Frankly Sharon. Sharon Azrieli, vocalist. Frank Wildhorn, composer, pianist.
Sharon Azrieli is many things – operatic soprano, Hebrew cantor, philanthropist, even musicologist (she has published intriguing scholarship on the possible influences of Jewish Ladino music on the young Giuseppe Verdi). In her new album, Frankly Sharon, Azrieli fetchingly incarnates in yet another guise – that of musical-theatre chanteuse par excellence.
The album’s title is a clever pun – all the songs on it are by Broadway composer Frank Wildhorn (creator of the hit musicals Jekyll & Hyde and The Scarlet Pimpernel, among others), and Wildhorn himself provides a piano accompaniment that is layered into the impressively rich and evocative orchestrations.
“He taught me to sing them!” Azrieli exults of her collaboration with Wildhorn, and the listener cannot but sense the deep and comfortable affinity between Azrieli’s vocal work and the delicate virtuosity on display in Wildhorn’s piano tracks.
The album itself is a rich and many-mooded journey – a deceptively easy-listening and adventitious-seeming song cycle that opens with the oh-so-Parisian insouciance of “Storybook” (from Pimpernel), then proceeds to the high-hearted yearning of “Finding Wonderland” (from Wildhorn’s Alice in Wonderland-themed musical), and threading thereafter through more emotionally fraught byways before depositing the listener safely back home with a charming and youthful promise that “Anything Can Happen.”
Azrieli’s vocal accomplishments are impressive and unassailable, not least for her ability to temper her highly cultivated technique with a sense of cozy, confidential chattiness. Frankly Sharon is an experience both intimate and expert – a seductive one-on-one recital in some Piaf-haunted boîte.
And Azrieli the linguist gets big kudos, too: most numbers on Frankly Sharon are translations into French, with two into Italian and one into Hebrew (the sinuous and lovely “Achshav,” translated from Wildhorn’s song “Now”), before concluding in English. Except for the English, all the translations are by Azrieli herself. Pour yourself a tall boulevardier and enjoy.