Book, Music &Lyrics: Ted Shen
Reviewer: Holly Spanner
There is something comforting in knowing you can start over. But when change is forced upon you through circumstances beyond your control, how do you find the mindset to embrace this change?
A Second Chance begins when dreamy eyed divorcee Jenna meets grieving widower Dan at a dinner party. The pair hit it off immediately, but still recovering from the death of his wife Susan, Dan is hesitant to become involved with someone new for fear of betraying the memory of his wife. Following the couple on a series of dates, the plot uncovers their insecurities and worries as Jenna struggles to compete with everyone’s idealized memory of Susan.
Released by Ghostlight Records, the music, book and lyrics are written by Ted Shen, which he based on his own experiences and relationship with his current wife. With just a cast of two (played by real life husband and wife Brian and Diane Sutherland), there is a mildly pleasing chemistry which comes across in the recording. This however, is the albums saving grace.
A Second Chance is not a collection of musical theatre songs which can be removed from context and enjoyed over and over. Falling more into the category of play rather than musical, it is performed as a sung dialogue between Dan and Jenna. This sadly makes the songs both unmemorable and difficult to distinguish, however to its credit; the style does make the narrative easy to follow.
With orchestrations by Bruce Coughlin, there is a jazz undertone to several of the numbers (not surprising given Shen has a background in jazz); however here in lies another gripe. The lyrics are often off-balance with the music. They don’t match. In ‘Damaged Goods’ Dan is experiencing feelings of guilt, remorse, and selfishness, and is stuck in the belief that Jenna would do better to forget about him. Yet despite this, there is an undeniably happy vibe to the melody, making it difficult to empathize. This confused, detached element is echoed throughout and the lyrics are often frustratingly predictable in rhyme, while vocals are not as slick as you would expect from a Cast Recording.
When something is billed as “inspirational” and “stirring” you’d expect something big, although this sadly isn’t found in this recording. It’s sweet, yes (but who wants sweet?), with a confused style which feels almost experimental including a somewhat odd combinations of intervals.
A Second Chance is an interesting listen with a number of intellectual references, but if you’re looking for a new addition with substance, you’d do better looking elsewhere.
CD is available from Ghostlight Records.