THE CHILDREN

Simply a terrific thought provoking play with an exquisite cast.

#MTC #RoyalCourtTheatre

THE CHILDREN by Lucy Kirkwood at MTC

 

 

Broadway, 2016-2017

The Season is over and a new one is about to start.

Here are the Opening Night Playbills of Broadway, 2016-2017.

 

Congratulations!  Winners All
Broadway 2016 – 2017

#Broadway, #TONYAwards, #Theatre, #OpeningNight, #Musicals, #Plays

Barbra records “Funny Girl,” the OBC

Two months ago on March 26th was the 53rd anniversary of the opening of the Jule Styne-Bob Merrill musical “Funny Girl” on Broadway at the Winter Garden Theatre.  The stars were Broadway veteran Sydney Chaplin, Charlie’s son, carrying four previous Broadway shows under his belt, playing opposite a relative new-comer, Barbra Streisand., who had only one previous Broadway credit, that of the scene-stealing “Miss Marmelstein” in Harold Rome’s “I Can Get It For You Wholesale.”

Sidney Chaplin, Barbra Streisand, Bob Merrill and Jule Styne in a promotion shot for the upcoming musical “Funny Girl.”

A little more than one week later on Sunday, April 5th, the cast, the composer, the lyricist and other creatives  and recording executives gathered in a New York City recording studio–Manhattan Center Studios, 311 West 34th Street– to record the now legendary Original Broadway Cast recording (note: NOT “soundtrack”) for Capitol Records.  Barbra, who had an exclusive contract with Columbia Records, was loaned to Capitol for this Broadway Cast recording. Along with the cast was a legend himself, albeit unknown to most.  That was the Broadway and New York entertainment photographer William “PoPsie” Randolph.  PoPsie had the assignment to record the the session using his still camera.  Which he did with wonderful black and white clarity.

Before you click to see some of those pictures, there’s one picture that’s here instead.  This is it below.  What is Barbra reading so intently?  Why The New York Times, of course, which had published just that same morning, April 5, 1964, a profile of the new star, “She Couldn’t Be Medium” by Joanne Stang.  The secondary headline reads “New Star In Town Traces Her Rise to ‘Funny Girl.”

The New York Times, Sunday, April 5, 1964.

What did Ms. Stang write? She begins,

Miss Marmelstein came back to Broadway the other night, disguised as Fanny Brice. There was nothing frumpy about her appearance this time–in a black sequined dress that clung to her thighs like a patch of lichen, she threw her head back, sang her heart out, and knocked New York on its ear…

 

 

The rest, as most of you know, is history.

Some of PoPsie’s photographs of that day can be seen on the sidebar at the right, or  simply click “Recording ‘Funny Girl,’ the Original Broadway Cast” .

For more on legendary Broadway and New York entertainment photographer William “PoPsie” Randolph, visit PoPsie Photos.

CD Review: “A Bronx Tale-The Musical,” Original Broadway Cast

I’ll go right to the point. I love the Broadway score of “A Bronx Tale The Musical” and its Original Broadway Cast recording. The surprise for me is that I never expected I would.

I suspect that if you were between the ages of 10 and 30 during the early 1960s, or if you were from The Bronx or anywhere in New York City, or if today you find yourself unconsciously moving in your seat whenever you hear the scores of “Little Shop of Horrors” or “Jersey Boys,” or if you’re simply someone who likes show scores with energy, excitement, passion, rhythm, melody and intelligent lyrics then I believe you, too, are going to love this recording of the 2016 Broadway Cast.

 

Original Broadway Cast of “A Bronx Tale The Musical,” {left to right} Nick Cordero, Richard H. Blake, Bobby Conte Thornton, Ariana DeBose

“A Bronx Tale The Musical” with music by Oscar, Grammy and Tony Award winner Alan Menken and lyrics by Grammy Award winner and Oscar and Tony Nominee Glenn Slater and book by Academy Award Nominee Chazz Palminteri evolved from Palminteri’s autobiographical one-man play of the same name which played off-Broadway in 1989, after first being seen in Los Angeles. Subsequently, Robert DeNiro made his directorial debut with the film version which premiered in 1993, and in which he also starred. Later, in 2007, Palminteri performed his show on Broadway, directed by Jerry Zaks. Flash forward to 2016. Before one could say maron “A Bronx Tale The Musical” opened at Paper Mill Playhouse in Milburn, NJ in February 2016 and on Broadway on December 1st, co-directed by Robert DeNiro and Jerry Zaks and with choreography by Sergio Truijillio.

