Fusion of soul and skill in ‘Les Mis’ stars’ solo albums
If you have yet to watch the Manila staging of “Les Miserables” or haven’t had your fill of the exceptional vocal chops of Simon Gleeson (who plays Jean Valjean) and Kerrie Anne Greenland (Eponine), listening to them sing in their solo albums is just as satisfying.
Sure, a studio-recorded performance dilutes the real-time urgency that characterizes a live performance, but its controlled setting guarantees enhanced clarity and gaffe-free delivery. Moreover, it allows listeners to identify a singer’s strengths and weaknesses.
In Simon’s 10-track debut album, “Elements,” the 39-year-old TV and musical theater star essays show tunes that require interpretive skill as much as range and vocal bombast.
His potent combination of soul and skill makes his covers of “If I Loved You” (from “Carousel”), “Being Alive” (from “Company”) and “Anthem (from “Chess”) nothing less than memorable.
It’s instructive for singers to listen to his seamless placement shifts and controlled falsetto in “A Bit of Earth,” from “The Secret Garden.”
The album also shows off Simon’s versatility by proving that his voice isn’t just “wired” for show tunes in the album’s pop-accessible revivals: He takes on Billy Joel and The Beatles in his earnest renditions of “She’s Got a Way” and “Something.”
In “Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word,” the theater performer’s pop appeal is further enhanced by the participation of his talented wife, Natalie O’Donnell, who steals some of Simon’s thunder in Elton John’s mournful 1976 ballad, about a relationship on the rocks.
If you prefer a higher degree of difficulty, you’ll get just that in Simon’s rousing covers of songs from “Into the Woods,” “Elegies for Angels, Punks and Raging Queens” and, of course, “Les Miserables.”
Needless to say, his magnificent tenor voice will sweep you off your feet in his rendition of the musical prayer, “Bring Him Home,” a “Les Mis” show tune specifically written by Claude-Michel Schonberg for Colm Wilkinson, the Irish tenor who originated the role of Jean Valjean in the acclaimed stage musical.
Also a must-hear is “And the Rain Keeps Falling Down,” a stirring number about dealing with loss and grief from Janet Hood and Bill Russell’s song cycle, “Elegies,” written from the perspective of people who have succumbed to AIDS.
Simon ups the performing ante even more in “Stay With Me,” Stephen Sondheim’s structurally complex aria from “Into the Woods,” originally sung by The Witch to keep Rapunzel from running away with her Prince Charming!
For her part, Kerrie Anne Greenland’s album, “Pictures,” contains only five tracks. But, as her versions of Whitney Houston’s “Run to You” and “On My Own” (from “Les Mis”) prove, she doesn’t need a lot of songs to demonstrate her prodigious range and genre-shifting ability.
Alas, her voice is even more “adaptable” than Simon’s predominantly theater-grade pipes.
In fact, it isn’t hard to imagine hearing Kerrie Anne’s voice on the radio—from her judicious delineated notes and stunning melodic progression in “Run to You,” to her swirling vocal trills in “Let It Go” (from the screen musical, “Frozen”).
Her repertoire isn’t compromised by overblown theatricality because she knows where her theater-style vibrato is most useful—and which songs it should be kept to a minimum.
Kerrie Anne sounds aptly and inventively pop in the “torchy” scorch of “The Man That Got Away” and the “Disneyfied” froth of “Once Upon a Dream.”
She sings the latter with “Australian Idol” alumnus Daniel Belle, who portrays Combeferre in the current Manila production of “Les Miserables,” which wraps up its sold-out, extended run on May 1.
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