

 

8. Gypsy (The 2008 Broadway Cast Recording)

Man, do I love Patti Lupone and Laura Benanti. They, along with the rest of the 2008 cast, tell the story of an intense stage mother Rose and her two dominated children exceptionally well, making this my favorite recording of Gypsy out of the many I have listened to over the years. “Little Lamb” never fails to make me teary eyed, as Laura perfectly presents Rose’s eldest, and most undervalued, daughter as the sensitive girl yearning for love that she truly is. Another favorite, "Rose’s Turn," when performed by Patti completely astounds me, and in my imagination, could blow the roof off of any theater she performed it in. At its heart, though, Gypsy isn’t about powerhouse songs or vocal acrobatics. Gypsy is about overcoming obstacles, and finding value in yourself when others are consistently refuse to see it. In finally seeing her value as a person, Louise forces her mother to see it as well and even has the strength to accept her mother for who she is and what she has done. Louise even forgives her mother for all the wrong she has done throughout her life—the strongest and most admirable thing she could have done—showing that no matter how you are treated, you are the one in charge of your fate, and how you see and react to the world.

Favorite Songs: “Some People,” “Little Lamb,” “If Momma Was Married,” “All I Need Is The Girl,” “Everything’s Coming up Roses,” “Rose’s Turn.”

 

7. The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess (New Broadway Cast Recording)

By now you may have noticed that emotional musicals are my favorites, and Porgy and Bess is as emotional as they come. This is the story of Bess, trapped in an abusive relationship with her ex, Crown, and Porgy, a disabled man helplessly in love with her.  Porgy and Bess is absolutely devastating when sung by Audra McDonald and Norm Lewis, and the rest of this 2012 revival cast. The love and pain held by the characters in this show is palpable even through just an album, and the soaring and voices of the entire cast convey these feelings in a way that is not merely observational—they take these emotions straight to your heart and make them your own. For me, Porgy is the character that has the most emotional impact throughout this show. Despite everything that Bess puts him through he remains steadfast and sure in his love for her, doing everything he can to make her happy and to free her from her demons of her past. Even when facing betrayal at her hands, Porgy is willing to leave the life he has always known behind to find her, his love powerful enough to do whatever it takes to be with the woman he loves. Porgy’s dedication shows just how strong true love, even when one lover has been led astray, can be, and that love is strong enough to overcome any obstacles that attempt to get in its way.

Favorite Songs: “Summertime,” “I Got Plenty of Nothing,” “Bess, You is My Woman Now,” “I Loves You, Porgy,” “Oh Lord, I’m On My Way.”

 

6. The Bridges of Madison County (Original Broadway Cast Recording)

The Bridges of Madison County is one of the most beautiful albums I have ever listened to. Jason Robert Brown is absolutely amazing. The combination of Kelli O’Hara and Steven Pasquale’s angelic voices singing equally angelic music and lyrics is almost too much for my little heart to handle: I cry nearly every time I listen to this album. The story of a farmer’s wife, Francesca, living in a boring, unfulfilling life who is swept away in a brief romance with well-travelled photographer Robert, The Bridges of Madison County explores the opposition between passion and fate and doing what is right versus what you desire in the moment. Although Francesca and Robert truly love each other, Francesca chooses to stay in the life she has come to know, largely because of her love for her children. While the two lovers’ story is passionate and captivating, Francesca’s decision to stay by her children, those who have always loved her unconditionally, is the way I wanted the story to end, and is still a decision based on love. On another note, “Almost Real” is one of my favorite songs of all time, and moves me deeply every time I listen to it.

Favorite songs:  “To Build a Home,” “Another Life,” “Almost Real,” “One Second and a Million Miles,” “It All Fades Away,” and “Always Better.”

 

5. Ragtime (Original Broadway Cast Recording)

Ragtime is the story of America—the story of American families: immigrants, the lower class, the middle/upper class, and the struggles each of these groups face throughout their lives. Each of these families shift and change as dramatically as the country does around them, and are forced to adapt, learn, and retain their strength in the face of obstacles that seem impossible to conquer. The beauty and tragedy of each of their journeys is reflected in the music, which is alternatively jubilant, tragic, loving, and sorrowful, but always beautiful. My favorite character in this musical is easily Sarah: Coalhouse’s “lost love” and mother of his child. “Your Daddy’s Son”, Sarah’s explanation of why she buried her son underground after his birth, is absolutely heartbreaking, and despite her terrible choice, her love for her son and her remorse at her decision are both plain. As a whole Ragtime is exceptionally moving, and as the daughter of an immigrant, the story of these characters all searching for happiness, freedom, and the American Dream is all the more impactful.

Favorite songs: “Journey On,” “Nothing Like the City,” “Your Daddy’s Son,” “New Music,” “Wheels of a Dream,” “Sarah Brown Eyes,” “Back to Before,” and “Make Them Hear You.”

 

4. The Color Purple (New Broadway Cast Recording)

The Color Purple is one of my favorite books of all time, and although I’m usually apprehensive of books I love being made into other formats (if you were wondering, I haven’t read Ragtime or The Bridges of Madison County yet), I absolutely adore the musical adaptation of this story. I’m a sucker for a story surrounding women, and Celie, Shug, Sofia, Nettie, and all of the women in this show, are some of the strongest, most resilient, and most beautiful women portrayed in literature or theater. While they all have their faults, their faults make them real, and despite their initial differences, they support each other through hardship and work to improve each other’s lives. In addition to the amazing women that populate this story, the music that makes up this story is equally amazing. The evolution of the story’s characters is perfectly shown through the music, specifically Celie’s transformation from submissive and afraid to joyful and confident, and is really “Too Beautiful for Words.” (I am really proud of that pun; I hope someone besides me appreciates it). This show is just so inspirational, so full of heart, and so wonderful.

