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Cast Album Roundup: ‘Sweeney Todd,’ ‘Parade,’ ‘Camelot’ and More

The best theatrical songwriting barely requires a theater. Which is a good thing when so many shows close so quickly.

Of the 16 musicals that opened on Broadway in 2023, only four are still running. That’s live theater, perpetually dying.

Yet not entirely. Like loved ones who leave behind scrapbooks or tchotchkes, many shows leave souvenirs of themselves in the form of cast albums. And sometimes, shorn of annoying context, they’re better than what was once seen onstage.

Below, my highly subjective ranking of the nine 2023 musicals that released cast albums. (One more — “Gutenberg! The Musical!” — is expected, this spring.) And because no year is complete without a bunch of Stephen Sondheim marginalia, I’ve added a few bonus tracks, including a snippet of a surprise, in his honor.

All the recordings are good, and some are sublime, as you can let your ears decide. But close your eyes if possible. Let the theater be inside you.

1. ‘Sweeney Todd’

The glorious score is largely unchanged. The orchestrations are only slightly tweaked. So what’s the added value of this nth recording of the Sondheim masterwork? As you might expect from a cast headed by Josh Groban as the vengeful barber, the answer is the beautiful singing. Groban’s slight stiffness and somewhat meek interpretation, which worked against the role’s terror in the huge stage production, are utterly absent on the album, turning numbers like Sweeney’s “Epiphany” into murderous arias as big as any in opera. Under Alex Lacamoire’s musical supervision, the performances — not just Groban’s but the ensemble’s — go for the throat, over and over.

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