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Listen to this: Four soundtracks from Tony Award-nominated musicals

West Side Story

Album: West Side Story (Sony)

In stores: Now

Why we care: This is the most ambitious revival of the great American musical since its 1957 premiere. It was directed by Arthur Laurents, who wrote the book and now has updated it to include Spanish lyrics and dialogue for the Puerto Rican Sharks.

Why we like it: Josefina Scaglione, an Argentine newcomer discovered on YouTube, is a sweet Maria, and her Tonight and One Hand, One Heart with Tony (Matt Cavanaugh) are ravishing. The 30-piece orchestra really cooks.

Reminds us of: What a miracle it was when Leonard Bernstein (music), Stephen Sondheim (lyrics), director-choreographer Jerome Robbins and Laurents got together in the '50s.

Download these: Siento Hermosa (I Feel Pretty); America; Tonight

Grade: A

Shrek

Album: Shrek The Musical (Decca)

In stores: Now

Why we care: Dreamworks hired an array of top-shelf talent to make its first foray into Broadway theater with its franchise smelly green ogre. Kids should love it, but what about the adults who bring them? No problem, the show is a blast.

Why we like it: Shrek (Brian d'Arcy James) and Princess Fiona (Sutton Foster, heir to Carol Burnett) complement their classic duet I Think I Got You Beat with a chorus of farts and belches. Jeanine Tesori composed a surprisingly traditional score for such cartoony material.

Reminds us of: Other self-mocking musicals like Spamalot and The Producers

Download these: Overture/Big Bright Beautiful World; Who I'd Be; Morning Person; I Think I Got You Beat

Grade: B+

Next to Normal

Album: Next to Normal (Ghostlight)

In stores: Now

Why we care: Nominated for 11 Tony Awards, this brainy musical with a pop-rock score by Tom Kitt and book and lyrics by Brian Yorkey is centered on a manic-depressive suburban mom (Alice Ripley).

Why we like it: Next to Normal gets off to a sensational start, with a set of songs that range from an homage to Mozart to a Rodgers and Hammerstein-style chorus on addiction and "my favorite pills.'' However, family dysfunction as a theme tends to curdle over a long evening (at least on disc; I have not seen the show).

Reminds us of: Green Day (Kitt did the string arrangements for 21st Century Breakdown)

Download these: Just Another Day; Everything Else; Who's Crazy/My Psychopharmacologist and I

Grade: B

Heather Headley

Album: Audience of One (EMI)

In stores: Now

Why we care: Remember Heather Headley? She was Nala in The Lion King, then won the 2000 Tony Award for best actress in a musical for playing the title role in Aida. She was in an acclaimed concert version of Dreamgirls. Now Headley, daughter of a preacher, has gone gospel ("I am a Christian'' are the opening words on the CD's first track, Simply Redeemed). Theater's loss is the church's gain.

Why we like it: Headley is a big talent clearly doing things her way. She is credited with a lot of the writing and arranging (along with producer Keith Thomas) on this sumptuous recording that features a 26-piece orchestra, choirs and plenty of hard-driving funk.

Reminds us of: Gladys Knight

Download these: Ordinary Me, Here I Am To Worship

Grade: A

Listen to this: Four soundtracks from Tony Award-nominated musicals 06/05/09 [Last modified: Friday, June 5, 2009 11:44am]

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