My e-mailbag recently contained a note from a young composer — an ardent reader of this column, he said — urging me to listen to the new CD of a not-quite-off-Broadway musical he wrote. This is a not uncommon occurrence; as usual, I replied that my column space was limited (which it is) but that I would try to get around to it. The fact is, the press agent for the recording had a week earlier also urged me to listen to it; not simply because he was representing it, but because he himself loved it. So I already had it near the top of the stack.
I listened to the CD, which — I'm afraid — hurt my ears. If you know what I mean. This composer has some very good ideas, I think, and his lyrics contained provocative and intelligent images; but the music was loud and abrasive, so much so that I decided not to review it. (A review would have meant listening to it another couple of times.) I have a hunch that this fellow might well be talented; perhaps the harsh style of the music was dictated by the subject matter of his show, which I didn't see during its brief run. I will certainly give him another chance the next time 'round, but this particular musical is not one that I can recommend.
Immediately thereafter — like the next day — came another e-mail from another young composer. Urging me to listen to his cast album, adding that as a longtime reader he was sure I would like it. I gave him the same answer and trepidatiously — if that be a word — dropped the CD into my computer. It turns out, the guy was right.
Calvin Berger had been on my try-to-see list when it was produced at the George Street Playhouse in New Brunswick, NJ, in February 2010. (This followed two preliminary productions, the first at Gloucester Stage in 2006 and the second under the guidance of William Finn at Barrington Stage in 2007.) A youth-oriented retelling of Cyrano de Bergerac, the George Street production had attracted director-choreographer Kathleen Marshall (between The Pajama Game and Anything Goes) and an A-list production team including set designer Derek McLane, costume designer Martin Pakledinaz, and orchestator Douglas Besterman.
This, in turn, attracted me to the extent that I intended to trek out to New Jersey, but something or other intervened and I never did get through the tunnel. I vaguely recall a favorable reception at George Street, but hopes of a New York transfer were dashed. And that was the last I heard of Calvin Berger until the e-mail from Barry Wyner.
Who this Barry Wyner was, I didn't know. A BMI Workshop writer, he won both the Jerry Bock and Richard Rodgers Awards for Calvin Berger. (Bock and Rodgers are good company, seems to me, for a budding composer.) He also won the Kleban Prize. So, I suppose it is fair to say that his work had already attracted attention, at least in some circles. It didn't take me long to discover what the Bock and Rodgers and Kleban administrators already knew.
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