Overflowing with a cast of highly talented Broadway performers, plus a couple of impressive Broadway debuts, the sound of “A Bronx Tale” bursts forth with its first song “Belmont Avenue,” grabbing the listener and not letting go through its nineteen tracks. The score and the performers create a world that is unique, and one that many would recognize. Much of the credit must belong to those behind the scenes—veteran recording producer Tommy Mottola as well as his co-producers Ron Melrose, Alan Menken and Rick Kunis. Ron Melrose also supervised the music and the arrangements. Doug Besterman is responsible for the orchestrations. The sound of “A Bronx Tale” is the result of these superb craftspersons working together with the composer and lyricist to produce this dynamic recording of the energetic score.

Prolific and impressive as is Alan Menken’s list of show and movie scores, there have been only a few from that list that truly caught my interest over the years since “Little Shop” and “Beauty and the Beast.” The score for “A Bronx Tale” Menken brings a fresh, in-the-moment, in-your-your face sound that harkens “Little Shop” in the opening number then becomes its own distinct voice. Menken has finally jumped out of the sugar bowl and back onto the streets.

Glenn Slater’s lyrics for “A Bronx Tale” add the emotional and descriptive specificity to create and to breath to life into the world of the Bronx in the early 1960s. An adroit lyricist no doubt, but one who’s work never pulled me in prior to this score. I’ve been a big fan of Phantom of the Opera but it’s sequel, Love Never Dies, for which Glenn Slater wrote the lyrics, hasn’t had the same hold. As for the television musical series Galavant, for which where Slater and Menken have written songs, well, it just doesn’t grab me either. Rather too silly for my taste—perhaps the songs if divorced from the shows themselves? Ah, but, the score for “A Bronx Tale” is something else entirely. Fresh, alive, full of heart and emotion, tuneful, funny and easy to wrap your arms around, like your favorite goombah.

Take the opening number, “Belmont Avenue.” The doo-wop opening notes by a group of mixed voiced street singers immediately sets the time and place. “Cologero” (the gifted Bobby Conte Thornton) quickly introduces himself and his world.

“I can hear/the church bells
And smell/the freshly baked bread.
CHORUS: Aah-ooo
See the storefront awnings/
The neon/green, white and red
CHORUS: Aah-ooo
Cannollis on tray after tray
Salamis strung up on display
And Italians are all that you see
CHORUS: Yeah yeah and the sidewalks swinging
CHORUS: Yeah yeah and the girls are singing
GIRLS: Shoop shoop shoop
And they pass my stoop
And the pushcart peddlers
they hock their wares door to door
FISH PEDDLER: Pesce fresca, pesce fresca.”

Makes one just want to be there.

In his Broadway debut young Hudson Loverro stands out and deserves a big hand for his vocal expertise as “Young Colagero.” He exudes such charm and charisma in his solo “I Like It” that he doesn’t come across as cocky when he sings:

“Everywhere I go
Up and down the street
Everyone’s my buddy
They’re fallin’ at my feet.
I’m more than a kid
I’m part of this game.
They know where I go
Who I’m with and my name.
They call me ‘C’
and I like it.”

Hudson Loverro, center left, as Young Calogero, with Nick Cordero as Sonny, in the musical “A Bronx Tale,” at the Longacre Theater. Credit Sara Krulwich/The New York Times

As “Sonny” the always impressively talented Nick Cordero could easily be one of the Sinatra-Martin Rat Pack on the stage in Las Vegas as he delivers “Nicky Machiavelli,” a swinging cautionary song with the tone and cool temperament reminiscent Kurt Weill’s classic “Mack The Knife.” Just like that classic, the melody and lyrics get in one’s head and stay.

There is a beautiful up-tempo ballad, “One Of The Great Ones” also sung by Nick Cordero with a masculine wistful patina that make Slater’s poignant lyrics shine even more than they might on paper.

