Now Playing: 'Grey Gardens', 'Blues in the Night', Gordon

For this installment of "Now Playing" thoughts on two discs released this week and one from earlier in the summer.

Grey Gardens – PS Classics

For those who were unable to get to Playwrights Horizons last spring for the premiere of Scott Frankel, Michael Korie and Doug Wright's Grey Gardens, PS Classics' release of the original cast recording will more than amply suffice as an introduction to this terrifically conceived and executed new musical.  For those who managed to catch the show, well, the recording will simply remind them of the show's many extraordinary pleasures.

After first seeing this musical, which is based on the documentary film "Grey Gardens" by David Maysles,
Albert Maysles, Ellen Hovde, Muffie Meyer and Susan Froenke about the reclusive Edith Bouvier Beale and her daughter "Little" Edie, I told friends that the easy way to think of the Frankel/Korie score was to imagine Sondheim's Follies as having been put through a centrifuge.  In the first act, which takes place in 1941, Frankel has created a terrific set of period-sounding numbers.   When set into Doug Wright's book which imagines what "Little" Edie's engagement party might have been like and which also sets the scene for the strange animosity-filled co-dependence of the mother and daughter, the musical's first half feels like a sort of warped High Society.

When the musical moves forward 30 years and audiences encounter the two women now living in their dilapidated Hamptons estate, Korie's music becomes ephermeral and at times can be almost atonal (nicely mirroring the women's scattershot thought processes) and Wright's book takes on a surreal tone as past and present blur and the women's memories deceive them.

Producer Tommy Krasker has lovingly produced this disc, which, for this listener, brought back the excitement of experiencing the musical for the first time.  There is a crispness to both the voices and the nine-person orchestra (10 when Bill Stillman joins in at the piano "onstage") that makes one feel as if one is in the theater.

At the center of "Gardens" is
Christine Ebersole's bravura performance as Edith in the first act, and then, the older, "Little" Edie in the second.  Whether she's trilling through the more traditional numbers in the first act, or musically squawking (in the most beautiful manner imaginable, it's true, but, unfortunately, "squawk" is the best way to describe Ebersole's voice at moments here) through songs like "The Revolutionary Costume For Today" in the second, there's something electrifying about her portrayals of the two women.  Nowhere is this more apparent than in "Another Winter in a Summer Town" – the musical's penultimate number in which Ebersole is joined by the fine Mary Louise Wilson, who plays the older Beale in the second act.

Alongside Ebersole in the first act is Sara Gettlefinger who charms as the younger Beale, particularly in the mockingly romantic "Better Fall Out of Love," which she sings with
Matt Cavenaugh (who sturdily plays Joesph Patrick Kennedy, Jr.).  John McMartin's portrayal of the elder Beale's father drips with patriarchal propriety, particularly in the anthem "Being Bouvier."

As CD afficionados have come to expect from PS Classics, the packaging for Grey Gardens includes a handsome slipcase for the jewelbox and full-color book, that includes the full synopsis, lyrics and an informative interview with the show's creators.

Ann Hampton CallawayBlues in the Night – TELARC

From the first chords struck by the Diva Jazz Orchestra on this disc, listeners know that they are off on an invigorating swingin' jazz-y big band ride with this superlative singer.  On this 12-track disc, Callaway mixes some of her original material with classics such as "Blue Moon," "It's All Right By Me," and, of course, the song from Mercer and Arlen that gives the disc its name.  In each song, Callaway's robust, smoke-y voice and vocal stylings seem to cast even the most well-known song in anew.

For instance, in "It's All Right With Me," one hears not only melancholy resignation but also a sort of soaring inner strength.  When singing Sondheim's "No One is Alone," Callaway offers one of her most straight-forward, traditional interpretations, but when combined with the original orchestration (written by Bill Mays in collaboration with Callaway), there is a wonderful adult urgency to the number. 
Equally grand are her renditions of "Blue Moon" and "Lover Come Back to Me."  For a rousing combination of "Stormy Weather" and "When the Sun Comes Out," Callaway is joined by her sister Liz, and as always their voices, when combined, are thrilling.

As terrific as her renditions of the classics are, the hidden gems of Callaway's own compositions are equally delightful.  How can one not respond with a smile to this title?"The I'm-Too-White-To-Sing-The-Blues Blues," which includes the following lyric:

"Sometimes when I'm lonely
I think I've got my chance
I try to sing St. Louis Blues
to my cat and my house plants
My cat gets catatonic
My violets start to shrink
My ivy starts to climb the wall
and it's time to pour a drink."

You might think that the Blues are simply about being sad and there is more than ample melancholy to be found on "Blues."  Overall though, listeners will come away feeling exhilarated by this exuberant collection of songs.

Dream True – PS Classics Inc.

From PS Classics' non-profit arm comes this recording of Ricky Ian Gordon and Tina Landau's 1998 musical Dream True.  For this bittersweet tale about two men's friendship from childhood through adulthood, Gordon has composed an ambitious score that admittedly takes more than one listening to fully appreciate, but as listeners' ears become increasingly comfortable with Gordon's elusive melodies, the richness of this score is unmistakable.  For instance, in the orchestral underpinnings of the show's opening number, "Wyoming," you can actually hear the expansiveness of the area.  Just three numbers later comes "The Way West," which beautifully brings the sounds of the more urban East Coast to his music, with a jagged staccato melody.

For this studio recording, a top-notch cast has been assembled that includes some of the show's original cast members and others who appeared in the 2004 concert version of the show.  For instance,
Jessica Molaskey is on hand to deliver the poignant lullaby "Finding Home," a song written specifically for her (a fact discovered in Gordon's fascinating notes that detail the show's evolution.)  Both Victoria Clark and Kelli O'Hara are on hand and each uses her marvelously expressive voice to navigate Gordon's intricate melodies.  As the two men at the musical's center, listeners will find Brian D'Arcy James and Jason Danieley delivering both forcefully and emotionally (Harrison Chad and William Ullrich are both charming as the younger incarnations of the musical's heroes.)

For connoisseurs of new musicals from the past decade, this recording will certainly be a welcome addition to the CD shelf.
 

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From This Author Andy Propst

Andy Propst is founder of AmericanTheaterWeb.com (ATW), a nationally recognized theatrical news and production database. In addition to his writing for and editing of ATW, (read more...)

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