CD REVIEW: Artists in Residence

Reviewer: Jonathan Cash

Music and Lyrics: Various

Producer: Andrew Gerle

Lockdown has affected people in different ways. Composer, pianist, orchestrator and occasional actor, Andrew Gerle, reacted to New York’s theatres going dark by reaching out to Broadway Records and a range of Broadway professionals to write and record new songs for a fundraising album to benefit the Actors Fund and the Dramatists Guild Foundation. The fourteen tracks that populate this album are the result. Recorded in homes all over the USA, hence the title, the tracks were then sent to Gerle, who mixed and produced the album. It stands as an impressive achievement. Luminaries like Alan Menken, David Zippel, Flaherty and Ahrens and Jonathan Tunick, Sondheim’s long-time orchestrator, have all contributed songs. The performers include such Broadway headliners as Laura Osnes, Victoria Clark and Patina Miller, along with a host of other accomplished performers. Entertainingly, the album notes tell us exactly where the tracks were recorded, for example, ‘Attic with foam mattress wall’ or ‘Walk-in closet.’

The tracks are all, in various ways, about the lockdown. Some directly describe the strains of living indoors with one’s family or partner; others are yearning for the freedom of the post-lockdown era. A few are less specific in their association. Gerle has worked some kind of magic on the sound and the finish on the tracks is generally crisp and clear. The performances are all excellent and some of the songs, in particular, are a joy.

Clark’s polished and deeply felt rendition of Essential by Ben Wexler is delightful, as she catalogues the small things in life that make it worth living. Tunick’s Central Park at Dusk, with lyrics by Sara Teasdale, is a haunting tone poem, skilfully rendered by Harolyn Blackwell. Ryan Scott Oliver and Shirley Jackson’s What A Thought, performed by Oliver and by Jay Armstrong Johnson, is a riotously funny account of the effects of isolation, when a loving couple are driven to consider murdering each other. Osnes gives a touching performance of When I See You Again, Will Reynolds and Eric Price’s evocation of a relationship interrupted. It is a fitting end to the album, pointing hopefully to the future.

It is possible that not everyone wants to listen to songs about lockdown, perhaps preferring escapism. If they were deterred from listening to this album, that would be a shame. It is likely most people will smile, or laugh, with recognition at the astute observations in the songs and there are treasures here that will remain with the listeners long after the crisis has passed. This is an entertaining album with much to delight musical theatre fans in particular.

Artists in Residence is available from Broadway Records now

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Entertaining Lockdown Songfest

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The Yorkshire & North East team is under the editorship of Jacob Bush. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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