Lyricist and Composer: Louis R Bucalo
Reviewer: Kelyn Luther
An American Victory is unfortunately more failure than victory. The lack of memorable songs might be forgivable if the show was sung-through but without the benefit of a book, it’s a collection of pleasant but forgettable songs.
Under Thomas Jefferson’s government, pirates rule the seas as they have done for two hundred years and are demanding large extortion payments from the US. Now it’s 1801, the government can’t pay and have almost no navy to fight them.
Opening is a rousing start, reminiscent of One Day More from Les Miserables in its large chorus that sets out the individual characters’ hopes. It however becomes apparent that all the songs fit neatly into two categories: the rousing song (Opening, People Are Talking, Glory Bound, The Road You’re On) and the sentimental song (How Many Times, Please My Love, My Child Can You Here Me plus many others).
While it is admirable that the show sticks to plausible characterisations for the time rather than revisionist history, it makes for dull characters. The men are noble heroes and the women wait dutifully for the men.
According to the synopsis, there are plenty of dramatic moments leading to a point where an innocent man is about to be hung, but the songs don’t convey any sense of drama with the exception of the best song on the album: Revolution, in which Jefferson agonises over how to deal with the country’s predicament in a soliloquy. Hugh Panaro brings dignity to the song and the promise of a musical that tackles the moral dilemmas of sending men to battle, a promise that is ultimately unfulfilled and a character that disappears for the rest of the CD.
It doesn’t help that multiple singers play the same role, forcing the listener to consult their booklet to check which of the interchangeable characters is singing. The characterisation doesn’t wildly change but Stephen, one of the main soldiers, is played by four different singers so you cannot connect to any of the voices. Two of the biggest names, Aaron Tveit (one of the four Stephens) and Ramin Karimloo, sing only one song whereas it would have made more sense to allow them to play the same characters throughout, only switching singers for minor characters.
None of the characters apart from Jefferson have much weight. Leaving aside the weak female characters who only exist in relation to the male characters, what feels very outdated is the character of Bill, a freed slave. His two songs- Toward a Star and No Way To Change That Now– are blandly optimistic. Musical theatre has created some great roles for non-white actors and this is a step backwards.
The show doesn’t redeem itself lyrically; Composer Louis R Bucalo writes some unforgiveable lines. For example, we have the rhyme: “take my hand/step with me into another land”. ‘The Road You’re On’ contains the risible line: “think about your road”. The orchestral score isn’t unpleasant, simply inoffensive as it switches between patriotism and tenderness, lacking the epic quality that the story demands.
There is still a place for old-fashioned sentimental musicals on Broadway and if An American Victory was staged, the ships could be showpieces to rival the helicopter in Miss Saigon. Rewriting it as a sung-through musical might elevate the melodrama towards something more significant but Bucalo is not the man to helm it.