Album Review: Richard Rodgers Reimagined
Once upon a time, Broadway music was popular music. Classic American songs that have since been dismissed as mere “show tunes” were once kings of the airwaves, entire cast albums were hot sellers, and musical theater composers were even household names. In the late 1960s and 1970s, as the sound of popular music shifted, electrified, and went its own way, Broadway music chugged along and continued to develop on its own terms. And so the great chasm between “pop music” and “stage music” was born. With the release of Richard Rodgers Reimagined, a new album that supplies pop/rock covers of some of composer Richard Rodgers’ songs, performer Kyle Riabko reminds listeners of the natural connection between Broadway and Billboard. A musician, composer, and actor who has opened for the likes of John Mayer, Jason Mraz, and Maroon 5, Riabko (with whom we recently spoke) has also trodden the boards in Broadway hits like Spring Awakening and Hair. In other words, Kyle Riabko’s background in the worlds of both pop music and theater means that he is the perfect candidate for breathing contemporary life into these much-loved standards.
True, he is not the first to cover Broadway songs. Ramin Karimloo and Darren Criss, for example, have done their own folk covers of show tunes like “Edelweiss” and “I Dreamed a Dream.” Recently, recording artist Josh Groban even released an album of show tune covers. But an entire album devoted to pop, blues, and folk-infused covers of musical theater classics is a welcome and important addition to these previous endeavors.
After hearing Riabko’s tasteful interpretations of some of Broadway’s most treasured songs, one question comes to mind: Why didn’t someone do this sooner? If you ever wondered what Oklahoma‘s “Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’” would sound like if Jason Mraz covered it or thought that South Pacific‘s swooning “Some Enchanted Evening” deserved a playful pop makeover, then this album is for you. Indeed, some of Broadway’s standards sound completely new, like Riabko’s soulful, Gavin DeGraw-esque take on The King & I‘s “I Have Dreamed.” It was also refreshing to hear his pop rendition of “My Favorite Things.” Too often, musicians cover it as a Christmas song, even though it is technically not a Christmas song and The Sound of Music does not even feature a single holiday scene.
Kyle Riabko has picked many Richard Rodgers favorites, and I, for one, hope that he will further develop this project. Though he has already reinterpreted Burt Bacharach’s songs, there is a lot of potential for “reimagining” more songs from other Broadway composers, like Frank Loesser, Lerner and Loewe, and even Stephen Sondheim. But for now, Kyle Riabko has given listeners more than enough to indulge in with his warm Richard Rodgers Reimagined.