BWW Album Review: A Celestial Battle In ANGELS Studio Recording
The mythology of heaven and hell is one of the richest stories out there. In the new studio cast recording of Angels, the story is given yet another angle. Writers Ken Lai and Marcus Cheong (both share credit for the book and lyrics, with Lai also writing the music) tell a classic tale of good and evil from the perspective of Sera, an angel of light who longs to make a greater difference and becomes embroiled in a battle against Lucifer. Though uneven at times, the album does provide wonderful showcases for its talented cast.
If one is looking for a Broadway actress to cast as an angel of light, the mind naturally jumps to Laura Osnes, who here gives voice to Sera with a crystalline soprano that is angelic indeed. Her voice positively soars on the gentle, uplifting ballads "If Only" and "Where You Can Dream."
A bright, gospel-tinged sound defines the angels' songs "Let There Be Light," "Hark," and "Why." Although this gives Josh Young (Tyriel) and Alan H. Green (Gabriel) a chance to use their impressive ranges, it tends to play at one level throughout, rather than following the rise and fall of the story. Ditto the sound for the "fallen," which uses a similar electric-guitar riff to open several of the songs belonging to Lucifer and his minions. The musical coding is helpful, especially to help listeners follow this new story, but it has the unintended side effect of keeping much of the album at the same pitch, making it harder to connect emotionally in some parts.
On the subject of the king of hell, Robert Cuccioli does a fine job with his material, particularly in the late-story "Fallen Angel." However, the score seems uncertain as to what direction it wants to take regarding its villains: "Hell," an early introduction to the fallen, feels almost like a comedic take on the devil; the rhymes are a bit goofy and the trio of hammy sidekicks (Alexandra Zorn, Stephen Cerf, and Kevin T. Collins, gleefully giving it their all) reads like any number of evil sidekicks. And yet, the comedy is always a bit goofy and too light to suit the literal devil; a different style of comedy might have landed better. The lyrics, too, fall into this uneven territory: they're at their best in simpler moments, where the characters can shine through the words.
In the last third of the album, however, things take a turn for the engaging (with the exception of the tonally jarring "Star of the Show"). Although the sudden lack of Sera made me wonder if we'd been following the wrong protagonist all along, the ensuing songs pulled me right back in. "Let's Deal," a delicious duet between Young's Tyriel and Cuccioli's Lucifer, has shades of Les Miserables's "Confrontation" in the best possible way, and "Without You Here" is mournful and filled with genuine emotion. Although it almost feels like we have two finales - "I Believe In Angels (Reprise)" and "One True Friend (Reprise)" - they both wrap up the album on a high note. Despite some meandering along the way, the finale ensures that we leave knowing what this story is about: loyalty, dreams, and hope for a better future.