Album: The Music of Smash (Columbia)
Why we care: The most watched musical of the season wasn't on stage; it was Bombshell, the show-within-a-show on NBC's Smash, about ingenues (played by Katharine McPhee and Megan Hilty) vying to portray Marilyn Monroe. This CD includes pop anthems (McPhee's rendition of Beautiful is a highlight) plus a rather skimpy selection of numbers by Bombshell (and Hairspray) composers Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman.
Why we like it: McPhee has real star quality. Who will she end up with now that Raza Jaffrey, playing her boyfriend, is off the show next season? Target stores carry an exclusive version of the album with five bonus tracks, such as September Song performed by Anjelica Huston.
Reminds us of: Glee
Download this: History Is Made at Night
Album: End of the Rainbow (Masterworks Broadway)
Why we care: Not sure that another Judy Garland impersonator is absolutely necessary, but Bennett makes like the hardest working woman in show business in this high-energy musical drama by Peter Quilter. It depicts Garland in a tailspin near the end of her life, popping pills and fighting to keep her star from dimming.
Why we like it: Bennett, an Englishwoman, has the throbbing, husky catch in her voice that replicates Garland well, and she throws herself into boffo showstoppers like I Could Go on Singing, The Man That Got Away, Come Rain or Come Shine and (of course) Somewhere Over the Rainbow. Chris Egan's brassy arrangements are terrific.
Reminds us of: Liza Minnelli
Download this: Get Happy
George Bernard Shaw
Album: A Minister's Wife (PS Classics)
Why we care: It worked with Pygmalion when Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe transformed Shaw's play into My Fair Lady. Now Joshua Schmidt, whose score for Adding Machine is much admired, has set Shaw's Candida to music. Every season needs a brainy musical.
Why we like it: It's fun to hear Shavian aphorisms in song — "Civilization, that's the disease," sermonizes Marc Kudisch, playing the Rev. James Mavor Morrell. "The only cure . . . Socialism!" — but A Minister's Wife lacks an essential element. It's intelligent, intricately crafted and beautifully performed (with Kate Frye as Candida), but there's not a single truly memorable number in the score.
Reminds us of: A Little Night Music
Download this: Isn't He Foolish?
Album: Bonnie & Clyde (Broadway Records)
Why we care: Wildhorn developed Wonderland and Bonnie & Clyde simultaneously, and both had tryouts in Florida, at the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts and Asolo Repertory Theatre, respectively. Wonderland had catchier songs, Bonnie & Clyde, a more well-integrated country-rock score. Both flopped in New York in 2011. The lesson is twofold: Even high-concept, name-brand musicals are risky, and Broadway has something against Wildhorn.
Why we like it: Laura Osnes and Jeremy Jordan were sultry as the gun-toting Dust Bowl lovebirds. The two have gone on to happier things. Jordan is in Newsies and Osnes has a cabaret gig this month at the prestigious Cafe Carlyle.
Reminds us of: Wildhorn's The Civil War
Download this: How 'Bout a Dance?