Lyricist-librettist Michael Colby continues to enjoy an extraordinary career in the musical theatre with such credits as the Drama Desk-nominated Charlotte Sweet (music: Gerald Jay Markoe), Ludlow Ladd (music: Markoe), Tales of Tinseltown (music: Paul Katz), Mrs. McThing (music: Jack Urbont), Slay It with Music (music: Katz), Boynton Beach Club (music: Ned Paul Ginsburg) and North Atlantic (music: James Fradrich). Colby is also the acclaimed author of the memoir The Algonquin Kid in which he vividly chronicled his adventures growing up at the legendary New York hotel surrounded by such luminaries as Ella Fitzgerald, Leonard Cohen, Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe, The Marx Brothers, and Helen Hayes. Now, vocalist Maureen Taylor has taken a deep dive into the Colby songbook for the delightful new album Cosmic Connections: The Music of Michael Colby, available on all streaming services from Brainstorm Records. The 20-track set, featuring musical direction and piano by Seth Weinstein, is based on Taylor's 2019 cabaret show of the same name and showcases the breadth of the lyricist's art. It's been produced by Colby, co-produced by Taylor and Frank Galgano, and arranged by Matt Castle with additional arrangements from Weinstein.
Inspired by Lorenz Hart (with whose family he worked on assembling the definitive volume of Hart's lyrics), the versatile Colby's lyrics meld wit, heart, and craft in equal measure. Maureen Taylor, with her background in the grandly emotional world of opera, makes the "cosmic connections" between his songs, most written for characters in musicals but able to stand alone in her exquisite renditions. Taylor's luminous soprano breathes new life into vibrant compositions from such shows as Charlotte Sweet ("Keep It Low," "A Daughter of Valentine's Day"), Mrs. McThing ("Slumming," "How Do You Make Magic"), the Markoe collaboration Delphi or Bust ("I Know Everybody's Business"), Tales of Tinseltown ("Stars in My Eyes"), and other stage works written with Steven Silverstein (The Human Heart), Jack Urbont (Great Big River), Artie Bressler (The First Family of Second Avenue), and John C. Introcaso (Dangerous). Other songs have been composed by Peter Millrose, Joseph Thalken, and Sheldon Levin.
Taylor felicitously blends the deliciously rhythmic "Takin' on the Town" from Boynton Beach Club with the sweet "A Little Love in Big Manhattan" from The First Family of Second Avenue, vividly capturing the full spectrum of emotion in Colby's finely-wrought lyrics. The attractive "Christmas Ev'ry Day," with a beautiful melody from Thalken, features a big-hearted message that's quintessentially Colby. One song here asks "How Do You Make Magic?" but it's clear that the singer and wordsmith have done just that with this varied and enjoyable recital. Cosmic Connections is out now on such services as Apple Music and Qobuz, and fans are encouraged to seek out the reissue of Charlotte Sweet's original cast recording and the world premiere recording of Tales of Tinseltown, both available from JAY Records.