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A fascinating and succesful transition from stage to record.
on 24 August 2002
An astonishingly moving sequence of songs, a collection I would agree to be perhaps the crown of Mr Waits' achievements. The emotional progression through the album is immaculately well judged, and follows a path from isolated lonely yearning, through dark avenues of insanity and morbidity (recurrent motifs in the album are notions of water, death and loneliness; consider the image of the face being a beach and the eyes being fish - the image is introduced in 'Everything you can think' and makes a startling reoccurrence in 'We're all mad here'). The final uneasy union of the protagonist with his object of desire is the subject of the masterful closer 'Barcarolle.
A magnificent emotional progression then and, it is worth pointing out, one completely different to how it was presented on the stage. Without the complex dialogue in between and the visual splendour of the stage production, the sequence used for the play would have been meaningless and emotionally neutered. Nonetheless, for posterity, here is a run through of the sequence and a brief description of how the songs were used in Wilson's production of Alice;
The first song is sung by Dodgson, the central male character of the play, and is 'Alice'. Following this, Alice falls into the rabbit hole and mournfully sings 'No one knows I'm gone'. She then meets 2 flowers, one of whom (called Lily) sings 'Flower's grave' before the 2 flowers burst into tears. Alice then drinks (courtesy of the white rabbit) the shrinking potion and meets the caterpillar, who tells her about 'Table top joe' (sung in the 3rd person, as opposed to the version on the album). We then see Dodgson writing a letter to Alice (which appears on the album as 'Watch her disappear'). Following this, Alice finds the mad hatters tea party where she is treated to a rendition of 'We're all mad here'. There is then a song which is not included on the album called 'You are old' sung by Father William and his son. Alice, having left the tea party then meets a fawn in the forest and they sing a beautiful wordless song together ('Fawn'), before the fawn loses its nerve and runs away into the forest. We then see the Black King (the chess piece) singing 'Reeperbahn', before Alice's trial. The Executioner introduces another musical theme not included on the album; 'You've murdered the time'. Alice is rescued by the White knight who sings to her the 'Fish & Bird' track, with Alice joining in on the "Please don't cry" chorus. A chorus of vicars then sing 'Jabberwocky' (again - not included), introducing the puzzle Alice must break to escape. The White knight (in response to Alice's asking for help to break the riddle) sings 'Everything you can think'. He leaves Alice, and she comes across a sheep in a shop who she also asks for help. The sheep tells Alice that it cannot help her, but nonetheless they sing 'Barcarolle' together as they take a boat trip. Alice meets Humpty Dumpty who sings 'Lost in the Harbour'. Following this there are two more unreleased tracks, 'Altar Boy' by the Duchess and the mad hatter, and a brief refrain 'It always rains here' by Tweedledee and tweedldum. After this the White Knight fights the Black knight (who kidnaps Alice), and lies defeated singing 'Poor Edward', before walking offstage (to reveal on the back of his head - a girl's face). After this there is a big court case as to who wrote the letter to Alice which includes an ensemble rendition of the unreleased track 'You've murdered the time'. Ultimately, the White knight, the white rabbit and Dodgson all turn up in the case and admit writing the letter, and are all beheaded, before Lewis Carroll turns up and admits to writing everything, that all of the characters are his creations. At this the world breaks down and it is revealed that Alice and all of the events were in the head of this man. The play closes with Alice, as an old woman with a cat on her knee, singing 'I'm still here'.
So, there is the sequence of events in the play. I have simplified them somewhat, so you get an idea of how complex it is. Needless to say, as the events are all used to show different parts of the desire for Alice, including the possessive, aggressive and loving aspects of this, then they are no more relevant in the sequence they were used in the play than in the sequence Waits chooses for the album. Bear in mind, Waits wrote the songs and chose the sequence on the album, Wilson chose the sequence in the play. Notice the absence of Kommienezuspadt. Anyway, should you wish to program the sequence in the play, programme your CD to;
As I have said, I find both the logical narrative/emotional progression of Waits' sequencing better, and I find it to be more musically satisfying.