Friday, February 18, 2011

Album Review - Weird Romance: Two One-Act Musicals of Speculative Fiction [Masterworks Broadway]

By Sherry Shaffer

Weird Romance, which debuted in 1992 at the WPA Theater, is actually two one-act musicals under a main title. The Girl Who Was Plugged In and Her Pilgrim Soul are both science fiction stories that deal with love, reincarnation, and memory. The Girl Who Was Plugged In is about a homeless woman who is convinced by a company who “manufactures” celebrities to allow her mind to be transferred into a new, perfect body. She learns a new life and falls in love with the son of one of the executives. When she tries to confess that she is not what she seems, her soul is taken from the body and replaced with another. Her Pilgrim Soul focuses on a scientist who is developing full, three-dimensional holograms. One day, the hologram of a baby appears in his lab and begins to rapidly grow into a woman. The scientist becomes obsessed with the holographic woman and discovers himself while researching her.

Alan Menken (best known for Little Shop of Horrors and various Disney hits) and David Spencer wrote the music and lyrics, with Alan Brennert as the book writer. Brennert adapted Her Pilgrim Soul from his own short story; The Girl is taken from another writer’s work. Ellen Greene, Jonathan Hadary, Sal Viviano, Danny Burstein, Jessica Molaskey, Valarie Pettiford, and Eric Riley make up the cast of both halves and are featured on the original cast album.

Reviews of the show were tepid, especially for the first act, The Girl, but has since achieved a bit of a cult following. Listening to the album, I could understand why most of the praise went to the second half, Her Pilgrim Soul. The Girl has some good moments and the songs are pleasant enough. (Critics did not like the staging and felt the characters were restrictive, something that isn’t a consideration if all you’re doing is listening to the album.) Ellen Greene gets some nice mileage out of “Feeling No Pain” and “Stop and See Me”, but it’s almost like Menken saved the really good stuff for Brennert’s story. Or maybe the story itself is just more romantic – The Girl comes off more as a cautionary tale – fitting the style of music better. The mix of explanatory, comic, and romantic songs gives you the gist without having to see the show. I listened to this with little background, but was able to get the full reach of the story just through the music – I looked up a complete synopsis later. Danny Burstein’s comic turn as the lab assistant with “Need to Know” is catchy, light and very funny. Ellen Greene as the hologram and Jonathan Hadary as the scientist darn near brought me to tears during the final duet, “Someone is Waiting.”

The cast of Weird Romance is made up of strong voices who sing with emotion and bring out the best in the songs. (Ignore the opening number, “Weird Romance” and you’ll feel much better about the whole show. It’s jarring and doesn’t fit in with the rest of the score at all.) I enjoyed this album. It’s not as funny as Little Shop of Horrors or as jubilantly romantic as Beauty and the Beast, but it’s well-written with a few numbers that will pleasantly stay with you and have you humming the refrain.

Weird Romance: Two One-Act Musicals of Speculative Fiction
Release Date: November 30, 2010
Label: Masterworks Broadway

Performers: Danny Burstein (Daniel, Fan, Technician, Reporters), Ellen Greene (P. Burke, Nola), Jonathan Hadary (Isham, Kevin), Marguerite MacIntyre (Delphi, Fan, Susan), Jessica Molaskey (Carol, Fan, Voice Coach, Technician, Voice), Valarie Pettiford (Shannara, Rebecca, Make-up Specialist, Technician), Eric Riley (Zanth, Movement Coach, Technician, George Lester), Sal Viviano (Paul, Johnny Beaumont), William Youmans (Joe, Chuck, John Ruskin)

Conductor, Keyboard I: Kathy Sommer
Associate Conductor, Keyboard II: Garth Roberts
Bass: Steve Mack
Drums, Percussion: Ray Grappone
Synthesizer Programming: Douglas Besterman
Orchestrations by Douglas Besterman
Musical Direction and Vocal Arrangements by Kathy Somme

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