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BWW CD Review: Susan Derry Tells A Hopeful Tale With Debut Album I WISH IT SO


Musical theater actress Susan Derry turns her cabaret show into a studio album with a relatable trajectory.

BWW CD Review: Susan Derry Tells A Hopeful Tale With Debut Album I WISH IT SO

Every singer should record an album. The experience of creating that particular musical journey is different than anything that a storyteller does. Taking the words and music of a variety of writers and curating them into a new story based on the order in which they appear, the arrangements and medleys, and the individual performances of each song is an incomparable thrill. Added to that, there are the collaborations between singer and musical director, additional musicians, recording studio craftspeople - it is a truly collaborative effort that stands squarely on the shoulders of the storyteller standing at the mic, the person whose face and name appear on the album cover. It is heady, scary, wonderful, exciting, and fulfilling work, as Susan Derry discovered this year.

At first blush, Ms. Derry's freshman outing as a recording artist looks like a Christmas record - after all, the darling-faced soprano is seen on the album cover in a sweater and fluffy scarf, in front of a background filled with Christmas colors... is it an aluminium Christmas tree? Maybe it's a holiday display in a store, or possibly festively decorated bleachers at the ice-skating rink. Whatever the background is, the photo cries out Christmas. But during a first-listen of the CD there were surprising selections, as holiday albums go, in the form of tunes like "Cockeyed Optimist" and "Hurry, It's Lovely Up Here" - not to mention a medley of spring-themed compositions. Nevertheless, the deeper into the album the listener gets, the more Yuletide grow the song selections, with clever mashups involving famous tunes like "I'll Be Home for Christmas" and "We Need a Little Christmas" - and though Ms. Derry has a lovely singing voice that landed her Broadway and in New York City's Encores series (repeatedly), there did seem to be a lack of focus in the album from start to finish... at least to this writer.

So, another spin around the turntable from start to finish was in order. Then, on the third listening of Susan Derry I WISH IT SO, it hit me. And I hit myself. I hit myself right in the center of my forehead - I might just as well have said, "I could've had a V8." I WISH IT SO is not a Christmas album. This is a year-long musical journey. Maybe it's the journey Susan Derry took during the pandemic, maybe it's a journey from her past, maybe it's a journey she plans for the future, but this thirteen-song song cycle is telling a story that begins with the wishes and hopes we all have in our hearts on January first, and it ends on New Year's Eve, and though this writer was (more than) a little slow on the up-take, eventually, I got there. Lucky, lucky me.

I WISH IT SO is a proper cabaret CD. Press materials from Executive Producer Matt Conner inform that the album was born out of a live stream cabaret that Ms. Derry performed during the pandemic - a cabaret that led the Nevermore Records executive to suggest the recording to Derry. Working with Musical Director and arranger Howard Brietbart, Derry brought her fully-realized vision into Cue Studios and laid down the tracks with only piano and vocals - a big part of the cabaret feel of the album. Without additional musicians on the recording, Susan and Howard capture the mood of being in a cabaret room, listening to a singer tell their story, live, in real-time. It sounds like the kind of CDs we all grew up with, when cabaret performers recorded their shows live or documented them in the studio on a shoestring budget, with only their Maestro by their side, at the keyboards. And it works for Derry - it really does.

Listening as Susan lines up this series of musical theater songs that represent this year in the life of, well, just about anybody who leans into optimism, is quite satisfying. A musical theater performer who has grown accustomed to blending her voice in with others in the chorus, Susan has the benefit of being a white canvas. Her instrument and interpretive skills are not loaded down with a lot of preconceived notions and stylistic flourishes. Each recording is informed by a purity designed in service of the story, and only the story. Susan Derry takes her classically trained soprano and her years of acting experience and applies them, simply, to the notes written and the sentences constructed to tell each of the thirteen stories that make up the journey. Every now and then Susan and Howard allow her to have a little fun with her stylings (most notably on "My Favorite Things") but, for the most part, these are straightforward musical acting moments, like a delightfully whimsical "Hurry It's Lovely Up Here" and a grounded, tranquil "This Moment". Together, Team Derry segue from song to song, mood to mood, season to season, in their effort to bring this cabaret story to the listener, and though this writer did miss some of Susan's lower register (so lusciously displayed during her 54 Below show earlier this year) there is no denying the unadulterated beauty of her album highlights "Winter Was Warm" and the title track, both recordings, alone, worth getting on the I WISH IT SO train. And so, with apologies to future audiences for the spoiler of what this album really represents, this debut album by Susan Derry is a year-long journey that was fun to take (three times in a row!), in the quest to find out what the record was about, but once on the train, this writer is there to stay.

Susan Derry I WISH IT SO is a 2021 release on the Nevermore Records label and is available on all streaming platforms.

The I WISH IT SO team are

Howard Breitbart: Music Director and Arranger

Executive Producer: Matt Conner/Nevermore Records

Producer: Warren Freeman

Engineer: Blaine Misner

Susan Derry has a website HERE

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