on 15 January 2014
I saw the first performance of the musical on the opening night of the preview, which was quite a thrill, but despite an absolutely amazing performance by those involved I must admit I walked out fiercely upset, almost feeling kind of betrayed...I'll explain.
I think the story is perfect for a musical and that ALW and his team picked the right slices of the whole affair to focus on. The choice of actors is spot on and the energy and dedication I saw on the performance was the best I have seen in a musical in ages, but I also think that musically (sorry everyone) is below par.
I'll have a run song by song just to get my point across.
1. Human Sacrifice
A truly nice song (despite the 'your friendly osteopath' line, was expecting spider-man to appear suddenly)The lyrics are, otherwise really good, subdued orchestration but great melody
2. Super Duper Hula Hooper
I really did not care fort this song, specially the lyrics (I know, not meant to be Tolstoy, it is a superficial 60's song). It has touches of 'Joseph' far too many to make me hear the song for itself, I kept singing 'seven cows...' in my head...c'mon,think about it...'don't be a party popper be a Super Duper Hula Hooper'?
3. When You Get To Know Me
A nice song, really nothing against it, but it begins to show the problem I have with the rest of the show; nice melody, passable orchestration but it never gets there. No musical accentuations, nothing. The great thing about musicals compared with run of the mill songs is that the songs actually emphasize elements of the lyrics, add urgency, mood, flow..you name it, yet this song just gets sung, superbly by both Alex and Charlotte, yet when I think of similar treatments in Evita, which dealt with similar personal/society/history scenarios, I would have wanted to see more of a 'I'd be surprisingly good for you' kind of song. Orchestration and pace lets it down for me, by this point I am still waiting for the song that will begin to drive me into the characters.
---One big problem I see here is precisely that the songs could be interchangeably sung by any character with no change really. You could not have the phantom belting think of me, that is a Christine song no matter what, nor would you see christine belting out pass the point of no return...others may reprise the melody, but the song sets its tone by key characters, SW lacks in my view 'character' songs, they all move about at the same level more or less.---
4. You're So Very Clever To Have Found This
A good example of my point above, this song seems to have the same emotional force of 'When You Get To Know Me'. Too pastoral (touches of Aspect and WIW) not bad, nice, but forgettable.
5. This Side Of The Sky
I actually like this song, bits of 'whistle' and WIW, but otherwise same pace, same pastoral, idle mood. It pretends to suddenly have rousing moments but they never get there for me, again, orchestration fails it in my view (You can see a lot of the orchestration failures of The beautiful game in here) Still, nice.
Loved it, although the orchestration could have been more bohemian yet and get more character from it. Something still lacks pace, I still have not found the urgency, at no point has the score pushed me, rushed me, highlighted something for me,given me an unspoken commentary behind the lyrics..on the performance I was getting quite edgy and, well. bored, the score (not the songs necessarily) was letting me down as an experience...but probably the kind of seed version of the songs I wanted to hear (think of 'devil take the hindmost' from LND and you'll see what I mean)
7. He Sees Something In Me
Typical ALW stock song, works well. But I wonder, does anyone here has any stirring emotions? passion? doubts? pains? why is it not coming through the songs? It is almost as if we get get a pastoral Stephen Ward and an innocent, Jenny from Aspects, Miss Keeler, nothing in between.
8. You've Never Had It So Good
Great, brilliant, got a touch kinky on stage, which worked with the audience, but this is about as passionate and thunderous this stuff gets. We can hear echoes of Evita here, and it begins to work...
9. Black-hearted Woman
Don't care for it,not bad, but don't care for it, it's Benjamin' from Joseph all over again. Not a bad song, mind you, it just that it breaks with the rest of the musical flow, the style never really comes back into the story besides during the police interview, it is an odd song thrown in the middle of the show, it adds nothing to the story, does not progress it, nothing, it is just there, suddenly, because the guy happens to sing scat/reggae or what-have-you.
