Music and Lyrics: Andrew Fisher
Book: Andrew Fisher and Nick Stimson
With Jesus Christ Superstar making a mark again this year as the production that officially reopened London’s theatres after the first lockdown, the impending end of the year is a useful time to reset and go back to the beginning. Andrew Fisher and Nick Stimson do just that with the release of their cast recording for new musical Gabriel available this week from SimG Records and which takes us back to the Christmas story, putting the elusive Angel Gabriel at its heart.
Arguably this is the best-known story of all time, certainly in the Christian world; a young couple, Mary and Joseph, learn they are expecting a baby out of wedlock only the father is God and the Angel Gabriel has come to earth to break the news. After a hasty marriage, the couple set off for Bethlehem where tributes pour in from Kings and shepherds alike: only Herod refuses to be usurped and determines to murder the newly born son of God.
Fisher and Stimson have developed a not quite sung-through show that draws on different musical styles from around the world in the creation of 26 individual songs that make up the two-Act Gabriel. Like Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, the cast recording proves to be an eclectic mix of Gospel, jazz, French ballads, Busby Berkley showtunes, Egyptian trills and doo wop, all of which creates both musical and narrative distinction between the songs.
The trajectory may be familiar, but the storytelling is evocative and clear, considering the psychological burden of the leads after Gabriel delivers the news and in the dangerous aftermath of Jesus’ birth, as well as expanding beyond the holy family to give songs to the Shepherds, Three Kings, Herod and Gabriel himself who also acts as a narrator of sorts, summarising and guiding events throughout.
With multiple voices and the grand style of many of the tunes, it is very easy to picture how this could look onstage with big soulful-gospel number like I Bring Word and The Wedding lending themselves to showy dance-choreography, glittering costumes and multiple voices. But equally effective would be the contrasting numbers including Joseph’s Mary, a dark and intriguing, interior-focused solo that asks why the couple are being punished and shamed by the ever-silent God. Later, the couple wonder Why Choose Me as they feel overwhelmed by their role in ‘changing history for all time’ without understanding what is expected of them.
Most of the songs are 3-4 minutes long and while the story is easy to follow in the first Act, a couple of the numbers in the second require a little more explanation as the tale follows the flight to Egypt. Gabriel’s One Day and Heaven’s Plan’s a Mystery seem a little pointless in an otherwise purposefully constructed show, there to give Gabriel something to say in the second half, although perhaps in performance additional aspects of the book not captured here will provide a little more context.
Daniel Boys is the inaugural Gabriel and while we don’t get much sense of Gabriel as an independent character, Boys sings the different styles with ease. Lauren Samuels’ Mary gets surprisingly little to do despite being the mother of God, although presumably her visible presence would be considerable onstage, while Stuart Matthew Price as Joseph really digs into his character’s conflict. The villains are also very entertaining, adding just the right amount of light and shade, with the deep tones of David Bedella’s Herod being particularly enjoyable in Bow Down and Political Necessity.
With its varied musical stylings and dramatic storyline, Gabriel should be quite the spectacle if and when it can be fully staged. Fisher and Stimson’s approach shares songs among the characters so doesn’t entirely tell the story from Gabriel’s perspective but as a purely musical experience, this cast recording gathers in confidence as the story takes shape, bringing a feeling of both celebration and insight to the Christmas story.