BWW Album Review: TYRELL Blooms With Elegance and Humor
In lieu of traditional adaptations, an increasing (and, typically, highly entertaining) movement is to give a new perspective to a familiar story by taking the point of view of side characters. That's just what Alex Ratner does with Tyrell, a new concept album that imagines what three supporting characters were up to during the early days of Game of Thrones. The concept is interesting on its own, but the skillful execution by the writer and performers on the album elevate it to something sure to have appeal outside of Thrones die-hards.
The concept of the album is quite simple: it poses the question of what the Tyrell clan were up to when they were off-screen. The famously ambitious and sophisticated family are represented by their three most significant members: clever and elegant wannabe queen Margaery (Kerstin Anderson), her snarky, secretly gay brother Ser Loras (Chris Dwan), and their chessmaster of a grandmother, the matriarch Olenna (Christine Ebersole). Each of the characters are fascinating on the screen and on the page, and Ratner writes them smartly. Rather than exaggerating their most obvious qualities (their penchant for machinations, their love of all beautiful and elegant things, their ambition), Ratner gives them thoughtful, three-dimensional characterizations that stand on their own as well as they dovetail with the better-known, official versions of these characters. It's a parody of the world of Thrones, not of the characters themselves, and it's all the better for it.
We get to know Margaery first, with her oddly-named but cleverly sung song "Appetite." The song begins as a paean to the luxuries in life that wealthy families like the Tyrells enjoy, but quickly shifts into Margaery's "I Want" song. We get a portrait of a woman who is always wanting something more, whose ambitions make her willing to overlook any warnings that might stand in the way of her goal of becoming queen. In Anderson's hands, she sounds every bit the classic, clear-voiced heroine, but make no mistake: this is no shrinking violet princess in a tower, waiting for her prince to come. This is a woman who is fearlessly climbing and trying to break the requirements of her gender - but who also hopes, in "Lady in Waiting," that she might be able to do something good with the power she's seeking.
The biggest shift from the official Thrones lore is in the characterization of Loras, whose prowess as a knight largely became overshadowed by his sexuality. Here, however, we get to spend some time alone with Loras, and the portrait that emerges is of a protective brother, a man who's already tired of endless ambition and politics, and someone who has a mind (and heart) of his own. "All A Knight Should Be" gives Dwan a chance to show us all the shades of Loras (and Ratner a chance to show off his knowledge of the deep lore of the Thrones world). Ratner uses the title phrase several times, letting the meaning shift constantly, each time becoming something more personal until it finally gives us a tender peek at what Loras really values. It's a new spin on a specific style of musical theatre song: the ballad that starts a character in one place and ends in another, allowing us to learn about them as they learn about themselves.
Of course, the scene-stealing role is Olenna, and Ebersole couldn't be a more perfect fit. She's dignified on the haunting "Castamere," expounding on what makes House Tyrell unique among the others - it's not their money, but their ability to survive. Her own history is sketched in thanks to "A Word to the Wise," which outlines her own dashed hopes of becoming royalty in a story that parallels her grandson's dilemma in the present day. Instead of making her bitter or angry, however, her song instead gives her wisdom and compassion, gained over years and years. Throughout the album, that seems to consistently be the case: despite being labeled a "parody" (and, to be sure, there are plenty of funny lines and winky in-jokes), Tyrell is more sincere than it pretends to be - just like the family of characters it's named for.