Evoking the physical passion and romantic landscape of the original
Thomas Hardy novel, Stephen Edwards’ musical adaptation of 'Tess Of
The D'Urbervilles' was conceived for the stage with producers Karen
Louise Hebden and Bruce Athol MacKinnon over a five-year period. After
various work shops, the musical was cast in April 1999 with Philippa
Healey and Poppy Tierney alternating the title role alongside Alasdair
Harvey as Alec D'Urberville and Jonathan Monks as Angel Clare.
Between September and October 1999, ‘Tess’ toured the United Kingdom,
opening at the Sheffield Lyceum to sensational reviews. Critics
declared the production "visually stunning" and a "landmark in musical
theatre". ‘Tess’ transferred to the West End, opening at London’s
Savoy Theatre on November 10th, 1999 and was soon after branded "the
last great musical flop of the Millennium”. The London critics were
unanimous in their damning of the large-scale through-sung musical and
audience numbers subsequently dropped. The show closed on January
15th, 2000 after just 77 performances.
Nearly 15 years since the West End musical adaptation of 'Tess Of The
D'Urbervilles' was last seen on stage, Stage Door are pleased to be
presenting the first complete album representation of Stephen Edwards’
score. Featuring tracks from the 1999 West End production alongside
the previously unreleased 1998 studio cast recording, the album
includes performances by Philippa Healey, Alasdair Harvey, Jonathan
Monks, Cathy Sara, Martin Crewes, Mark Umbers, Heather Craney, Eliza
Lumley and a supporting company of forty singers.
In listening to the work as presented on the desk, I am taken by the richly atmospheric ambience of Stephen Edwards' moody score. The melodic intonations are just as haunting and evocative as those found on recordings like THE SECRET GARDEN or JANE EYRE. Many London critics nit-picked the lyrics crafted by Justin Fleming and Stephen Edwards for being too simplistic. While, I don't discredit those critiques, I also don't find the lyrics to be so ridiculously tiresome and banal that they profoundly hurt the integrity of the musical. Yet, it is important to note that none of the tracks stand out as particularly memorable in my first handful of times listening to this album. I don't dislike what I hear on the recording, but I'm not magnetically drawn to the material either. I imagine some years down the road, a brave theatrical company will purchase the rights to TESS OF THE D'URBERVILLES. If chance shall allow, I'll be a patron for the production, and I'll find this album much more satisfying.