Favorite songs: “Somebody Gonna Love You,” “Hell No!” “Too Beautiful for Words,” “What About Love?” “Miss Celie’s Pants,” “I’m Here,” and “The Color Purple (Reprise).”

 

3. Waitress (Original Broadway Cast)

Waitress is a new favorite that has absolutely captured my heart. Like I mentioned before, I love stories about strong women, and Waitress is full of them. Jenna is a waitress trapped in an abusive relationship, pregnant with a baby she hadn’t planned for and didn’t want, who is desperately seeking for a way to start a new life. Throughout the show, Jenna, with the help of her friends and co-workers Becky and Dawn, and a grumpy old man Joe, gains the strength to free herself from her husband, and learns to love herself and her baby. Sara Bareilles’ music perfectly compliments this uplifting story and manages to be funny and absolutely heartbreaking at the same time. Like all of the other shows on this list I haven’t yet seen Waitress live (I’m seeing it in October though and I’m so excited I can barely stand it!). But, the performances on this album are so moving that just by listening to them I’m deeply affected. Jessie Mueller’s performance as Jenna is especially moving. Listening to “She Used to Be Mine” is an emotional experience for me—I feel like I can feel the song in the pit of my stomach, in my bones. I have yet to listen to the song (along with “You Matter to Me,” “Dear Baby,” and “Everything Changes”) without bursting into tears: I know what it feels like to be abused, what it feels like to have lost yourself, and what it feels like to desperately try to get yourself back, and Jessie just performs so honestly that it is occasionally almost too painful to listen to, but it is also exactly what I need to hear. Also, the fact that Jenna saves herself, with the help of other women, in a show with a creative team entirely made up of women just makes this show all the sweeter, and all the more beautiful.

Favorite songs: “What Baking Can Do,” “Club Knocked Up,” “When He Sees Me,” “Never Ever Getting Rid of Me,” “Bad Idea,” “You Matter to Me,” “She Used to Be Mine,” and “Everything Changes.”

 

2. Funny Girl (Original Broadway Cast)

I grew up with Funny Girl, which may be part of the reason why this album is so high up on my list—besides the obvious fact that it’s amazing. I’ve always idolized Barbra Streisand, and her character Fanny Brice (along with the real Fanny Brice, of course!)—how could I not? I was a funny kid that stuck out, I had a funny nose, and I loved to perform. This album taught me that these qualities were okay—that I didn’t have to look and act like everyone else to be loved or accepted, and that if I tried hard enough and gave it my all, I could accomplish anything. For me, Funny Girl is chock full of sentimental value, but it is also an exceptional album and show. Barbra Streisand and her voice are radiant, powerful, touching… they’re everything! The show itself provides the perfect mix of comedy and sentimentality and is as inspiring as it is entertaining. There’s really not much more that I can say—this show is simply gorgeous. (On a side note, I am totally nailing it with these references!)

Favorite songs: “I’m The Greatest Star,” “People,” “Don’t Rain on My Parade,” “Who Are You Now?” “The Music That Makes Me Dance,” “Don’t Rain on My Parade (Reprise).”

 

1. The Light in the Piazza (Original Broadway Cast Recording)

Here it is—possibly my favorite musical of all time and my number 1 album on this list. To summarize briefly, The Light in the Piazza is the story of Clara, a young woman who meets a man, Fabrizio, and falls in love during a vacation in Italy, and a mother who fears for her well-being because of a childhood injury that left her “developmentally stalled.” The mother, Margaret, worries that Clara is not independent enough, stable enough, or “normal” enough to be on her own, or to ever truly act as an individual separate from her. Despite Margaret’s worries, Clara loves anyway—she loves deeply and genuinely, and Fabrizio loves her just as deeply, and the two insist on being together. Throughout the show Margaret struggles with her desire for her child to be happy and her worries for her future, yet when Clara sings the title song, “The Light in the Piazza,” Margaret finally realizes that Clara’s love is as valid and meaningful as any other and that nothing should hold her back from living this true happiness that she has found. This song, this song capable of changing a mother’s mind and heart, is one of the most beautiful that I have ever heard. Clara’s earnest description (made possible and palpable by Kelli O’Hara’s masterful performance) of what love feels like to her, and her desperate attempt to explain it to her mother in the best way she can, is truly too gorgeous to fully describe with just words. She describes this feeling, this love, as a growing light within her and in her world, a feeling from deep within that she has never before felt, a feeling that explodes from within her with such a force and passion that it tears her apart yet holds her together—a feeling that is “everything and everywhere,” and that is so powerful that she doesn’t have the words to explain it. I can’t express the depth of feeling, the meaning, and the heart of this song, or this show, in words either, so I urge you—please, please listen to this album, if only to understand the feelings it describes and brings on that words simply can’t describe.

Favorite songs: Absolutely all of them, but especially “The Light in the Piazza.”

 

I hope you enjoyed this list! Let me know which of these you like best.

 

Image credits: Amazon.com