Between 1996 and 2000 Dink Records released several gay-themed CDs of mostly Broadway songs, sung male to male, and (in Volume 3) adding female to female. As you can tell from the graphic, there were three distinct volumes, along with a fourth collecting songs from the first three, sort of a greatest hits, though as very few knew of these CDs, well, there were no actual hits.
The artwork was designed to catch your attention (and it succeeds) with gorgeous photos of couples, though the models have nothing to do with the recordings…hey, eye candy sells. I’ll start with “Stage1” and there are some beautiful songs here. I was tempted to share with you “I Know Him So Well” (from “Chess”), which was probably the first male-to-male version of this song. (John Barrowman sang with Daniel Boys a terrific take on it, on John’s 2008 CD “Music Music Music.”) But instead I went with the song from the CD that grabbed my attention immediately, “Someone To Watch Over Me,” from “Oh, Kay!”
In all the CDs of this series the producers (Art Collins and Joey Mendoza) used a variety of singers. Michael Fawcett was the vocalist on the song above, and others singing sometimes alone or in duets were Ralph Peña, Richard True, William Riley, Francis Cruz, Leon Ko, and Robert Lee. I would have given these folks more credit than the small print in the liner notes, but that’s me.
The second volume, “Stage2” had more alluring photos (of unidentified models) and 13 more gorgeous songs, this time with vocals by Ralph Peña, Charlie Owens, Sean Ray, Francis Cruz, Leon Ko, and (co-producer) Joey Mendoza. As I like my songs very queer, this time I picked the classic from “Show Boat,” “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man,” coupled with “Something Wonderful,” from “The King and I” (sung by Charlie Owens).
For “Stage3” the producers expanded their scope, by also adding female singers, and in my opinion it didn’t work nearly as well. I would have preferred they devote an entire CD to women singing this kind of material to women, and by focusing on that, really do it well. But as a result, the CD seemed to try too hard in too many directions, not quite succeeding in any of them. Again, I said “in my opinion”…:)
And the songs are more gender neutral. I mean, what is the point of including a man singing “Alfie” if he oddly leaves that name out of the lyrics? I don’t want my music neutral, I can get that from a zillion hetero recordings. This is no fault of the very competent singers (Charlie Owens, Francis Cruz, Joan Almedilla, Nicole Roberts, Marnie Nicolella and Curtis Moore). The last two songs are male and female group numbers, nicely done. In fairness the liner notes say the intent was “an earnest belief in a united community among men and women in our community.”
This volume also added some more contemporary songs to the mix, like “True Colors,” and I was surprised that “Escape (The Pina Colada Song)” worked very well, and the performance on “Michele” was beautiful. This time I’m giving you a song with a man singing to a man AND a women singing to a woman. You decide how well it worked.
In 2001 the label also released the original cast recording of “Heading East,” written by Leon Ko and Robert Lee, who were featured on Volumes 1 & 2 of the Stage series. It was, as I understand, the story of an Asian man conquering the American Dream, across many generations, and I do not believe there was any gay content. There have been a number of productions of the show over the years, since its 1998 debut.