Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Natalie Toro

I love discovering a new artist. I first became aware of Natalie Toro when she played Madame DeFarge last fall in A Tale of Two Cities. I encountered her again in December at James Barbour’s Christmas concert at Sardi’s. Now I’m enjoying her on her new CD, “Natalie Toro.”

I’m impressed with both her creative interpretations of standards and inclusion of rarely recorded Broadway songs. She starts off with “Something’s Coming” from West Side Story, with a swing arrangement making it sound like a romantic number from the 40s. I wouldn’t have imagined this song sung in such a different way and I really, really like it.

I also love “Where Is It Written,” which begins with a choir and the prayer “God, our merciful Father. I’m wrapped in a robe of light, clothed in your glory that spreads its wings over the soul. May I be worthy. Amen.” Toro picks up the Amen and then sings a song about questioning -- why is a bird given wings if not to fly; what’s right and wrong and “where do I belong within the scheme of things;” why have a mind if not to question; why have a thirst if not to drink the wine? She demands to be told where it’s written, “if it’s written anywhere.” The choir closes with “God, our merciful Father. Amen.” What a good, theologically sound song! In my Episcopal tradition we place great value on questioning. It’s a bold move to include this song, a new one to me, although with music by Michel Legrand and lyrics by Alan and Marilyn Bergman it shouldn’t be.

Other selections are welcome because they’re good songs from good shows, but aren’t part of the usual fare from Broadway and cabaret singers. I’ve long loved “Unusual Way” from Nine and in recent years have enjoyed “Here I Am” from Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. I have both of these on the original cast recordings, but it’s nice to hear them performed with Toro’s flair.

She remains consistent in pursuing a novel slant with her concluding arrangement of “Get Happy/Happy Days,” a duet with Sutton Foster that is part Americana and part church with the inclusion of a chorus of Hallelujahs.

The full program is:
1. Something’s Coming
2. Unusual Way
3. Where is it Written
4. I Dreamed a Dream
5. Here I Am
6. I Remember
7. Someone Like You
8. Another Hundred People
9. Easy As Life
10. Out of Sight, Out of Mind
11. If I Could
12. Get Happy/Happy Days

I look forward to following this singer now that she’s on my radar screen. Order a copy of Natalie Toro to enjoy Broadway with a new beat.

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