“There’s a kind of a girl
who can send your heart whirling away.
But those are the kind
you don’t happen to find every day.
You’ll meet smart ones and tough ones
Just good enough ones
They’re fine kid, go out there, enjoy.
But in all of your life
You get only three shots
at the real McCoy.
And this one could be
One of the great ones
This one could be
One of the ones you won’t forget.
If the stars in her eyes
Make your confidence rise
like a rocket that’s ready to blow
Then she might be
One of your great ones, don’t let her go.”

Richard H. Blake, the veteran Broadway performer, gives the recording and the story its moral and emotional center as Cologero’s father “Lorenzo,” who tries to protect his son from absorbed by the Bronx streets. He shines in his two big numbers “Look To Your Heart” and “These Streets.”

As the grown “Cologero” Bobby Conte Thornton has the majority of the numbers, after all it’s his tale being told. He more than stands squarely with Codero and Blake commanding the recording. Equally impressive are the women, starting with Ariana DeBose as Cologero’s love interest “Jane,” his first great one. A bi-racial couple, their duet “In A World Like This” protests discrimination while professing the positiveness of their shared love.

“A Bronx Tale The Musical” Original Broadway Cast: Ariana DeBose (center), backed by (left to right) Gilbert L. Bailey II, Bradley Gibson, Trista Dollison, and Christiani Pitts in A Bronx Tale The Musical.
Photo Credit: Joan Marcus

Months ago, when I looked at this Broadway season’s shows that were then yet to open “A Bronx Tale” was not on my list of new non-revival musicals to see. I didn’t know the play, I’d never seen the film. I thought I had no interest. After listening to this recording “A Bronx Tale” has captured my heart, jumped to the top of my list and and I can’t wait to buy a ticket. It’s now a must see show.

You are going to want this recording.

Available today for digital download from

Apple iTunes “A Bronx Tale The Musical” Digital Download

Pre-order the CD directly from

Ghostlight. “A Bronx Tale The Musical’ CD Pre-Order

In mid-April the CD will be available at Broadway’s Longacre Theatre, and the CD is scheduled to be released approximately on May 12th. The CD will include a forty-page full color booklet containing the lyrics, production photos, an essay by Alan Menken and notes from Glenn Slater, Robert DeNiro, Chazz Palmenteri, Jerry Zaks and Sergio Trujillo.

“A Bronx Tale The Musical” at the Longacre Theatre
Photo Credit: José M. Valdez

Official website:  http://abronxtalethemusical.com

 

 

CD Review: “She Loves Me,” 2016 OBC

“She Loves Me,” the Jerry Bock (music) and Sheldon Harnick (lyrics) musical, was first produced on Broadway in 1963. In The New York Times Howard Taubman wrote in his review of Hal Prince’s original production that this was “a bonbon of a musical…it should delight who knows how many a sweet tooth.” He concluded, “if you are allergic to sugary confections…stay away from ‘She Loves Me. But don’t lose any sleep over your defection; there will be a multitude of happy sentimentalists to take your place.”

"She Loves Me," 2016 Broadway Revival Cast Recording
“She Loves Me,” 2016 Broadway Revival Cast Recording

Happily and despite the vast societal changes since that original production many sentimentalists still exist as evidenced by the successful most recent revival as produced by Roundabout Theatre. “Bewitching…as sweet and charming as a first kiss,” wrote Joe Dziemianowicz, theatre critic of The Daily News. That enchanting production is lovingly captured on the Original Broadway Revival Cast Recording, available directly from Sh-K-Boom.

Many musical theatre experts agree that “She Loves Me” is as near-to a perfect musical as one can get to such a thing. In this ensemble piece, the book clearly identifies the characters, each character has their own musical moment center-stage and the music and lyrics are superbly married and matched. Time has lovingly caressed this gem of a musical evidenced on this exquisite recording.

On stage every element of this production was heightened and highly polished, each complimenting the other without being overpowering. The production was pure infinite joy.

81195-16
Laura Benanti and Zachary Levi, “She Loves Me,” 2016 Broadway Revival. Photo by Joan Marcus

This recording is also pure joy in many ways as well. The performances preserved on this shimmering recording are just a pleasure to hear again and again. To my ears, however, the recording brings forward some creative balances which are not quite in alignment and were not apparent on stage.

