BWW CD Reviews: Jay Records' THE LAST SESSION (Original London Cast Recording)
THE LAST SESSION, an Off-Broadway hit musical, first opened in 1997 at the 47th Street Theatre. Sitting in one of those audiences was Rob Harris, who was so moved by the show that he made a vow to produce it himself one day. His dream become a reality in 2012, when he produced THE LAST SESSION at London's Tristan Bates Theatre. Now, fans of the musical and those (like myself) who have never heard of it before can revel in the magic that moved Rob Harris in 1997 with the release of THE LAST SESSION (Original London Cast Recording).
Loosely based on the life of Steve Schalchlin, who wrote the music and lyrics for the show, THE LAST SESSION tells the story of Gideon, an ex-gospel singer turned pop star, who is entering the recording studio for his last session. He has invited his old band to join him and, surprisingly, a young Texas gospel singer, Buddy, who has idolized Gideon and longs to follow in his footsteps. Yet, Buddy is shattered and shaken by the news that Gideon is both gay and has AIDS.
For THE LAST SESSION (Original London Cast Recording), Jay Records recorded and produced the album live in the studio, giving the recording a tangible acoustic sound. This decision cleverly replicates the staged productions, as the musical unfolds in real time. Furthermore, since the 1997 Off-Broadway Cast was recorded, it is important to note that the 2012 London Cast Recording also features a mostly new piano score. Also, the new "official" score for THE LAST SESSION is a transcription of an Off-Broadway performance, featuring the improvisations that worked their way into the show during its original run, and this recording includes a restored cut verse to the number "The Group."
Steve Schalchlin's score for THE LAST SESSION is unapologetically gospel. However, whether you are a fan of the genre or not, it is stirring and gorgeous on the disc. The lyrics, which discuss the complications and challenges of a life lived with AIDS, are challenging and emotionally charged. The material written by Steve Schalchlin for THE LAST SESSION is the kind of stuff theatre enthusiasts want in artfully produced meaty musicals.
Starring as Gideon, Darren Day sings as someone resigned to losing the battle. The grit and gravel in his voice is that of a broken man at the end of his rope; however, his spirited vocals on "When You Care," a song written by Buddy, shows salvation and a new vigor for life that is more than enough to mist up the eyes of listeners. A J Dean's Buddy is sung with youthful pizzazz and resiliency. His dulcet and optimistic tonality shows the vast differences between Gideon and Buddy. Yet, on "Going It Alone" A J Dean's Buddy is devastated, and he masterfully tugs on our heartstrings with his gorgeous melancholy on the track.
As Tryshia, a diva, Lucy Vandi's spirited and phenomenal vocals shine on the album, especially on the moving "The Singer and the Song." Simone Craddock sings with country charm as Vicki, and she is most memorable on "Somebody's Friend."
Until THE LAST SESSION (Original London Cast Recording) landed on my doorstep, I had never heard of the show. Opening Off-Broadway in 1997, the best I can figure is that RENT, which deals with some similar themes, simply overshadowed it. Regardless, the music is effective, the lyrics are poignant and, combined, both are as relevant as ever. Certainly, HIV and AIDS have become more manageable, but the stigma associated with the diseases is alive and well, if not growing. This cast album is a great introduction to a powerful work, and maybe we'll be gifted with a New York revival of it soon.
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