BWW Album Review: UNBREAKABLE (Original Cast Recording) is Stirring and Evocative
Broadway composer Andrew Lippa has written a poignant song cycle with UNBREAKABLE, which was premiered by The San Francisco's Gay Men's Chorus at Nourse Theater in San Francisco, CA on June 22-23, 2018. Recognizing that mainstream history has largely turned a blind eye to LGBTQ history, Lippa decided to create a project that preserves and tells the stories of the community. Then, this week Ghostlight Records released UNBREAKABLE (Original Cast Recording), allowing listeners a chance to go inside the Nourse Theater to experience the powerfully moving cycle live and for themselves.
Equally heartbreaking and uplifting, Lippa shines a light on the struggles faced and successes earned by the community. The cycle begins in 1900 with co-founder of the ACLU, the first American woman awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, and lesbian Jane Addams addressing the LGBTQ community directly. She reminds them that they are unbreakable. Then, it tells lesser known stories, such as the etymology of the word gay and Lem Billings - JFK's best friend - having to repress his homosexuality and grow comfortable being the man in the next room. It also highlights better known issues like President Eisenhower's executive order that initiated the "Lavender Scare" in Washington, D.C., the New York Times article that documented the beginnings of the AIDS crisis, and the story of gay and transgender activist Sylvia Rivera.
The songs themselves showcase Lippa's brilliance in composing contemporary Broadway pop compositions. Each of the songs soar with vibrant brass, swelling strings, and lush vocal melodies that are instantly memorable. Yet, what makes this album truly remarkable is the vocal authority of The San Francisco's Gay Men's Chorus, which adds invaluable oomph and pizazz to the up-tempo and inspirational moments and resplendent, heartrending emotionality to the somber and introspective moments. Each track sings to the heart and soul, making these overlooked pieces of history resonant, timely, and - probably most importantly - easily digestible.
Standout moments on the album include its rousing opener, "Unbreakable," with the role of Jane Addams gorgeously sung by Britney Coleman. Opening the concert and album with a song that reminds each listener of how powerful one human can be and how that is magnified when joined by a like-minded community isn't just intelligent, it's an unmistakably motivating call to action. Singing the haunting story of Cyril B. Wilcox on "Already Dead," Marcus J. Paige devastates the heart as he plumbs the emotional depths of a man who chooses suicide over the continued humiliation that accompanies him being outed to his prominent father in a letter from Harvard's Secret Court. Adding her voice to a splendid characterization of pioneering feminist Gertrude Stein, Lisa Vroman sings "Just a Woman" with a hearty dose of humor, a palpably boundless love, and heartwarming tonality. Lippa, a king of writing and preforming character songs, brings forth humor in "Purple Menace / The Happy Homosexual," singing with gusto and delicious irony as psychiatrist Dr. Charles Socarides. Perfectly encapsulating the album's ability to easily bring listeners to tears in one moment and to rebuild them with majestic pride in another, The San Francisco's Gay Men's Chorus makes both "41" and "Good Things Take Time" sublime and stunning in their presentations.
With ten more choruses across the country presenting UNBREAKABLE in the 2019-2020 season, this important piece has exciting life and will hopefully gain momentum. In the meantime, Ghostlight Records' stirring and evocative UNBREAKABLE (Original Cast Recording) insures that it can reach audiences that can't attend live performances, will be experienced around the globe, and will keep it preserved for the people who will need these stories for generations to come.
UNBREAKABLE (Original Cast Recording) can be purchased from Amazon, and elsewhere music is sold.