Laura Benanti glows with warmth whenever I’ve seen her in performance. That comes across in her soprano except when as Amalia she ventures into some of the higher registers, for example in “Dear Friend.” It’s then when her voice can occasionally sound hooty to me, however her tremolo grabs my heart and doesn’t let go. Nicholas Barasch as Arpad was comically endearing on stage. On the recording however his earnestness is overpowered by his hamminess. I also find that the musicians are punched up on some tracks leaving the vocal performances not quite at the center of one’s attention as I believe they should be. I’m not sure why the tempos are faster on this revival recording than those on the 1963 Original Broadway Cast Recording. Still, Ms. Benanti, Zachary Levi, Jane Krakowski, Gavin Creel and the entire cast are quite winning.

Gavin Creel and Jane Krakowski, "She Loves Me," 2016 Broadway Revival. Photo: Joan Marcus
Gavin Creel and Jane Krakowski, “She Loves Me,” 2016 Broadway Revival. Photo by Joan Marcus

For those to whom frothy, lyrical sweetness remains a joy to savor the folks at Sh-K-Boom have given us this delectable recording of the 2016 Broadway Revival. It’s one you’ll play many times and I’ll venture to say will always sound fresh.

Theatre: “American Psycho the Musical;” “Bright Star;” “Dear Evan Hansen”

AMERICAN PSYCHO the MusicalYES
Closes June 5th at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre, 236 West 45 Street

IMG_3424If you are in NYC, or plan to be by 6/5, AND you have an affinity with musical theatre or share a concern about where America is heading, I urge you to see “American Psycho.” It is truly the first modern, i.e., 21st Century, musical. Its genesis is the music video, not vaudeville nor the musicals of Broadway’s Golden Age. It is a funny and searing indictment of a time and place (Manhattan, 1989) whose values have brought us to a point in time where Donald Trump appears headed to become the Republican candidate for President. It also contains two of the most brilliant, and inexcusably overlooked, performances of the season–Benjamin Walker and Heléne Yorke.

This is not a show for children as there is coarse language and simulated intercourse as well as simulated acts of violence. It is a show for adults who like musicals that are challenging and cause one to think. A musical like “American Psycho” comes along rarely. Eventually, it will be re-mounted and recognized, but the thrill of this original Broadway production should not be dismissed.

See my earlier posts about “American Psycho” here and here.

“DEAR EVAN HANSEN” – NO
Closed May 22nd at Second Stage; opening on Broadway later in 2016

"Dear Evan Hansen" is currently playing at Second Stage through May 22nd.
“Dear Evan Hansen” recently closed at Second Stage, and is scheduled to open on Broadway later in 2016.

Some theatre-goers were commenting that this off-Broadway show was “superb,” so several weeks ago I went with hopes high, not knowing anything about it. Unfortunately, my elation quickly turned to annoyance and tedium. The book, by Steven Leveson, of teen-age loneliness and angst rang false and unrealistic. The show, to me, was poorly written. The first 20 or 30 minutes did not move the plot forward, it simply repeated: Evan is friendless and has some type of social anxiety disorder, wringing his hands and”Waving Through A Window.”  He is being raised by his single Mom who, I seem to recall, was going to school herself or working a second job. Evan’s therapist has instructed him to write a daily letter to himself (hence the show title,  get it?) encouraging himself that today will be a good day. Evan silently pines for a girl at school, Zoe, whom he believes barely notices him. The only true character conflict came in the last 15 or 20 minutes when Evan’s reprehensible behavior is revealed and his relationship with the other characters is now cracked and tested but the writers never explore this. Evan’s actions, supported and abetted by his teenage schoolmates, struck me as dishonest, disagreeable, despicable and emotionally cruel. The lone exception is the innocent Zoe, who becomes one of the victims of his inexcusable behavior.

With the exception of Ben Platt who is a good performer but too mature to be playing a teen-ager, the acting was poor all around. The score by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (“Dogfight,” “A Christmas Story,” “James and the Giant Peach”) had no song that caught my attention nor whose melody I even remember. The point was made numerous times that Evan and his mother were abandoned by the father/husband, so there was no need for a useless song about a baseball glove, “To Break In A Glove.” The plot made the point repeatedly of Evan’s strong affinity for jazz music, and in which music class he first set eyes on Zoe, yet there’s not one note of jazz music in the score. It’s all blue-grass, guitar and banjo strumming and depressing.