10. Mother Russia, While We Can
A song that begins to try and infuse some depth or passion into the story and give the characters some musical depth (which the score has failed to do up to this point in my view) still, the wedding band orchestration begins to take away from the show. the change from organ/ominous music to synth or guitar and then back to 'look, it sounds like a russian melody!' kind of works but kind of does not, still, this is what I would considered 'incidental' music on what the music should have been, which sadly in this case becomes actually one of the good bits.
11. Love Nest
nothing to write home about here, a bit of 'girl meets boy', which are the nice bits of this song, then Miss Keeler gets a moment where it appears it is going to soar and the song collapses back again into the same meandering pastoral with faint touches of 'sunset' again. The song as a whole reveals nothing of the characters, it could be song by any of them (putting aside the lyrics) it could be a song about laundry instead of about 'become my mistress, let me get you a flat, this is getting serious' kind of expose, again, the music does nothing to explore or evolve the characters, the tension or the mood.
Cute, I liked it a lot, maybe the only song that deserves the wedding band orchestration, it works with it and this is a song that does reflect the hopes and innocence of what were, basically, a couple of teenagers in the midst of a very grown up world. It needs a bit more of a histrionic, what the hell we are drunk performance from the girls (they still did absolutely great) 'When children rule the world' makes an appearance here, liked it more in Whistle. The orchestration at the end of the song is really, really bad, sounds so cheap it kind of puts you off the whole thing.
13. Give Us Something Juicy
Brilliant, truly the direction I expected the show to take, although to late to save it for me (I was really bored by now during the performance and really upset, I remember the couple seating next to me, looking perplexed up to this point, then smiling when this song came on)
14. Manipulation Reprise
Just that, a reprise
15. Police Interview
Give Us Something Juicy with a different approach. It went a bit too long by then, lost something, specially as we already had it with 'Give Us Something Juicy', it had lost its novelty
16. I'm Hopeless When It Comes To You
Gold, not only because Joanna Riding is just amazing at it but because it is the first, FIRST time we get a character actually coupled with a song that explores, exposes and squeezes emotions out of the lyrics. Pity was that we had just met this lovely lady a couple of minutes before, then we get this rousing loyalty song and the lady disappears again from the show, kind of a blip in the show.
17. The Arrest
Loved it, this is what I was expecting all along, strong, tense... really good. ALW was never great at 'crowd madness' songs (lost souls from WIW anyone?) but this works, he kept it controlled.
18. The Trials
This went on for a while and bored me. Five minutes of non-descriptive orchestration. The defence and prosecution use the 'Human Sacrifice' melody to expound their arguments, but the orchestration is pretty much the same as when Ward sings it(excepting a couple of instances) making it non-distinguishable,at least musically, from his story, I expected a nuanced version if anything, something that musically brought about all the emotions and themes explored in the show, but the I realised that as no themes were really explored but a few, that was not possible. Only 'You never had it so good' makes an appearance at the end, but so literal to the original rendition that it lacks depth.
19. Too Close To The Flame
A pastiche of previous themes with a touch of musical emphasis, but collapsing very quickly into the pastoral blandness which put me off. The very end suddenly finds itself aware that there was an orchestra available, but too late for me, whistle and sunset fragments pass before my ears here and there, but in the end the song still fails for me, it lacks the subtlety of John Nineteen Forty-One, for example, as a denouement.
So, did I hate it? not really, I would say this is a musical in search of an orchestration. lyrics are overall great, the story works, the flow is right but the pace is too even, it is musically emasculated by a combo of wedding band sound and a lack of parallel thematic musical dialogue (the music does not tell a story by itself. I found the stage performance brilliant from the acting point of view but irritating from the 'I came out as flat as I came in, nothing was roused, nothing was stirred'.
Others will love it, we have as many colours as people have taste, that's the beauty of the world!
Give it a listen, but this is not in my view in the same league as JCS, Evita or Sunset, sorry. Specially when you think of similar stories such as Chess and their musical treatments...this ends up being neither.
PS- the orchestration in the CD is far better than what can be heard in the theatre...still