ON THE RECORD: Lesser-Known Guettel and LaChiusa in "A Shining Truth," Plus Neil Patrick Harris in "Batman"

On the Record   ON THE RECORD: Lesser-Known Guettel and LaChiusa in "A Shining Truth," Plus Neil Patrick Harris in "Batman"

We listen to "A Shining Truth," a collection of premiere recordings of songs by LaChiusa, Guettel and emerging musical songwriters, and the soundtrack of the animated cartoon "Batman: Mayhem of the Music Meister!"


From Nigel Richards, a British singer-actor with an interest in serious new musical theatre work, comes a self-produced CD. "A Shining Truth" mixes contemporary songs by Michael John LaChiusa and Adam Guettel with pieces from nine mostly British composers and lyricists whose work is unknown to me. Mr. Richards sees this collection as a "love-letter to great and authentic writing." While "great and authentic" remain to be seen, the 14 tracks — all but one of which has apparently never been recorded — are for the most part quite interesting. This is a CD that you want to immediately listen to again; it also might well make you curious to hear more songs from the musicals from which the selections derive. The inclusion of LaChiusa and Guettel is easily explainable; Richards appeared at the Bridewell in the U.K. premieres of Hello Again (as the Senator) and in the title role of Floyd Collins. (He also appeared in the U.K. debuts of Bernstein's Mass; Maltby and Shire's Baby; Jason Robert Brown's Songs for a New World; and Tom Waits' The Black Rider, none of which are represented on the CD.) The LaChiusa selections — all of which were heard in the Bridewell revue LaLaLaChiusa — are immediately interesting, to me at least. "Tom Sawyer," in which Walt Whitman dreams that he is visited by Twain's hero, comes from a musicalization of Peter Parnell's 1984 play Romance Language. "If There Is a Heaven" was written for Queenie to sing in The Wild Party. And "Pointy's Lament" comes from The Petrified Prince, that fascinating LaChiusa-Hal Prince-Rob Marshall piece which had a brief run at the Public in late 1994. (This song is about a Cardinal who has fallen in love with his Pope.)

Guettel is represented by "An She'd Have Blue Eyes," a section of Floyd Collins that was not included on the cast album. Richards also sings "How Glory Goes," the one previously-recorded selection on "A Shining Truth," which indicates that he made a fine Floyd.

These five tracks are enough to make this CD of interest. It is the others, though — from songwriters with whom many readers are likely to be unfamiliar — that are at once intriguing and promising. These include "Butterfly" from The GoBetween, by Richard Taylor; "Death in the Clouds" from Six Pictures of Lee Miller, by Jason Carr (orchestrator of this season's reduced A Little Night Music and La Cage aux Folles); "Sian" from Tilting at Windmills, a contemporary telling of "Don Quixote," by Tim Sutton; "Never Look Back" from Silas Mariner, by Howard Goodall; "Picture Lullaby" from Goodnight Mr. Tom, by Gary Carpenter and Michelle Magorian; "The Good-Bye Song" from Life? or Theatre?, by Gary Fagin and Elise Thoron; "What Kind of a Life Is This, Masha?" from The Young Pornographer's Wife, by Conor Mitchell; "Cloths of Heaven" from The Yeats Cycle, by Tim Williams; and "The Lady of the Sea" from The Mysteries of Harris Burdick, by Chris Miller and Nathan Tysen. This is an eclectic group, certainly; but a fascinating one. Mr. Richards seems dedicated to giving a hearing to present-day theatre composers. He has done a great favor to those represented on "A Shining Truth"; they not only get a showcase here, their songs are well-chosen, well-performed, and leave us wanting more.

It has taken me a while to get around to the soundtrack of "Mayhem of the Music Meister!," a special musical comedy-style episode of the current "Batman, The Brave and the Bold" animated TV series. This episode featured Neil Patrick Harris as said Music Meister, a villain who's singing can stop civilians (i.e. non-musical theatre people) in their tracks. A funny idea, and done with style; said style being one of great humor. Mr. Harris, whose musical comedy talents are already well appreciated, does a wonderful job. He is joined by Grey DeLisle as his love interest, Black Canary. The songs are by composers Michael McCuistion, Lolita Ritmanis, and Kristopher Carter; the lyrics come from Michael Jelenic and James Tucker, all of whom have a good feel for the work at hand. The CD has but eight tracks, clocking in at a mere 19 minutes; that being the case, you might want to purchase it track-by-track, starting with Harris leading "I'm the Music Meister." Fun. (Steven Suskin is author of the forthcoming updated and expanded Fourth Edition of "Show Tunes" as well as "The Sound of Broadway Music: A Book of Orchestrators and Orchestrations," "Second Act Trouble" and the "Opening Night on Broadway" books. He can be reached at Ssuskin@aol.com.)

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