Michael Greif’s direction was basic and unimaginative with nearly every song sung downstage and to the audience and with little to no connection between the teen-agers and adults on stage. Act One ended for me with no reason to return. I did because I was still hoping there might have been a positive reason to have sat through the first act. There wasn’t.  The show was over-produced–sliding panels gliding on and off, back and forth, onto with were projected images of teen-age emails and instant messages. The reason for these being, I suspected, to distract the audience and maintain attention while masking the fact that nothing was truly happening.

Some folks appear to be making much of this show and its supposed relevance to today. To which I strongly disagree. This show will date quickly. The Broadway audience for this show strikes me as limited at best. I recognize that many people believe this show is superb with fine music and lyrics, and that I’m in the minority. In my opinion, the reason for this Evan Euphoria stems from an unconscious collection of critics and fans of Pasek and Paul who sympathetically believe attention and recognition is due to this creative team. “Dear Evan Hansen” will not survive a transfer. The theatre work of Pasek and Paul up to now will not stand the test of time. Let’s see what they write in the future for the theatre, after they mature and leave the children and young adult shows and films behind them.

See my earlier post about “Dear Evan Hansen,” here.

BRIGHT STAR” – YES
Currently at the Cort Theatre, 138 West 48th Street

facebookMy opinion about the score’s overindulgent use of repetitive lyrics and false rhymes remains unchanged from my first hearing of the Broadway Cast Recording (Sh-k-Boom/Ghostlight). Since seeing the show at the Cort, however, which gave context to the score I found that I truly enjoy listening to the cast recording. Truly, truly. The show’s book is simple, straightforward, even predictable. Still it’s full of heart. It also has one of the season’s brightest Broadway debuts, Carmen Cusack. See this for her.  See it too for Alexander Paul Nolan, Hannah Elless, A. J. Shively and Emily Padgett, all who deliver fine performances.  You’ll also have a good feeling have when it’s over, and you’ll be glad you went. Don’t be surprised to find Steven Martin, one of the co-writers, showing up to play the banjo in the Entr’acte with the on-stage band. He’s known to do that.

See my earlier posts on “Bright Star” here and here.

 

CD Review: “Jasper In Deadland”

Recently, I had the opportunity to listen to “Jasper In Deadland,” by award-winning composer/lyricist Ryan Scott Oliver, whose name was known to me but whose work was not. “Jasper In Deadland” isn’t the type of show that I would generally be drawn to, I’ll admit.

I’ll also admit that to my surprise I was captivated from the first track, “Goodbye Jasper!” and its first “YA TA TA DA DA TA TA DA.”

"Jasper In Deadland" cover
“Jasper In Deadland,” world premiere recording

The story by Mr. Oliver, co-written with Hunter Foster, has as its source the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice. Orpheus, traditionally the son of a Muse, was endowed with the gift of sublime musical skills, playing the lyre and singing. After returning from sailing with the Argonauts, Orpheus meets and falls in love with Eurydice who later dies from a snakebite. Overcome with grief Orpheus ventures into the land of the dead to bring her back to life. Hades, king of the underworld, ultimately agrees to allow Orpheus to return to the land of the living with Eurydice though with one condition. Orpheus is to ascend with Eurydice accompanying him from behind, but Orpheus is not to look back at her until after they have left the land of the dead. The story of Orpheus and Eurydice is one that has fascinated many creative writers over the centuries, being retold numerous times in operas, in drama and in films. Now, it’s been given a contemporary setting and the sound of theatrical rock.

Jasper, earnestly sung and performed by Matt Doyle (Broadway’s “Book of Mormon,” and “Spring Awakening”), responds to a voice message from his friend Agnes. She asks that he meet her at the cliff where they often met. Once there he quickly realizes that she has fallen into the River Lethe thirty feet below. He jumps in determined to bring her back. As in the myth, once in the land of the dead Jasper meets an assortment of characters all determined to prevent him from leaving, starting with the three-headed dog Cerberus who wants to know, “What Is Life?” In this well-sung recording the Deadland characters are alternately comic and scary. In addition to Matt Doyle, the singers are not only good, but extremely versatile as they sing various characters throughout.

