ON THE RECORD: Audra's Marie and A Leap of Faith

News   ON THE RECORD: Audra's Marie and A Leap of Faith MARIE CHRISTINE (RCA Victor 09025-63593)
Michael John LaChiusa's Marie Christine was somewhat indecipherable in the theatre, to me at least. Knowing Lincoln Center Theater's André Bishop, Bernie Gersten and Ira Weitzman, I imagined that there was a lot more to the piece than apparent at the Vivian Beaumont last winter. The CD of Marie Christine makes it abundantly clear: this is a fine, deeply textured score.

MARIE CHRISTINE (RCA Victor 09025-63593)
Michael John LaChiusa's Marie Christine was somewhat indecipherable in the theatre, to me at least. Knowing Lincoln Center Theater's André Bishop, Bernie Gersten and Ira Weitzman, I imagined that there was a lot more to the piece than apparent at the Vivian Beaumont last winter. The CD of Marie Christine makes it abundantly clear: this is a fine, deeply textured score.

The high points in the theatre -- most of which came, for me, in the second act -- are as vibrant as remembered. The surprise here is that the long, troublesome stretch of the first act -- from "Way Back to Paradise" to the riveting "Bird Inside the House" -- is far more varied and distinctive than it appeared to be from the eighth row. LaChiusa switches styles and mood throughout, making his score continually interesting. Much of the writing comes in fragmented snatches, which ultimately add up to reward the listener.

Highlights include Marie's "Beautiful," "We're Gonna Go to Chicago", the Act 1 Finale, "Cincinnati," "You're Looking at the Man," "Paradise Is Burning Down," and "Prison in a Prison." But this score grows richer the more you listen to it.

Audra McDonald, as usual, gives a fine performance. But the reason to get this recording is not the singer, but the score - which sounds absolutely splendid. Jonathan Tunick does his customarily fine job, LaChiusa giving him plenty to work with; so does musical director David Evans (and on-stage drummer David Pleasant). Leading man Anthony Crivello is harder to judge; I suppose I'd like his CD performance more had I not seen him in the theatre. I don't fault the actor for the performance; perhaps it was the combination of material and characterization that made his Dante Keyes uninvolving. Of the others, Mary Testa stands out (as she did in the theatre). Shawn Elliott and his two henchman do especially well in their chilling second act sequence ("Good Looking Woman").

So how does one explain the fate of Marie Christine on Broadway? There is a time and place to examine that perplexing question, but this is not it. Let's just say that if you enjoy complex, ultra musical scores -- like Sweeney Todd, The Golden Apple, Regina, The Most Happy Fella, and Passion -- then I suspect you will find yourself listening to Marie Christine again and again.

FAITH PRINCE: A Leap of Faith (DRG 91460)
Musical comedy actress Faith Prince made an excursion into the world of cabaret last September, with an act at Joe's Pub (at The Public Theatre). A Leap of Faith was a winner -- as saluted by reviewers in Variety and the Times -- and has now been pressed on disc.

Prince is a rare talent in that she can act and she can sing, she can clown and she can make you cry. She is best known for her Tony Award-winning Adelaide in the 1992 revival of Guys and Dolls, for the not illogical reason that it has been her only successful, long-running show to date. She has also appeared, memorably, in Jerome Robbins' Broadway, where she was a delectable Tessie Tura in the Gypsy sequence; Falsettoland, where she moved audiences to tears as Trina; Nick & Nora, in which she played an outspoken corpse who was kicked across the stage, again and again and again; as a replacement in the 1996 revival of The King and I, where she made a surprisingly warm Mrs. Anna; and in the misguided 1998 revision of Little Me. She has just finished another non-comedy role, in James Joyce's The Dead.

This is not simply a string of somewhat related songs, like many of the cabaret CDs which turn up; the material is very much personal to Prince's life and talents. Included is a fairly uproarious tale about doing On a Clear Day with Jack Jones, one of those onstage nightmare stories theatre people love to swap after hours. It holds up to repeated hearings, with Prince delivering "Hurry! It's Lovely Up Here!" and "What Did I Have that I Don't Have" in the process. Other highlights include a swinging version of "If I Were a Bell"; Prince's rendition of the Mary Rodgers-Stephen Sondheim "The Boy from. . ."; and two interesting songs by Larry Grossman and Ellen Fitzhugh, "Animal in the Pit" and "I Do What I Can with What I Got," the latter from the yet-to-reach-Broadway musical Paper Moon.

Prince is well supported by pianist/arranger Alex Rybeck and bassist Jered Egan. Her husband, trumpeter Larry Lunetta -- who usually does his playing in a Broadway orchestra pit -- is featured in one of the anecdotes and comes in to play "The Man with a Horn" and a couple of other tracks.

-- Steven Suskin, author of the new Third Edition of "Show Tunes" (now available from Oxford University Press) and the "Opening Night on Broadway" books (from Schirmer). You can E-mail him at Ssuskin@aol.com