ON THE RECORD: Flaherty's Loving Repeating, Coward's Conversation Piece and Drowsy on LP

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18 Feb 2007

This week's column discusses Stephen Flaherty and Frank Galati's Gertrude Stein musical, Loving Repeating; the Noel Coward-Richard Burton recording of Conversation Piece; and the LP release of The Drowsy Chaperone.


Composer Stephen Flaherty and director Frank Galati — who previously teamed for the celebrated Ragtime and the not-so-celebrated Seussical — came together once again for Loving Repeating, a free-form musical based on the rhymes of that pre-Seussian linguistic trailblazer, Gertrude Stein. Galati, professor of performance studies at Northwestern University, conceived the idea of a musical from the words of Stein, inviting Flaherty to join him.

The piece premiered at the Northwestern campus in Evanston in May 2003, under the title A Long Gay Book. The revised version, Loving Repeating, was produced by Chicago's About Face Theatre (one of the pre-New York originators of I Am My Own Wife) and the Museum of Contemporary Art in February 2006. The show recently won the 2006 Joseph Jefferson Award for Best New Musical. Jay Records, which has brought us four cast albums of Flaherty musicals — including two intriguing and not-to-be-overlooked Off-Broadway titles, A Man of No Importance and Dessa Rose — has just released the original Chicago cast album.

A musical derived from the words of Gertrude Stein is, needless to say, likely to have — at the least — odd lyrics. Stein's lyrics are, yes, unusual; and they don't necessarily make a lot of sense. (One of the highlights is a lyrical mini-opera called "“As a Wife Has a Cow." And yes, it is quite a delight!) One might imagine that Flaherty has his hands tied working with Ms. Stein, as what can a tunesmith do but follow the words? This turns out not to be the case; Flaherty's muse seems to have been set free by Stein's verses. He runs the gamut of musical styles here. If the numbers don't fall easily into song patterns, the composer has his own little field day.

Fans of Ragtime will find a good deal of material in the vein of that musical (as the two share the same era). There is also a wedding dance seemingly out of Flaherty's Dublin-set musical, plus at least a couple of wildly delightful numbers ("The Fifteenth of October" and "Miss Furr and Miss Skeene") that share the flights-of-melodic-fancy last heard in the environs of Whoville.

The piece is performed by a cast of eight, backed by a five-piece orchestra led by musical director Tom Murray. Flaherty himself wrote the orchestrations, in collaboration with Brad Haak (musical director of the Evanston production). The cast is led by Cindy Gold as the authoress; if the cast album is any evidence, she is the centerpiece of the piece. Christine Mild plays the young Gertrude, with Jenny Powers is the celebrated Alice B.

What kind of future is in store for Loving Repeating? Well, there is a built-in risk in building a musical on early 20th century poetry. Although it didn't seem to hurt Cats. (T.S. Eliot, as it happens, makes a cameo appearance in the Stein story.) One can hope for the piece to turn up at more adventurous regionals, as well as festivals and progressive universities. In Loving Repeating we have an inventive and delightful — if somewhat nonaccessible — chamber musical, full of happy and highly accessible tunes from Mr. Flaherty.


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