The best of Broadway, for the record


In Gayland, the very definition of courage is for a gay man to publish a list of the best ever Broadway cast albums in The Advocate. And this week, courage has a name: Winston Gieseke, managing editor of the pub. I wouldn’t be surprised if disagreements about his Top 10 list approach the level of Hot 100 discussions.

Contrary to stereotype, the love of show tunes is not exclusive to the gay male community. I sang along with my parents’ Oklahoma! cast album long before I knew all the verses to Just As I Am (the perennial Southern Baptist come-to-Jesus hymn). And every lesbian I know has a special love for The Sound of Music, even though what won our hearts was the film version, thanks to Julie Andrews.

The Advocate‘s list incorporates movie soundtracks, which automatically makes it suspect in my opinion. But for the sake of a starting point, here are Winston’s favorite cast albums:

A Little Night Music, motion picture soundtrack 1977

The Last Five Years, 2002

Oklahoma! motion picture soundtrack 1955

Falsettoland, 1981 and 1990

West Side Story, motion picture soundtrack 1961

Street Scene, 1947

Wicked, 2003

My Fair Lady, London cast 1959

Assassins, 1991

Camelot, 1960

I certainly can’t argue with some of his choices. Camelot has some of the most gorgeous music I’ve ever heard — and if you don’t melt when Julie Andrews sings “I Loved You Once in Silence,” I’m not sure your heart is working. And, as Winston notes, the London version of My Fair Lady (also with Julie Andrews — I sense a theme here) is clearly superior to the Broadway recording.

But where is Cabaret?

Granted, the songs take on a somewhat sinister tone once you know the story, but that’s what makes the original cast recording hard to top (the version I have was remastered in 1998). The voices seem more raw and uncertain than later recordings — and that fits the mood of the 1930s Berlin setting perfectly.

Carousel also has to be on my list — specifically, the 1994 revival soundtrack.

The earlier London recording probably is more popular, but Audra McDonald as Carrie? Yes, please. Carousel has a lot of silly songs, to be sure, but every time I hear “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” I cry like a little baby.

Rent (1996) may be a sentimental choice, but I love it.

Adapting La Bohème to the 1990s East Village seems crazy, but the result was a musical with elements of rock, gospel and pop that carries some of the most acute lyrics ever written. I know that being gay and losing a number of friends to AIDS has a lot to do with Rent’s power over me, so I won’t argue that this recording should be on anyone else’s best-of-Broadway list. But it will forever be on mine.

I could go on. Gypsy, Chicago, Avenue Q, La Cage aux Folles, Les Miserables — all have soundtracks that are musically inspired, lyrically expressive and a joy to listen to again and again.

My personal favorite (today) happens to be on The Advocate‘s list, too. The 2003 Broadway cast recording of Wicked is pure delight. But how could it not be? Kristin Chenoweth and Idina Menzel are remarkable performers that inhabit Glinda and Elphaba. And Glinda and Elphaba? So gay.

The first time I just sat and listened to the Wicked recording, my player was set to repeat. After the finale, the first song “No One Mourns the Wicked” started to play again, with an entirely new meaning. Next time you listen, try it and let me know what you think.

Your turn. Are you a show tune fan? What are your favorite Broadway soundtracks?

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