Past Reviews

Sound Advice

When one thinks of the new breed of musical theater composers, the names Jason Robert Brown, Adam Guettel, Stephen Flaherty, Michael John LaChuisa, and Jeanine Tesori are just a few of the names that come to mind. Well I would like to add one to that list — Christopher McGovern. "Who?", you ask? Christopher McGovern is the composer and lyricist (along with Amy Powers) of the new musical Lizzie Borden and he is a talent to keep your eye on.

As you may gather from the title, Lizzie Borden is based on the true story of the Massachusetts woman who murdered both her father and stepmother. Before this show came along the only thing I knew about Miss Borden was the popular rhyme, - "Lizzie Borden took an axe, gave her mother 40 wacks, etc., etc." Well, in this show you will really get to know Lizzie. You learn that she had a few problems - her family was well to do and her father was thrifty to the point of miserly, a trait which Lizzie resented. She desperately wanted to fit into the local high society despite his penny-pinching. Lizzie also hated her stepmother, who seemed determined to have Lizzie removed from her father's will. All of this and more led to the assumption that Lizzie did, indeed, kill her father and stepmother. Lizzie Borden received its World Premiere at The American Stage Company on October 31, 1998 and was recorded by Original Cast records.

Christopher McGovern has created a compelling chamber musical that is tuneful and never gets too dreary despite the dark tone of the piece. There are extended musical scenes such as "Prologue/Even for August" (which sets up the story very nicely); lovely ballads like "House on the Hill" (in which Lizzie expresses her desire to live a better life), "Fly Away" (a song that Lizzie sings with her younger self) and the devastating "I Cry Alone"; and the acerbic number "The Maggie Work" (in which the maid expresses her anger). Though it isn't sung-through, the story is fairly easy to follow even if you don't read the synopsis, which is included in the booklet. This show is for musical theater fans who like their musicals a bit on the dark side. Think of Lizzie as the love-child of Sweeney Todd and Marie Christine except Lizzie hasn't murdered as many people.

Carrying most of the score, in the lead role of Lizzie Borden, is Tony Award nominee, Alison Fraser. Miss Fraser's performance as the misunderstood Lizzie is right on target and makes this recording all the more enjoyable. Rose McGuire is the sharp-tongued maid, Bridget, and is a standout in her one number, "The Maggie Work." Also giving fine support are Broadway veterans Eleanor Glockner as Abby Borden, and Rex Hays as Andrew Borden, Lizzie's stepmother and father.

From the moment I first heard Lizzie Borden I knew it was a winner. It took only one listen to fall in love. I highly recommend it.

After five long years Alison Fraser, star of Lizzie Borden and Tony-nominated star of The Secret Garden, has finally released her second solo CD on the Original Cast Records label. Titled Men in My Life, this new recording is a tribute to the men who have influenced Miss Fraser's life so far.

On this new recording Miss Fraser is reunited with her collaborator on Lizzie Borden, Christopher McGovern who produced and arranged all 15 tracks on this CD. There is a wide range of material here from pop songs by Elvis Costello ("Everyday I Write the Book"), pop standards by Burt Bacharach and Hal David ("The Look of Love") and Leigh & Richards ("Young at Heart") to theater songs by William Finn ("The Passion of Rhoda") and lesser-known composers such as Rusty Magee ("Wrong for Me").

This is a much more intimate album than her previous CD which was a live recording featuring mostly theater songs in which she had to sing more in character. Here we get to hear Alison in quiet, pure tones and she couldn't sound more lovely. Wisely, they have chosen to arrange these songs with little accompaniment. In some cases it is just Alison and a piano which gives the CD a feeling of intimacy. Since Miss Fraser is primarily a theater actress, she is at her best when singing show tunes. Thankfully there are enough here to keep most musical theater fans happy. All of them come from unrecorded musical scores: "The Passion of Rhoda" from In Trousers (featuring composer William Finn, whose vocals I found a bit odd), "The Pill Song" from Finn's America Kicks Up Its Heels, Charles Leipart and Eric Schorr's "Smoke" from espresso trasho, and a medley from David and Joseph Zellnik's City of Dreams. Other highlights on the recording are Todd Rundgren's "Parallel Lines" and Christopher McGovern's "Storyteller."

This is a fine follow-up CD for Alison, wonderfully expressing her talents and charm. Her fans will not be disappointed.

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


-- Joseph Molnar

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