ON THE RECORD: Gone Missing and "Charles Sings Strouse"

On the Record   ON THE RECORD: Gone Missing and "Charles Sings Strouse"
This week's column discusses the cast album of the recent Off-Broadway musical Gone Missing plus, from the Library of Congress, "Charles Sings Strouse."

GONE MISSING [Ghostlight 8-4426]
Gone Missing, which opened on Barrow Street last June and extended its summertime run through year's end, must go under the category of unusual and unlikely musicals. The Civilians is one of those downtown theatre groups whose mission is to create what they call "investigative theatre." According to founder Steve Cosson, the goal is to "create new work by engaging a specific question or theme, and by doing interviews and research, delve into the complexity of the real world." This turns out to be a whole lot more entertaining than it might sound.

The Civilians first mounted Gone Missing in 2002, developing the show Off Off-Broadway, in London and elsewhere. As they devised new works, they continued to return to Gone Missing here and on tour, resulting in last summer's well-received stand in Greenwich Village. To describe the show is to raise skepticism, I'm afraid; it is more or less about things that are lost. A shoe, a rag-doll, a lover, etc. The tales are, not unnaturally, fragmented; something like A Chorus Line without Michael Bennett and James Kirkwood. (The official credits: "Created by the Company, Directed and Written by Steve Cosson from interviews by the Company.)

Even so, Gone Missing works; 75 minutes of charming and surprising material with flair, style and attitude. What might be the keystone of the piece is the score by Michael Friedman. There is not a great deal of it — the Ghostlight cast album contains ten tracks, one of the shortest in memory — but this is certainly an entertaining and interesting score. Friedman jumps from style to style, with numerous delightful touches along the way, and his lyrics are full of deft touches. One character sings "I'm an Etch a Sketch, but now I'm all shook up"; another, speaking of missing things, alludes to "what my nephew Chris just lost at his Bris." A boy named Chris with a Bris? These images fly by as fast as Friedman's music can carry them, but they keep us listening.

All told, the CD of Gone Missing can't be as fulfilling as the theatrical experience; too much of the piece has understandably gone missing on the recording. This CD is likely to be more fulfilling to people who saw the show, or will see the show in a future mounting. But interesting it is, and Mr. Friedman — whose musical Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson was produced last month in Los Angeles by the Center Theater Group at the Kirk Douglas — is clearly a composer/lyricist worth noticing.

Composer Charles Strouse seems to be all around town at the moment, with an Encores! presentation of Applause, a Lincoln Center Songbook concert and a reading of the as-yet-unproduced An American Tragedy within a fortnight. "Charles Sings Strouse," part of the Library of Congress' Songwriter Series, was released a year or so back by PS Classics, and this seems to be an opportune time to give it a listen. Strouse is turning 80 in June, which is certainly an accomplishment in itself but not all-too-rare in his particular circle. That circle consisting of, in order of appearance, the Messrs. Kander, Strouse, Bock, Schmidt and Sondheim — all of whom were born within a three-year period. (The late Cy Coleman was a member of the club as well.) That's a lot of great show tunes, coming from six boys born within months on either side of the 1929 stock-market crash.

The Strouse disc marks the seventh composer in the Library of Congress series. Because he is the first of his generation to be represented, this marks a different sort of collection. Rather than searching out old and rare recordings of Cole, Frank or Yip, this time the composer himself was able to do the digging from his own personal collection of audio tapes. What's more, he even pitched in by making a trip to the studio to record a couple of these "new" archival tracks.

The two-dozen selections run the course of the composer's long, still-in-progress career. There's a song from an unproduced 1957 musical based on Dickens' "Bleak House," and another from the hopefully upcoming Marty. The biggest of Strouse's song hits are included — they must be, mustn't they?, in a cavalcade of his career — but only four of them (namely "Put on a Happy Face, "Once Upon a Time, "Those Were the Days" and "Tomorrow"). Otherwise, we get a varied selection, including 15 or so that were either written for unproduced musicals or deleted and are thus virtually unknown. Lyrics come mostly from Lee Adams, naturally enough, with a few contributions from Martin Charnin and Strouse himself.

Thus, many of Strouse's song hits are missing from "Charles Sings Strouse." More to the point, many of his most beautiful songs — songs that I never tire of hearing — are not present either. These include "Baby, Talk to Me," "Night Song," "Lorna's Here," "While the City Sleeps," "There's Always One You Can't Forget," "Why Can't the World Go and Leave Us Alone?," "Is There Anything Better than Dancing?," "Blame It on the Summer Night" — and "Train in the Night," a song I only just heard at the Marymount College reading of An American Tragedy, and that I hope to get to hear again. Which, all told, makes quite a list.

(Steven Suskin is author of "Second Act Trouble," "Show Tunes" and the "Opening Night on Broadway" books. Prior "On the Record" columns can be accessed in the Features section of Playbill.com. He can be reached at Ssuskin@aol.com)

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