By Gregg Shapiro
Lesbian cartoonist Alison Bechdel’s universally lauded graphic novel Fun Home might not seem like the most ideal candidate for a Broadway musical. The autobiographical story of Bechdel’s coming out in college, her childhood growing up in her family’s funeral home (hence the title Fun Home), and her complex relationships with her parents (particularly her bisexual father, Bruce, who committed suicide) is an emotional roller-coaster. But leave it to Jeanine Tesori, who co-wrote new songs for the Broadway musical Thoroughly Modern Millie and collaborated with Tony Kushner on Caroline, Or Change, to bring it to fruition, with lesbian book writer and lyricist Lisa Kron. Fun Home: A New Broadway Musical (PS Classics), the original cast recording of the multiple 2015 Tony Award-winning show, features Tony-winning actor Michael Cerveris as Bruce, Tony-nominee Judy Kuhn as Alison’s mother, Helen, and three actresses as the lead character, identified as Small Alison (Sydney Lucas), Medium Alison (Emily Skeggs), and Alison (Beth Malone). To the credit of all involved, Fun Home maintains the humor and tragedy of the book, honoring the original material and brilliantly expanding the audience for both the book and the show.
Chances are, if you love the consistently quirky movies of Wes Anderson, including Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums, Fantastic Mr. Fox, Moonrise Kingdom, and The Grand Budapest Hotel, you probably have the same affection for the soundtracks to his movies. Alexandre Desplat, who composed the score for The Grand Budapest Hotel, even won an Oscar for his work on that film. Anderson’s 2007 film, The Darjeeling Limited, starring Adrien Brody, Owen Wilson, and Jason Schwartzman, took the filmmaker’s eccentricity to another level. Therefore, it’s fitting that The Darjeeling Limited: Original Soundtrack (ABKCO), making its 2015 LP debut on 180-gram vinyl, would also be on the unconventional side. A delightful blend of ’60s British Invasion (The Rolling Stones, The Kinks), classical, and “borrowed” film scores from the likes of Satyajit Ray and others, The Darjeeling Limited soundtrack offers unlimited pleasures.
Bisexual blues diva Bessie Smith is given the biopic treatment in HBO’s Bessie, starring Queen Latifah. Bessie: Music from the HBO Film (Legacy) features Latifah, who continues to develop into a masterful vocalist, performing Smith classics such as “Down Hearted Blues,” “Long Old Road,” “Preachin’ the Blues,” and “Young Woman Blues,” as well as classic performances by Louis Armstrong & His Hot Seven, Fats Waller & His Rhythm, and Sippie Wallace, as well as music preservationist Vince Giordano. The disc closes with the 2015 remix of “Gimme a Pig Foot & a Bottle of Beer,” featuring Smith and Latifah.
Not one, but two (!) Comden and Green musicals are currently “On” Broadway. Both revivals—1978’s On the 20th Century and 1944’s On the Town—are certified hits and Tony nominees. The double disc On the 20th Century: New Broadway Cast Recording (PS Classics) stars Kristin Chenoweth, Peter Gallagher, Mary Louise Wilson, Mark Linn-Baker, and Andy Karl. The musical, about show people, is based on Ben Hecht, Charles MacArthur, and Bruce Milliholland plays, adapted by Betty Comden and Adolph Green (book and lyrics) and Cy Coleman (music). On the Town: New Broadway Cast Recording (PS Classics), also a two-disc set, based on an idea by Jerome Robbins, features book and lyrics by Comden and Green, with music by Leonard Bernstein. How can a musical featuring Jackie Hoffman be bad? For pure Broadway bliss, you can’t go wrong with either of these cast recordings.
The D Train: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (Lakeshore), from the unexpectedly queer Jack Black/James Marsden movie of the same name, opens with a new song co-written by Andy McCluskey (of OMD) and the film’s score composer Andrew Dost (of fun. fame). It’s a great and infectious tune, owing as much to fun. as it does to OMD. The next few selections are ’80s pop classics, including OMD’s “So in Love,” Mr. Mister’s “Kyrie,” and The Vapors’ “Turning Japanese.” Dost’s 11 compositions for the score are full of synthy melodiousness and dramatic turns that are on the right track.
After a string of mediocre films, Cameron Crowe needs a hit movie, and his latest, Aloha (starring Bradley Cooper, Emma Stone, Rachel McAdams, and John Krasinski) could be the one. Songs of Aloha: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (Legacy) features songs by out Sigur Ros frontman Jonsi (who also did the soundtrack for Crowe’s We Bought a Zoo), as well as Beck, The Blue Nile, Fleetwood Mac, The Tallest Man on Earth, Josh Ritter, and Kurt Vile. However, it’s the Hawaiian music—including “Alika” by Genoa Keawe, “Hanohano Hanalie” by Alfred K. Alohikea, and “I’ll Weave a Lei of Stars for You” by The Royal Hawaiian Serenaders—that is the real treat.
Gregg Shapiro is a regular contributor to OutSmart magazine.