BWW CD Reviews: Stage Door Records' SWAN ESTHER (Original Concept Album) Doesn't Take Flight
In October of 1980, Nick Munns sent an unsolicited tape of five songs to legendary London theatre agent David Land, who had managed the early careers of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice. With Nick Munns music, David Land dreamed of replicating the success of JOSEPH AND THE AMAZING TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT. SWAN ESTHER, not the hit that JOSEPH was, has enjoyed varying success. Now, Stage Door Records has re-released SWAN ESTHER's original concept album with studio rehearsal demos written for the reworked UK tour of the production entitled SWAN ESTHER AND THE KING.
In the development stages, David Land introduced Nick Munns to J. Edward Oliver, and commissioned the duo to musicalize the story of Esther. From that SWAN ESTHER was born, and it premiered on Easter at Curwen Junior School in Plaistow, England in 1982. In February 1983 a concept album was recorded, and in December 1983, SWAN ESTHER had its professional premiere at the Young Vic in London. It only ran for 26 performances at the Young Vic, but several amateur companies picked up the show in 1984. David Land, with an eye on a professional UK tour, introduced Bill Kenwright to the material. Bill Kenwright brought in Shirlie Roden and John Miller to help with revisions and rewrites, and in 1985 the re-titled musical SWAN ESTHER AND THE KING had its UK tour.
Listening to the recording released by Stage Door Records, I am not surprised that there haven't been any more professional productions of the show. The liner notes do mention that amateur theatre groups still occasionally perform it, and that makes sense. The music doesn't sound terribly challenging, making it easy for many groups to produce with their local talent pools. However, because the music doesn't sound difficult, it also fails to impress. It is all written with the pop joviality of shows like JOSEPH AND THE AMAZING TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT, but it doesn't have the same earworm quality as Andrew Lloyd Webber's biblical retelling.
Likewise, the lyrics are simplistic and not in the way that JOSEPH's straightforward lyrics read as cutely trite since they are adeptly paired with the varied musical styles used in that show. With SWAN ESTHER and SWAN ESTHER AND THE KING, there is no variation in the musical or lyrical approach. Every song sounds much like the number before it. Each piece just plods along and never truly enchants the listener.
The vocals across the 31 tracks are all performed well, but again nothing really pops out. Nothing smacks of the remarkable or memorable. With different music, I'm certain that I could be bowled over by Stephanie Lawrence's vibrant instrument, but her skills aren't enough to draw me into this musical. The closest she gets is on "My Love is Like a Dream," where the lyrics and music rise above the level of banality for the song's belted bridge and introspective conclusion.
Sadly, if you haven't been acquainted with SWAN ESTHER yet, I'm not certain that you are missing out. I feel like this album is a great purchase for a community theater producing the musical. For those who have been involved in productions of it, having this disc may stir up cherished memories. Yet, for those of us who have never seen the show or been a part of it, this album doesn't make us want to seek the show out. It doesn't excite. It doesn't thrill. It simply passes us by without touching or moving us in the slightest.
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