One of the ways I'm finding and having the opportunity to listen to wonderful, obscure shows (as well as many old favorites) is through my membership to Rhapsody. This site has a remarkable selection of cast recordings ranging from the classics to shows I'd never heard of. For $10/month you can have access to this collection streaming online and to your mobile device. (You still have to pay to download and burn the songs). If you're like me and you're on the go a lot or need music in the background while working, but you can't afford to buy entire recordings (particularly if you don't know whether you'll like the show) then this is for you. Check out the site and try it out for free.
Here are three lesser known gems that are on my playlist right now:
"Up There" from The Man Who Would Be King. Music by Neil Berg, Book and Lyrics by D.J. Salisbury.
From Neil Berg's website: "Based on the story by Rudyard Kipling, The
Man Who Would Be King" recounts the adventures of Daniel and Peachy, a ragged pair of scoundrels who manage to take reign over a pagan society sequestered in the mountains of imperial India. They sought gold, but gained unexpected nobility when Daniel is mistaken for the long promised Messiah." Daniel is sung by Mark Kudisch (A Minister's Wife, The Glorious Ones, Assassins) and Peachy by Brian D'Arcy James (Shrek, Wild Party, Next To Normal.)
I'll admit that I haven't had a chance to get past the first number on this...partly because the first song grabbed me so much that I wanted to just listen to it over and over. It's got a bit of a classic musical theatre feel to it, with grand orchestral accompaniment. But I feel it would be just as stirring of a song with piano only. The tuneful piece is fun, sets the story and characters up clearly, and provides an accessible melody line. So often, with new musicals, people complain that the tunes aren't "hummable" (a complaint that bothers me, and that I'll elaborate on in a future post. However, for shows to be commercially successful they often have to have songs that can be sold as karaoke tracks.) This great song is highly accessible but still unique with gorgeous harmonies. And the singers...well, as far as I'm concerned Brian D'arcy James is as good as it gets, and Mark Kudisch's voice will make you melt.
"Adela" from Bernarda Alba by Michael John LaChuisa
I like to pretend I discovered Nikki M. James (now a Tony winner for The Book of Mormon) back when I first heard and went nuts over this song. Clearly I didn't discover her but it's fun to kid myself. Anyway, James performs this gorgeous song in LaChuisa's complex musical adaptation of a play by Federico Garcia Lorca. The story is of a controlling mother (played by Phylicia Rashad in the original off-Broadway production) who imposes a strict, long term mourning period on her household after the death of her husband, requiring her five daughters to remain indoors at all times.
In this song, the young Adela confronts her mother about her desire for freedom and escape, and is eventually joined by her sisters. LaChuisa is never predictable or ordinary, and Bernarda Alba is no exception. But James' powerful performance and the unique melodies contained within the song make it worth a listen.
"The Smallest Thing" from First Lady Suite by Michael John
Another LaChuisa tour de force for females is here in First Lady Suite, a series of four vignettes about first ladies and the impact they have on those around them. I'll write a full post on this one later, as it is really delightful and beautiful. It does, however, require the listener to focus and take in the lyrics carefully.
With that in mind, listen to this eerie song. Mary Gallagher, Jackie Kennedy's put upon personal assistant, falls asleep on Air Force One as the plane flies "Over Texas" on November 22, 1963. Angry that she can't ride in the motorcade and fed up with her employer, Gallagher dreams of a ghostly Jackie appearing, singing this song and predicting that something is about to happen that will change the world. The lyrics are stunning, from "My hat will be imortalized...I know. I know." (Speaking of the famous pillbox hat, which Jackie is wearing when she sings this song) to "I feel the smallest thing...in the heat, in the blood of my husband, as a million million flashbulbs turn the blood to black and white." This song beautifully presents Jackie Kennedy as someone detached from her life, who senses that things are about to come crashing down around her. We as an audience know what she's talking about, but the actress playing Mary Gallagher has no idea. The lyrics are just specific enough for the listener/audience to picture the events of that fateful day but not so specific that Mary Gallagher can, within the context of the story, figure out what Jackie is talking about. (After this, if you need a laugh, listen to "Where's Mamie?" on this same CD.)
That's all for now...more to come! Yay!