PS Classics
Ken Mandelbaum

Lauren Kennedy’s new solo disc boasts liner notes by Trevor Nunn, who directed Kennedy as Betty Schaefer in the first national tour of Sunset Boulevard and as Nellie Forbush in the Royal National Theatre’s South Pacific. Kennedy is currently appearing in another Nunn show, playing Fantine in the Broadway Les Misérables.

Kennedy’s credits also include covering Emily Skinner in Side Show and taking a lead in The Rhythm Club, the musical that was announced for Broadway but did not make it out of Virginia’s Signature Theatre. More recently, Kennedy was half the cast of the Chicago premiere of Jason Robert Brown’s The Last Five Years, and would have continued with the show in New York had she not been occupied with South Pacific.

For her first recital (in stores March 4, now available at psclassics.com), Kennedy has chosen eleven songs by Brown, and it’s a welcome program. Of the new theatre composers, Brown is probably the best melodist, writing accessible material that’s smart, contemporary, and emotionally satisfying. If Brown has yet to have a hit show, he’s clearly a significant talent. (He returns to Broadway next week as musical director of Urban Cowboy, for which he has also composed several songs.)

On Kennedy’s disc, Brown is musical director, arranger, and performer, heard at the keyboards, in background vocals, and in a duet. Kennedy performs four previously unrecorded songs –two of them created for this recital, all of them intriguing– as well as material from Brown’s shows. The Tony-winning Parade score is represented by the Governor’s song, “Pretty Music,” outfitted with new lyrics. From The Last Five Years, there’s the terrific “I Can Do Better Than That” and the strong finale number, “Goodbye Until Tomorrow.” Something of a throwaway in the theatre, the heroine’s audition piece, “When You Come Home to Me,” is given a full-scale, Nelson Riddle-style treatment.

From the songbook revue Songs for a New World, Kennedy offers a handsome “Christmas Lullaby,” along with “I’d Give It All for You” (the duet with Brown) and “Flying Home.” (The excellent but much-performed New World song “Stars and the Moon” has wisely been omitted.)

If Kennedy is not the most varied or penetrating stylist, she’s a solid singer, smooth, strong, and rangy. The combination of quality material and attractive vocals makes for a very pleasurable disc.