Center Stage is a masterful album from Helen Reddy, combining, as she says in the liner notes, "two areas of my career: the recording studio and the theatrical stage." There are 14 selections, all from different shows, beginning with Cole Porter's "Blow, Gabriel, Blow" from Anything Goes to "The Party's Over" from Bells Are Ringing. The former, in particular, is culture shock for Reddy's radio fan base. It is like nothing the fans of her hits are used to, and for Cole Porter's legion of fans, it might be equally jolting. The voice so recognizable as an adult contemporary pop vehicle does what Reddy's friend Petula Clark did on the soundtrack to Goodbye, Mr. Chips, an album composed by Leslie Bricusse and conducted by John Williams: it makes a transition. "I Still Believe in Love" is more of what the fans know and love. After all, it's Marvin Hamlisch and Carole Bayer Sager penning the tune from They're Playing Our Song. It's followed by "A Boy Like You," a Weil/Hughes composition from Street Scene, and both tracks two and three are her hit "You and Me Against the World"revisited, her emotive voice plucking the heartstrings. "Surrender" changes the pace; a five-piece vocal ensemble consisting of Peyce Byron, Sabrina Cowans, Michele Mais, Wayne Moore, and Brenda Silas Moore push the artist to heights she hasn't sought on her hits. It's one of the highlights of the disc, and a career moment in her vast repertoire. Richard Hillman duets with the singer on "You're Just in Love" from Call Me Madam, and it is exquisite. Bruce Kimmel's production is seamless, and this collection becomes more special as the listener goes deeper into the disc. Joseph Baker arranges and conducts "Tell Me It's Not True," a special performance here, as Reddy states in the liner notes, she has "sung it so many times on Broadway and in the West End." "Tell Me It's Not True" and "Speak Low" give the singer a new arena to play in; to those not familiar with the works from where this material was culled, the album works simply as a new Helen Reddy disc, but with a twist. Sade should be so classy decades after her initial fame.Steven Orich's orchestrations are impeccable, as are the arrangements by Ron Abel. There was a hint of this when Reddy performed "The Fool on the Hill" for the 1976 soundtrack All This and World War II, but not on the scale she gives us 22 years later. Dusty Springfield tracked Where Am I Going, Olivia Newton-John gave us Warm and Tender, there's the Linda Ronstadt/Nelson Riddle trilogy, and Petula Clark's The Other Man's Grass Is Always Greener (the album, not the title track), but where those albums were conscious efforts by the singers to move into a new direction, this is Helen Reddy giving the world the scene she is into -- the theater. Dionne Warwick gave us hits from Bacharach & David's Promises Promises, but Reddy chooses "Knowing When to Leave" from that Broadway musical. The song selection is tremendous, and the performance is a milestone for a singer who has already conquered other formats.Center Stage is a delightful treat and will be a considered a classic years down the road, on that you can be sure.
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AllMusic Review by Joe Viglione
feat: Richard Hillman
feat: James "D-Train" Williams