Noteworthy: reviews of new music

The Monitor takes a look at cast recordings from recent broadway musicals.

Jersey Boys (Rhino/WEA): Even if you're a million miles from Broadway, you can still hear the sounds of "Jersey Boys," a smash-hit musical based on the high, sweet tones of the young Frankie Valli and his doo-wop quartet, the Four Seasons. The CD, produced by Bob Gaudio, one of the original members of the Four Seasons and its resident songwriter, includes some of the show's dialogue and more than 30 songs, including such enduring hits as "Sherry," "Rag Doll," "Oh, What a Night," and "Can't Take My Eyes Off You." Led by John Lloyd Young as Valli - surely the next Broadway star - the recording is a must-have for boomers who grew up on this music. Grade: A-
- Iris Fanger

Monty Python's Spamalot (Decca): Eric Idle's hilariously irreverent antimusical mocks everything from cookie-cutter Broadway shows (with numbers like "This Is The Song That Goes Like This") to its own adaptation of the 1975 film "Monty Python and the Holy Grail." The musical's leads - Tim Curry (Arthur), David Hyde Pierce (Robin), and "Simpsons" staple Hank Azaria (Lancelot) - make its near- brilliance seem quite effortless. The high point is sultry siren Sara Ramirez as The Lady of the Lake, whose constant lamenting of her underwritten role - especially with "Diva's Lament (What Ever Happened To My Part?)" - makes hers the meatiest of all. Grade: A-
- Robert Newton

Wicked (Decca): The most appreciative listener of the "Wicked" cast album will be someone who has already seen the show, a phenomenon that has generated a loyal fan base of repeat viewers, especially teenage girls. Actress Kristin Chenoweth's perfectly honed delivery of Stephen Schwatz's "Popular" is a delightful discovery - her clarion voice plus his witty lyrics are a perfect match. But the album's hands-down best number is the liberation anthem "Defying Gravity," when Chenoweth pairs with the almost unimaginable vocal power of Idina Menzel. It simply soars, and stays with you long after the soundtrack ends. Grade: B
- Tony Vellela

The Woman in White (EMI Classics): For fans of Andrew Lloyd Webber and those curious about his latest hit show, "The Woman in White," based on the 1860 gothic-labyrinth of a novel by Wilkie Collins, this album is a welcome addition to the composer's musical-theater recordings. However, his detractors will notice echoes of Webber-past in the melodies: the emotion-encrusted orchestrations and long stretches of recitative where the twists of the plot overwhelm the efforts of both Webber and lyricist David Zippel. "The Woman in White" opened on Broadway in November with many of the London performers on the CD, including Maria Friedman as Marian, Jill Paice as a woebegone bride, and Angela Christian in the title role. Michael Crawford, who starred as Count Fosco, did not cross the ocean, but he's in splendid voice on the album, which was recorded live on opening night in London. Grade: B-
- I.F.

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