Matt-02What impressed me the most in this witty, zany, well-written score is the variety of Mr. Oliver’s music. “The Forgetting” is written in waltz-time and lyrically reminiscent of Sondheim in a good way. During his time in Deadland Jasper meets the real Eurydice who sings “Lifesong,” a song with the sound of soul (no pun intended) and is nicely sung by Andi Alhadeff. Mr. Oliver’s score never loses its driving rock-and-roll sound nor its clear drive to tell a story in a musically interesting way.  It also delivers songs that are remembered.

The recording is well produced with a clarity of voices and a separation of voices and instruments. There is a 16-page booklet of complete lyrics plus color photographs from Seattle’s 5th Avenue Theatre production in 2015. It was previously produced in 2014, in New York City by the Prospect Theatre Company.

On his website Mr. Oliver is described as “A composer-lyricist fashioning epic dramas, gothic thrillers, and high-octane rock and roll into exhilarating new musicals.” “Jasper In Deadland” hits all three points plus it’s fun!

Recommend.

Visit Ryan Scott Oliver for more information.

Visit Sh-k-boom & Ghostlight Records to purchase this recording.

Theatre Review: “Bright Star,” 2016 at the Cort, Broadway

On Saturday, May 21, I attended the matinee performance of “Bright Star.” It won me over. One word before you stop reading. Go!

The show itself proved to have a big heart and was welcoming and loving. Only a true curmudgeon would not want to love it back.

"Bright Star" Playbill cover
“Bright Star” Playbill cover

I’ve grown fond of the music after numerous listenings to the score (available at Sh-K-Boom/Ghostlight Records). Hearing it played live was real treat. It was even more lively in the theatre and the on-stage musicians were fun company. The lyrics are just as repetitive and filled with poor rhymes as they are on the recording. Like a relative with poor grammar, however, what in-the-Hell is one going do except wince privately to oneself. Still, I couldn’t help tapping my toes all the way through the end of the audience exit music. The Orchestrations by August Eriksmoen, and the Music Direction and Vocal Arrangements by Rob Berman are outstanding.

Steve Martin, the show’s co-composer and co-lyricist with Edie Brickell, made an unannounced appearance with the on-stage musicians to play the Entr’acte. He plays a mean banjo.

The choreography by Josh Rhodes was winning too, especially in the “Another Round” number, danced and sung by Emily Padgett and A. J.Shively. The Director, Walter Bobbie, kept things moving, unfortunately those efforts—mostly actors pushing, pulling and turning sets and props on stage—bordered on distracting. I saw this in another musical recently and it was distracting there too. I so wish directors would keep it simple.

Carmen Cusack, star of "Bright Star"
Carmen Cusack, star of “Bright Star”

Carmen Cusack was genuinely brilliant, radiating love and joy whenever she was on stage. She deserves to win the upcoming TONY if there is any justice in the world. She was warm, she was funny, she played her emotions and made them real, and boy did she sing. Paul Alexander Nolan, as her love interest, showed his strong voice along with good masculine looks to match. It was easy to imagine and to want them to be a couple.

I still stand behind my earlier comments about the recording. Seeing the show in the Cort Theatre highlighted a critical point. The show’s producers and director should have cast secondary leads with voices distinct from the leads. That is not a criticism of Hannah Elless or A. J. Shively, the secondary leads.  They are both terrific performers, singing and acting so fine.  Seeing “Bright Star” on stage helped me understand  the story.  It also pointed out how critical good casting is to good story-telling. A smart producer would ensure that the secondary leads are never confused with the leads, vocally or physically.

Let me be clear, “Bright Star” is by no means the greatest musical ever. What it is though is a warm, true, well-meaning, heart-tugging, tear-inducing, toe-tapping musical with a brilliant Broadway debut.

