It’s CHRIIIIST-MAAAS! Well not really, but in honour of Advent starting and all of the snow in London, I’d thought I’d write about two of my favourite Christmas albums with musical theatre connections.
There are certain performers who I really do want to see live at least once in my life and somewhere near the top of that list is Kristin Chenoweth (so any producers reading, get her over here pronto, please), not least because she seems so fricking adorable in everything I’ve ever seen her in and I would just die if she tugged my hair like she does at 5:18 in this clip of her and Idina Menzel performing ‘For Good’. So I’ve had to make do with her TV shows, YouTube clips and her CDs, the Christmas one of which, A Lovely Way To Spend Christmas, became a fast favourite when it was released a couple of years ago.
The best track, and if you only download one I’d make it this one, is a gorgeous version of ‘Do You Hear What I Hear’. Building slowly with an angelic vocal, enhanced by the insertion of the Gloria refrain from ‘Ding Dong Merrily On High’, it is sweet and perfect and often on repeat play on stressful December commutes. ‘What Child Is This’, to the tune of ‘Greensleeves’ and ‘I’ll Be Home For Christmas’, both staples of US Christmas albums are both well-performed but a slowed version of ‘The Christmas Waltz’ is really lovely and the medley of ‘Sleep Well Little Children’/’What A Wonderful World’ is another flawless wonder.
There’s a well-balanced mix of familiar and not-so-familiar on this cd and an impressive range, touching on country alongside the traditional, the sweetly angelic and the Broadway. Yes, there is a small amount of forgettable filler towards the end, but the highlights more than make up for it with a genuine festive joy and Chenoweth’s passion for singing shining through. A Lovely Way To Spend Christmas really is just what it says, you won’t be disappointed if you invest in this album whether on CD or by download.
Now becoming something of an annual institution, Christmas in New York is a celebration of seasonal songs and classic carols by the Notes from New York company which has performed a festive West End concert for the last four years. And making up for the fact that they are having a year off is an album of some of their best moments featuring a wide range of musical theatre stars released last year but finally now available to download from iTunes. It really is a cornucopia of Christmas cheer, ranging from sacred to secular, the West End to Broadway and makes a refreshing change from the endless repetition of the usual seasonal fare.
I sometimes feel like a bit of broken record going on about how much I love Julie Atherton but I’m not going to stop any time soon and there’s two opportunities to hear her on this album, a gentle take on Lloyd-Webber’s ‘The Perfect Year’ from Sunset Boulevard and the rather marvellous ‘My Simple Christmas Wish’, a witty song by David Friedman which showcases Atherton’s utterly fabulous talent for delivering comic lyrical numbers with razor-sharp precision. But just edging her for my particular highlight is another of my favourite leading ladies (and yes, I know, I have lots of them!) Hannah Waddingham and her stunning rendition of ‘O Holy Night’. Backed by the company choir, her powerful vocal just soars through the simple but uplifting carol and as her own ad-libs are multi-tracked on about two-thirds of the way in, I defy you not to have goosebumps by the end.
Other things of loveliness are Samuel Beckett’s beautifully tender ‘Miss You Most (At Christmas Time)’ with a wonderfully precise delivery which is most affecting; the blend of old and new in ‘In The Bleak Midwinter’ and ‘A Winter’s Tale’ which combines the lovely harmonies of Louise Dearman and Ashleigh Gray on the carol with Paul Spicer’s melancholy plea against loneliness; Leanne Jones’ piano-based ‘White Christmas’ and Daniel Boys’ mellow ‘Ave Maria’.
My tastes do tend to veer to the ballads and traditional numbers but there are some great upbeat songs on here too, the opening title song is exactly what you imagine a Broadway Christmas would sound like in 3 minutes 45 seconds, Oliver Tompsett’s ‘This Christmas’ and ‘What Christmas Means to Me’ / ‘Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)’, the latter with Rachael Wooding, also pop with liveliness. All in all, it is wonderfully fresh alternative to the usual Christmas standards and a brilliant showcase for young British musical theatre talent. Let’s hope Christmas in New York will return in 2011.