ON THE RECORD: Dream True and An All American Backer’s Audition

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23 Jul 2006

This week’s column discusses the “world premiere recording” of Ricky Ian Gordon and Tina Landau’s Dream True and an interesting backer’s audition for the Strouse and Adams musical All American.

DREAM TRUE [PS Classics PS 9641]
Back in the mid-1990s, people started talking about Broadway’s promising new composers: Jason Robert Brown, Ricky Ian Gordon, Michael John LaChiusa and Adam Guettel. Additional songwriters have come along in the interim, some of whom have achieved notable Broadway success (including David Yazbeck, Marc Shaiman, Jeanine Tesori and Lopez & Marx). But the original four, each with a very different but similarly adventurous musical theatre mind, still remain in some ways linked. They also seem to attract, and be attracted to, the same pool of excellent theatre singers.

The promising quartet quickly began appearing Off-Broadway. Brown was the first to make it to Broadway proper, with the controversial (and short-lived) musical Parade. LaChiusa next arrived with two controversial and short-lived musicals, Marie Christine and The Wild Party. (LaChiusa seems to have written more professionally produced musicals over the last decade than any writer extant, although most have been Off Broadway or regional.) Guettel was the first of the four to achieve full-scale artistic and commercial success, with The Light in the Piazza. All of which has left Mr. Gordon more or less out in the cold. His work includes the Off-Broadway musicals Dream True (produced by the Vineyard in 1999) and My Life with Albertine (produced at Playwrights Horizons in 2002), neither of which made much of a stir.

But now Dream True has lovingly and caringly been rescued from near oblivion with a studio cast recording from PS Classics. And, it’s a wonderful recording, revealing a score that obviously deserves repeated hearings. Dream True is a difficult show, admittedly; the action spans 40 years and — seemingly — almost as many different subjects and styles (which I suppose worked against the show in production). Even on the CD, it takes a bit of listening to. But the score has an impressive richness to it, which is sure to pay off for many listeners. Dream True is divided between pastoral Wyoming and the great metropolis; Gordon seems to be inspired by Copland, on the one hand, and the Bernstein of Trouble in Tahiti on the other. These are pretty good models, and Gordon comes up with some beautiful material.

Gordon shares credit with director-librettist-lyricist Tina Landau, who also provided direction, libretto and additional lyrics for Guettel’s Floyd Collins. Gordon wrote his own lyrics for two of the key songs, “Wyoming” and “We Will Always Walk Together.” Gordon and Landau are well matched, with the lyrics contributing to the aforementioned beauties of the score. Ted Sperling, whose name shows up in the credits of many a musical by Guettel, Yazbeck, Flaherty, Finn and LaChiusa, serves as musical director; Jonathan Tunick, who needs no introduction, has provided the effective orchestrations.

The score underwent various changes over the course of several versions (a developmental production at Duke University, a workshop at the Vineyard Theatre, a full production at the Vineyard and a 2004 concert). The cast has been assembled from the different incarnations, and what a cast! Brian d’Arcy James! Jason Danieley! Jessica Molaskey! Victoria Clark! Kelli O’Hara! Jeff McCarthy! They are all as good as you might expect them to be. So are the actors playing the young dreamers, Harrison Chad (from Caroline, or Change) and William Ullrich (from the revival of Nine). Molaskey’s “Finding Home,” Clark’s “He’s Gone,” O’Hara’s “God Is There,” Danieley’s “We Will Always Walk Together” and the title song are especially riveting. But try Dream True for yourself.

This CD is released by the not-for-profit wing of PS Classics. The recording has been financed in great part by the Shen Family Foundation, which has recently made a major grant which will — among other things — underwrite new work by composers Gordon, LaChiusa and Joseph Thalken. (People outside the business would be utterly depressed to learn how little theatre writers earn from one of these non-commercial musicals, which makes the Shen grant a very big deal, indeed.) Prominently listed in second position among the underwriters of the CD, it seems worth mentioning, is John Kander. After listening to the Dream True CD, consider what a loss it would be to us all were it to remain on the shelf, forever unrecorded.


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