As I wrote earlier, Go! You’ll be glad you did.

brightstarmusical.com, Cort Theatre, 138 W. 48 St., Broadway

Visit: sh-k-boom.com

CD Review: “Bright Star”

“Bright Star” the musical with the music, lyrics and story written by Steve Martin and Edie Brickell opened on Broadway at the Cort Theatre on March 24, 2016.  The show was directed by Walter Bobbie, and stars Carmen Cusack and Paul Alexander Nolan.  The cast also includes Michael Mulheren, A. J. Shively, Hannah Elless, Stephen Bogardus, Dee Hoty, Stephen Lee Anderson, Emily Padgett and Jeff Blumenkrantz.  The musical has been nominated for 5 TONY Awards: Best Musical;  Best Score; Best Book; Best Actress in a Leading Role in a Musical and Best Orchestrations. The Original Broadway Cast recording will be released on May 27, 2016, and comes with a beautifully illustrated 10-page lyric booklet which includes a synopsis as well as statements from the authors, Steve Martin and Edie Bickell.  It is available today at sh-k-boom.com.

"Bright Stat" cover art
“Bright Stat” cover art

After repeated listenings I found the music to be lively, upbeat and easy to take.  It has a warm wonderful sound of back woods down home–plucky, toe-tapping’, banjo strummin’, foot stompin’, goin’ to revival meetin’ sound.  The superb orchestrations by August Eriksmoen and the Music Direction and Vocal Arrangements by Rob Berman keep the recording moving at a fast pace and interesting.  Against my better judgement I found myself liking the sound of this score, and I should add the sound of the recording.  It’s clear, crisp–a bit like a cold night in the woods when every tree, every star, every footstep is distinct.

Carmen Cusack, making her Broadway debut in “Bright Star,” has  performed on the West End and toured the UK, as well touring the U.S. as Nellie Forbush in the 1st National Company of the Lincoln Center production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “South Pacific.”

Carmen Cusack, star of "Bright Star."
Carmen Cusack, star of “Bright Star.”

She also starred as Dot in the Chicago Shakespeare production of Stephen Sondheim’s “Sunday In The Park With George.”  Her voice is strong and likable with a hint of breathiness that I find reminiscent of Tammy Grimes.

Unfortunately, while Ms. Cusack’s voice can be heard in nine of the twenty one tracks, she does not have a true solo among them.  She is either singing with an ensemble or the entire company.  Even in one of two bonus tracks where she sings the song with the most repetitive lyrics (more to come on that) she is augmented with back-up singers. The other unfortunate fact of this score is that Ms. Cusack, who as noted above has sung lyrics by Hammerstein and by Sondheim among others, finds herself here, along with the rest of the cast, saddled with lyrics by Martin and Brickell.  Lyrics that are cliched, dumb and say nothing in a dramatic musical. The lyrics are also infinitely repetitive, saying nothing over and over and over and over and over again.

Let me give you a few examples.  The first song on the recording is entitled “If You Knew My Story” and starts it with a melancholy fiddle leading into the song. Ms. Cusack sings “If you knew my story you’d have a hard time believing me you’d think I was lying.” From that fiddle I get the sense that this is perhaps a memory piece.  After listening to the recording numerous times, however, I still don’t know whether to believe that she’s lying or not because have no idea of the story.  A musical score that starts with “If You Knew My Story” and then over twenty subsequent songs doesn’t clearly tell you the overall story nor identify the central character is poor musical story-telling.  The listener shouldn’t be forced to rely on the printed synopsis and/or the lyrics to understand what is happening.

Steve Martin and Edie Brickell, authors of "Bright Star."
Steve Martin and Edie Brickell, authors of “Bright Star.”

Then there are the repetitive lyrics, starting with that first song. The words “if you knew my story” are repeated ten times throughout the three minute track. This is followed closely by the title song where “bright star” is repeated at least a dozen times. Not long after the dumb and meaningless lyrics “a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do when a man’s gotta do what he’s got to” make their audible presence known, and again later in the reprise which serves as the Act One closing song.  The song with with most repetitive lyrics though has to be “Sun Is Gonna Shine,” where the lyrics “the sun is gonna shine again” are sung over thirty times.  A rousing church song?  I dunno, maybe.  We’re well into Act Two and someone needs cheering up but I don’t know who or why. Theatre lyric writing has changed and someone who prefers a more traditional musical score may not warm up to this.

Thanks to the orchestrations I do find the “Bright Star” score to be infectious and an enjoyable way to get moving.  Still, when the best track on the recording, hence in the score, is the “Entr’acte” that alone says you have a words problem.   Now I’ll go read the synopsis or better yet, perhaps go see the show.

RECOMMEND.

brightstarmusical.com, Cort Theatre, 138 W. 48 St., Broadway

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