BWW CD Reviews: Jay Records' HIMSELF AND NORA (Original Off-Broadway Cast) is Captivating

BWW CD Reviews: Jay Records' HIMSELF AND NORA (Original Off-Broadway Cast) is Captivating
Cover art courtesy of Jay Records.

Based on the rocky romance shared by quintessential Irish wordsmith James Joyce and his muse, chambermaid Nora Barnacle, HIMSELF AND NORA enjoyed a successful run as part of the New York Musical Theatre Festival at the Theatre at St. Clement's in the summer of 2012. With a sparse cast of five, tautly constructed economical harmonies, and a small five member band, Jay Records' release of HIMSELF AND NORA (Original Off-Broadway Cast) excellently captures the heart and soul of this biographic musical.

In just 67 minutes, the 20-track album follows James Joyce's life for 37 years. Even though we are missing the book scenes from the musical on the recording, listeners get a good picture of what the show must be like in performance. Jonathan Brielle's music and lyrics capably capture the ups and downs of the tumultuous relationship. The few book moments that make it to the CD only deepen our understanding of their relationship, ensuring that listeners who haven't experienced the show can relate to it. However, what sets this musical apart from any other musical about a turbulent romance is that both James Joyce and Nora Barnacle have an astounding command of the English language, so both characters engage in absorbing witty wordplay.

Starring as James Joyce, Matt Bogart's lyric baritone instrument is handsomely applied to the score, giving his characterization of the famous author an undeniable masculine charm. His voice radiates on key musical moments such as the angst-ridden "Man of Erin," the sensual "Kiss," the lively Irish jig "River Liffey," and the sumptuously romantic "All Ways in Love."

Opposite him, Jessica Burrows carries the emotional weight of the album with her performance as the headstrong Nora Barnacle. With a brilliant clarity and superb vocal grace, she sings the role with wonderfully evocative precision. She brings life to the passionate "Kiss," the bawdy and comical "Compatriots In Lust," the empowering ballad "Stand Fast," the embittered and raucous "Without a Man," and the heartfelt and moving "What Better Thing to Do (Reprise)."

Each playing multiple characters, J.B. Wing, David Arthur, and Brian Sills round out the aural landscape of the album. They blend their voices well on Jonathan Brielle's well-crafted chords.

Lastly, Jonathan Brielle mixes the tonal aesthetics of the typical pop Broadway score with the sensibilities of traditional folk Irish music. This allows him to transport listeners to the era of James Joyce with authenticity and skill. This choice is mirrored in the casts' adoption of well-rehearsed and well-delivered Irish accents (among others when appropriate). These aspects of the album are much appreciated as they give the album a sincerity and honesty that makes the story all the more intriguing to the listener.

Jay Records released the captivating and altogether lovely HIMSELF AND NORA (Original Off-Broadway Cast) on June 10, 2014. The album can be purchased from Jay Records' online store, iTunes, and Amazon.

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