Reviewer: Lauren Humphreys
Ghostlight Records present this new recording of Keen Company’s “revisal” of Craig Lucas and the late Norman Rene’s 1981 conceptual review Marry Me a Little, built around songs cut from the musicals of Stephen Sondheim. Dialogue free and told entirely in song, this new production re-thinks aspects of the original work: now set in “hipster” Brooklyn it tells the story of two singles living in the same New York apartment block over the course of one lonely Saturday night.
As with any cast recording, its success stands or falls on the strength of not only the songs, but the singers too. Taking on the challenge of Sondheim’s complex lyrics and melodies are Lauren Molina and Jason Tam, both experienced Broadway veterans. Molina is in possession of a crystal-clear coloratura soprano voice, and in her hands the master’s lyrics are delivered with razor-sharp precision, but while her singing skills are in no doubt and her voice perfect for Sondheim’s sophisticated songs, it sounds as if it is from another, much earlier Broadway era, her voice at odds with the director’s “hipster” version of the musical. Tam, on the other hand has a pleasant voice, undoubtedly less powerful and distinct than Molina’s and lacking the mature sophistication needed to successfully deliver Sondheim’s tunes, but conversely, much more suited to this updated staging.
The show, and indeed this recording’s biggest selling point though, is the fact that these are compositions we might never had the chance to hear had it not been for Lucas and Rene’s show and the excellent sleeve notes provide a history of each song’s origins. When you re-listen to the songs in this context, and imagine them in the original works they were conceived for, it gives an insight into the creative mind of Sondheim and leaves you marvelling at the quality of these songs, songs that the composer has resigned to the cutting room floor, songs that most composers would kill to have written.
The short, sharp songs scream Sondheim, that master observer of the human condition. They exude New York from every note and perfectly encapsulate the sound and the feel, the loneliness and yearning of the city and its inhabitants. They have real depth, and are both affecting and evocative, but ripped from their original context, in a musical with no linking narrative, they lose not only their meaning but some of their power and magic.
That said, there are highlights, including Tam’s ‘Happily Ever After’ intended for Company, in which you can hear the faint heartbeat of the classic ‘Being Alive’ and Molina’s renditions of ‘Girls of Summer’ from the musical of the same name and the affectingtitle song, cut from Company, which are both sublime. The pair’s duet on ‘Rainbows’ intended for the film version of Into The Woods, is heartbreakingly good.
Less successful as a stand-alone musical, but a valuable record of these little-known but first class Sondheim songs.
Album available from Sh-K-Boom Records