Dessa Rose Will Sing on Cast Recording by JAY Records

News   Dessa Rose Will Sing on Cast Recording by JAY Records
The score of Dessa Rose, Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty's new musical about two women who come of age in Civil War times, will be recorded by JAY Records for future release on two CDs, record producer John Yap told
La Chanze in Dessa Rose
La Chanze in Dessa Rose Photo by Joan Marcus

The company of the current Lincoln Center Theater world premiere — including La Chanze in the title role, and Rachel York as fellow traveler Ruth — goes into the recording studio May 2.

"We hope to record the complete show, the score — underscoring and dances — and the book intact," Yap said.

Dessa Rose will be the fourth Flaherty and Ahrens score preserved by JAY (the fifth for Ahrens if one includes the soundtrack of TV's "A Christmas Carol"). Those discs include Once on This Island (original London cast), A Man of No Importance (original Off-Broadway cast) and Lucky Stiff (original cast of The York Theatre concert production).

Although Once on This Island tells its story mostly in song, the Off-Broadway production of Dessa Rose shows off sung-though, folk opera qualities that mark new musical and textual territory for composer Flaherty and lyricist Ahrens. Lynn Ahrens also wrote the libretto, based on the novel by the late Sherley Anne Williams.

"Dessa Rose is probably my most ambitious music to date and it would have been a hard score to pare down to a single disc since its musical structures are more adventurous and involved than those in a traditional musical," Flaherty told April 11. Of its form, Flaherty said, "I was very excited when I first saw Lynn Ahrens' original libretto for the first act in that it read like an opera. While we had always enjoyed working collaboratively, I found it exhilarating to take her script and focus on the music by myself. It suggested opera-like qualities and so I approached it as an opera composer might, and found the compositional process very exciting, a new way of writing for me."

He continued, "Perhaps as a result of this new way of working, Dessa Rose took on an unexpected form. It is comprised of a series of extended musical sequences that weave in and out of spoken scene material and build upon one another. It has the large emotional gestures of an epic tale but is told in a more intimate way. An epic in closeup."

Is he OK with the term "folk opera"?

"It became a chamber-sized American folk opera with a score inspired by the sounds of the deep South: folk and gospel, hymns, fiddle and banjo tunes and other traditional sounds, as well as a lot of layered and textured vocals — the ensemble acting as a kind of vocal orchestra."

This is Flaherty's fifth collaboration with orchestrator Bill Brohn after Ragtime, A Man of No Importance the concert piece With Voices Raised and additional work on the film "Anastasia," and his second with orchestrator Chris Jahnke.

"Their work is so fresh and original and I can't wait to capture it on disc," the composer said.

David Holcenberg is musical director.


La Chanze plays the title role, a rebellious runaway slave, and Rachel York is a woman who helps her in Dessa Rose, which opened at Lincoln Center Theater's Mitzi Newhouse March 21 after previews from Feb. 17.

Graciela Daniele directed and choreographed.

Also in the cast are Michael Hayden, as a journalist who tries to tell Dessa's story; Norm Lewis as a runaway slave who forms bonds with both LaChanze and York's characters; Rebecca Eichenberger, Tina Fabrique, David Hess, Kecia Lewis, William Parry, Soara-Joye Ross, James Stovall and Eric Jordan Young.

The musical has sets by Loy Arcenas, costumes by Toni Leslie-James, lighting by Jules Fisher and Peggy Eisenhauer, sound by Scott Lehrer, musical direction by David Holcenberg and orchestrations by William David Brohn and Christopher Jahnke.

The show begins with the ensemble singing "We are descended from a long line of women." Two of those women are Dessa Rose and Ruth, the abandoned white wife of a Southern plantation owner and gambler. Following an attack on her slave-owning master, Dessa is sold off along with some other slaves. She escapes, however, inciting a rebellion that leaves several white people dead. She's caught, and interviewed by a writer named Adam Nehemiah, who hopes to publish a sensational book on the "devil woman," but escapes once more. On the run, the company find the home of Ruth, who, in her husband's long absence, has lost control of who lives on her property. Slowly, Ruth becomes sympathetic to the plight of Dessa and her compatriots and agrees to help them—even though Dessa herself shows an undisguised dislike for her hostess.

The work has been in development since 2001. LaChanze has always been attached to it. In early workshops, Donna Murphy played the Ruth role.

In the past, Lincoln Center Theater has produced such Ahrens and Flaherty works as My Favorite Year and A Man of No Importance.

Ahrens and Flaherty worked with Daniele on Once on This Island and Ragtime.

Dessa Rose is one of two original musicals to play LCT this season. The other is Adam Guettel and Craig Lucas' The Light in the Piazza.

Performances play Tuesday-Saturday evenings at 8 PM and Sunday evenings at 7 PM, with matinees Wednesday and Sunday at 2 PM. Tickets are priced at $70-$75 and are available at the Lincoln Center Theater box office, via at (212) 239-6200 or by visiting

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