Sound Advice by Joseph Molnar HomePastAbout
After the Fair

With 1999 coming to a close it has become apparent that it has been another weak year for new American musicals. As a result, there haven't been too many exciting cast recordings to come out this year. One of few good recordings is the new cast album of After the Fair. After the Fair made its New York debut earlier this year at the York theater after trying out at regional theaters across the country, picking up a few awards along the way.

After the FairAfter the Fair is based on a short story called On the Western Circuit by Thomas Hardy. It tells the tale of a pretty young maid, Ann, who, while attending a local fair, meets and falls in love with a young barrister from London. She lives in the country and he must return to the city the day after the fair. So they correspond by letters, but there is one problem, Anna can't read or write. So in order not to lose what could be the love of her life she has her mistress, Edith, write the letters for her. To further complicate things her mistress is unhappy in her marriage and ends up falling in love with the young barrister.

Ever since I received my copy of After the Fair I have found myself listening to it more than any other musical theater CD released this year. One can't help but get caught up in this romantic triangle. Stephen Cole (book & lyrics) and Matthew Ward (music) are responsible for this charming musical. Mr. Ward's music is melodic and often resembles that of Stephen Sondheim. Many of today's writers try to mimic Sondheim and all are not successful. Mr. Ward does not just mimic Sondheim; he adds his own style. Today's writers try to write music that is cerebral without heart and almost no melody. Mr. Ward manages to write music that is both intelligent and tuneful. There are almost no stand-alone numbers in this show yet they are humable and very memorable. Each song is more like a little scene and one would get the feeling that this is an operetta not a book musical. You can easily follow the action and that is due to Mr. Cole's exquisite lyrics. His lyrics are not merely functional, they are poetic. He seems fond of using words with double meanings - for example in the title tune Anna says "to call it a fair, just ain't fair" and later in "This is Not the End" Edith sings - "he'll write and he'll right the wrong." These are just two examples of a few of my favorite passages. The orchestrations by David Siegel for the small quartet of players compliments the score perfectly.

This is an intimate musical with a cast of only four. In the role of the young maid, Jennifer Piech, fresh from starring in Titanic on Broadway, gets to display more of her talent and shows us that she is headed for bigger and better things. Michele Pawk, a Broadway vet of over 10 years finally gets to originate a starring role of her own, and judging from her performance here and in the theater, it is long overdue. She gets to show off a lovely soprano voice that has only been heard briefly on her previous cast albums. In the thankless role of her stuffy husband is David Staller who brings a certain vulnerability to the role. Rounding out the quartet, as the young cad with whom Anna falls in love with, is James Ludwig who also appeared in another small off-Broadway musical a few years back, john & jen. He is perfectly cast as the charming young man who changes from a cad into a young man who takes responsibility for his actions.

Varese Sarabande has done an impressive job capturing this show on CD and it ranks as one of their best ever. Thanks to them this show should have a long life in regional theaters across the country. Plans are already afoot for a production in London in the Spring of 2000 where it should be a success.

That's all for this column. 'Til next time, happy listening!

-- Joseph Molnar





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