Music: George Stiles, Amy Bowie, Paul Boyd, Tamar Broadbent, Brian Lowdermilk, George Maguire, Eamonn O’Dwyer, Gianni Onori, Robert Sherman, Luke Di Somma, Sarah Travis, Verity Quade, Erin Murray Quinlan and Robbie White.
Lyrics: Rory Sherman
Reviewer: Holly Spanner
Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is a neurological condition which can affect the brain and/or spinal cord causing a range of potential symptoms, including but not limited to, fatigue, problems with vision (blindness/ double vision), movement, sensation, balance and coordination. There are an estimated 100,000 people living with the condition in the United Kingdom. Although treatments are available, there is currently no cure.
Ms. A Song Cycle sits halfway between musical and studio album. It is comprised of a collection of songs, each telling a different story. No two people share the same symptoms, with 14 people being diagnosed every day in the UK. This is reflected by lyricist Rory Sherman’s decision to work with 14 different teams of composers from across the globe. Each song offers a different perspective, inspired by real women who are affected by the disease, including wives, mothers, daughters, and carers, as well as the sufferers themselves.
With so many collaborators, there is a risk a work such as this may feel disjointed. However, Sherman links the different composers work together, making the album feel like a whole. Beautifully sung in its entirety, Ms. A Song Cycle is deeply compelling and powerful. And, when Hannah Ashenden comes in with the cello on a number of the songs, the music is all the more powerful for it, enriching the album and the stories being told.
The album is tender and heartfelt, but retains lighter more jovial moments for balance; soaring ballads are intertwined with up-tempo numbers. It is not melancholic, instead, tells us of everyday frustrations of work and relationships, as well as the helpful (or not so helpful) comments from people who mean well.
This album features a star cast of female vocalists, each perfectly cast to the song.How Can I Tell You sung by Julie Atherton takes us on a deeply emotional journey from the opening, and there is an intense feeling that this woman is somehow responsible for the hurt she is about to bring on another. Sung with great poignancy, the song resonates with its truth. Singing Mummy’s Not Well from a child’s point of view, Lauren Samuels tells the story of a young girl sent to live with her Aunt while her mother is ill. Remembering overheard conversations, the tempo speeds up as her frustration mounts. Unable to get answers; the truth is withheld from her “childish brain”.
What’s that Jim? by Olivier-winning composer George Stiles, is an upbeat, chatty and touching number sung by Caroline Quentin. Remarking on the little things in life, she has a supportive and healthy relationship with her loving husband. Everyone needs a Jim. Jodie Jacobs sings Perhaps I’m Stronger Than I Think, a song of empowerment and hope. Beginning with some advice from one woman with MS to another recently diagnosed, she describes how she found her strength and the will to keep going through the pain, as well as those moments of pure euphoria. My Son’s Secret sung by Josefina Gabrielleis a delightful and humorous story of a woman who discovers an alternative source of relief from the fever in her skin, the dysaesthesia – in the form of her son’s stash.
The lack of male voices is noticeable and perhaps missed from a purely audio perspective, however, since MS is more common (approximately two-three times) in women than in men, this can be excused. The album marks producer SimG’s 30th record release and being a concept album, the prospect of its development is exciting. A worthwhile purchase, it succeeds in raising awareness of this demyelinating disease, and it will make a welcome and moving addition to your musical theatre catalogue.
MS. A Song Cycle has been created in aid of MS Society UK and is available from SimG Records.