While Broadway lights remained dimmed for much of 2020 and 2021, they flipped back on in September and delayed cast albums finally were released — unleashing potential contenders for the musical theater album Grammy, alongside new content in the form of more concept albums that could very well dominate nominations.
“Girl From the North Country” opened to rave reviews on March 5, 2020, and was a New York Times critics pick. A week later, the cast, featuring Marc Kudisch and Kimber Elayne Sprawl, were in the recording studio. However, as with the rest of the world at that time, New York City shut down because of the COVID pandemic, and the album didn’t come out until almost a year later. “I think the album finally being released last month, with the show reopened, brings a huge sense of relief and cautious optimism,” says Lisa Goldberg, owner of LSG Public Relations. “I may be biased, but it’s a truly stunning show with a score of Bob Dylan songs sung in a way you’ve never heard before. I’m thrilled that after over a year in waiting, the public can finally hear this beautiful album and buy tickets for the show in person.” Filled with fresh takes on Dylan tunes — including lesser-known tracks such as “You Ain’t Going Nowhere,” “Sign on the Window” and the titular song, “Girl From the North Country” — it’s poised to land a nomination, if not win.
Princess Diana is everywhere — from “The Crown” to “Spencer,” to Broadway via “Diana: The Musical” and a filmed performance of that show landed on Netflix, too. The show, with book and lyrics by Joe DiPietro and music and lyrics by David Bryan (of Bon Jovi fame), went into previews in March 2020, but COVID closed down Broadway. Still, the production announced it would film a special presentation during the pandemic and release it for a worldwide audience ahead of its Broadway reopening. Netflix streamed it earlier this month. Broadway rock and catchy pop define the soundtrack, which was released as eligibility closed. Whether the Recording Academy falls in love with this version of the people’s princess remains to be seen.
While Broadway was shuttered, creators looked to provide theatrical content and a wealth of concept albums dropped.
Composers Abigail Barlow and Emily Bear took their viral music sensation from Netflix’s “Bridgerton” and turned it into “The Unofficial Bridgerton Musical” concept album. To date, the duo has clocked in more than 200 million views since sharing their music back in January and releasing an album in September with 15 original songs and orchestrations.
Another album in the running, released two days before the submission deadline, is “Burt Bacharach and Steven Sater’s Some Lovers,” featuring Broadway favorites Jonathan Groff and Lea Michele. The album is Bacharach’s first score since 1968 and came as an alternative concept album with a promise of an “awesome theatrical production to come.”
While Off Broadway’s “Einstein’s Dreams,” “Unknown Soldier” and even Andrew Lloyd Webber’s West End cast recording of “Cinderella” also find themselves in the running to land nominations, Pete Ganbarg, president of A&R at Atlantic Records, wonders if the shift to concept albums might shape the future.
“The pandemic forced a lot of people inside, and we saw creators creating from necessity,” he says. Ganbarg also points to the success of “Ratatouille: The TikTok Musical,” among the viral sensations that allowed theater to be open 24/7 for audiences. “There was a very excited audience to experience new works of musical theater. It’s showing if you can’t be in front of an audience, but you need to create, what can you do?”
Where concept albums land in the race alongside traditional cast recordings remains to be seen, but it’s not a trend he expects to fade anytime soon.
Says Ganbarg: “I think you’re probably going to see a lot more, content-wise, created in the new style alongside the traditional.”