BWW Album Review: BEAU Walks a New, Creative Path
In a lot of contemporary musicals, there are a few specific musical idioms that seem to show up again and again. In Beau, a new musical by Douglas Lyons and Ethan D. Pakchar, all that goes out the window. With a sound that combines country, folk, and funk sounds and a sweetly internal story, it's a refreshing change of pace that's sure to enter your music rotation.
The world premiere recording brings together a pretty broad range of talent, including plenty of voices you'll recognize from major Broadway projects. John Krause (Hadestown) is featured on the album's first track, "Pop Pop Beau," which introduces us to the kind of music we're in for. With a guitar riff to kick things off and a specific narrative voice, it's a concise, smart intro to the story of a man looking back on his life-changing relationship with his grandfather.
For most listeners, the most recognizable voice on the album will probably be Jenn Collela. The Tony-nominated star of Come From Away tears things up on "So Better," a deeply cool anthem. The song type is familiar enough: woman sings about what she wants out of a relationship. But it's the approach that sets this one apart. Instead of being a modest ingenue or a hypersexualized diva, this song seems to be in a much more realistic voice: a confident, straightforward, modern woman who's up-front about her wants and needs. We could seriously use more of this in modern musical theatre!
There are a few softer songs, too, that make a big impression. "It Couldn't Be," sung here by Gerard Canonico and Max Sangerman, is a genuinely lovely, heartfelt duet. The music is beautiful (and beautifully sung), and the lyrics, with lines like "I take a breath / You supply the air" are sweet and evocative, playing with clichés without succumbing to them. Similarly, "Thursday in July" captures the specificity of grief with incredible poignancy. Instead of overwrought sentiments and big ideas, it focuses on the tiny details, which makes it feel all the more honest.
"By Your Side" is the closest thing the album has to a musical through-line, and on the surface, it seems like a cliché, old-fashioned grandpa-advice song. In context, though, it's a lot more than that - it's the emotional heart of the whole thing. That's why, when it comes back around in a reprise for the finale, it's a truly moving moment. The penultimate song, "Runnin'," is similarly thoughtful, bringing a hopeful tone without cloying sentiment.
There are a few much "bigger" songs as well. Aisha Jackson captures a bright, jazzy, joyful attitude in "Crush," while Charity Angél Dawson and Olivia Griffin are equally powerful on "Disappear," which serves as the prior song's antithesis in some ways. Saint Aubyn is fantastic on "Shut Up," although the song itself isn't quite as memorable as others on the album. Overall, Beau is an unexpected little gem and a genuinely enjoyable album worth a second listen.