Monday, July 29, 2013

Six Songs Is All You Need, Part 1

Taking a brief hiatus from Fine, Fine Line, this segment of Musical Mondays is called:

Six Songs Is All You Need
Each new segment, I take a rather hefty musical theatre cast recording and narrow it down to the six most essential songs that you need to listen to get an idea of the show. I try to pick songs based on musical construction, aesthetics (meaning I lean more towards songs that can stand apart from the narrative of the show), or eschewing that somewhat, I go towards particularly poignant character development or lyrical content, meaning you may get more out of the song if you see it in the show first, but out of context, it's still pretty good. Basically, whatever can showcase the musical in its best light possible, while not necessarily enticing you to listen to the entire recording if you don't want to. 

Today's musical is:

Children of Eden
Last week, I covered "Defying Gravity" from Wicked as part of Fine, Fine Line and I wanted to touch on another Stephen Schwartz musical while I'm at it.
The Old Testament pop synth musical came around in that weird time just before 2001, and was one of the musicals that showed promise but never really managed a Broadway production. For all intents and purposes, it's an interesting take on the two stories, that of Adam & Eve and Noah and the Flood, and much more substantial than something like Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, but it's occasionally difficult to relate to the characters and the show often feels overly long.
The cast recording weighs in at 2 discs, with 37 total tracks. 

I'll try and trim the fat a bit. Here are the 
Six Songs You Need from Children of Eden

1.) Track #7: "Spark of Creation"
This could be the most obvious evidence for CoE's flaws. The first song of want in the show is seven tracks in, after a lengthy opening number and a couple not so great incidental numbers. 
This song is about character development, and is about desire. On the original recording it's Stephanie Mills, who brings this interesting vocal quality to Eve, who was born with the "desire to create" within her. 
It's a fascinating concept: the rebellious spirit that eventually leads us to the Fall is somewhat of a godlike quality that makes us relate to the Father even more so than we might have imagined. 
With the exception of a few lyrical weaknesses, the number is fantastic. I always enjoy a driving, upbeat number full of urgency and at the same time introspective insight.
This is my favorite, Natalie Weiss, performing the song in concert.

2.) Track #15: "Lost in the Wilderness"
Speaking of songs of want with a driving rhythm backbone, the song, sung by Cain, is probably the best number to come from the show. Besides the inimitable voice of Darius de Haas, the number is a logical extension of "Spark of Creation" as well as furthering the continued divide between the father and sons, a recurring theme throughout the show.
I think it's the most earnest of Schwartz's numbers in the show. I prefer Cain's character to Adam's throughout. It seems to be a more well-rounded character, and Abel provides a more interesting foil.
I'll let the man himself do the song he does best. It's even better on the cast recording with the arrangement. This is Darius de Haas at a benefit concert performance of CoE:

3.) Track #17: "A Ring of Stones"
An odd choice to some, but as a storytelling piece, I think it's the strongest, much better than "Piece of Eight", or "In Pursuit of Excellence." I also think it's really great for a group number. This is the dissolution of the family. We watch Cain fight with Adam, Adam fight with Eve, and Abel torn in the middle of it all. It's intriguing.
I think it's hard for musicals to pull off a number that involves more than one character that furthers story but functions as a stand-alone piece. You can gather a basic idea of what's happening here, and it's both heartbreaking and compelling.
My favorite line: "And look what we got, look where it brought us...Look at the lesson our bravery taught us..."

4.) Track #20: "Children of Eden"
The finale song of the first act, as well as the first disc, is awesome, and should've been the ending to the entire show. As it is, it's a great arc for Eve, who is accepted back by the Father following her death at the end of the first act. It's redemption, it's reconciliation, and it's growing up. With age comes perspective. The number's one of the slower ones in the show, but it functions like "In the Beginning" (the actual finale), and "Let There Be", the opening number. And I think this number is a better representation of this type of song in the show.

5.) Track #7, Disc #2: "In Whatever Time We Have"
CoE sports two love duets, and between this and "A World Without You", it's an easy choice.This one I think is better written, it's coming from a place honest to the characters, and it's bittersweetness is felt more than the Adam and Eve song. I think "World" has one good line in it, but this is just a better song overall. I've heard countless pairs sing it. This is one of my favorites: Shoshana Bean and Matthew Morrison.

6.) Track #15, Disc #2: "Ain't It Good?"
If "Children of Eden" couldn't be the end of the show, then "Ain't It Good" just has to close it. It fits better with the second act's jazzier feel, starting with "Generations" and going all the way through. "Ain't It Good" is just a fantastic vehicle for Stephanie Mills' voice on the original recording, and it's just a great, spirited number. After centuries of wandering, a century away from the father, and months on water, with the prospect of never seeing dry land again, the family steps off the Ark and for the first time, they embrace their humanity and are grateful for what they have. Throughout the show, the characters strive for guidance and a return to the Garden, a way home, while longing for more, for exploration and free roaming. This is the song where they actually embrace their new roles as independent people in the world. As Mother Noah says to her husband, "You must be the Father now," and this is the number where they become the new family.

Missed the Mark:
Some people will be sad to see "Stranger to the Rain" off the list.
And that's honestly a personal call for me: I've never enjoyed the number, in or out of context. And I don't think it represents the show better than "Spark" or "Wilderness." It's just not a particularly remarkable song, and it's hard to connect to the character of Yonah to warrant that solo. Your mileage may vary, but it's just not a standout number for me.