Friday, August 24, 2012

The Queen of the Mist (CD Review)

The Original Cast Recording of The Queen of the Mist, Michael John LaChiusa's tale of the stubborn Anna Edson Taylor and her trip over Niagara Falls in a barrel in 1901, is a well-done representation of the musical, with Mary Testa's vivid performance almost as alive and three-dimensional on CD as it was in the show itself (review here). The CD features a seven-person band and a handsome booklet, and I thank Ghostlight Records for producing it and the Shen Family Foundation for providing support.

While there is much to recommend this recording, the show itself is uneven, and therefore the CD is as well. The only attempt at anything resembling suspense is the question of whether Edson Taylor will ever reveal how it felt to face death in that unique manner, but that's not compelling enough to propel a plot. More importantly, just as the show ultimately lacks emotional punch, so does the CD. It's difficult to care about the sorta, kinda relationship between Edson Taylor and her manager; in fact, it's difficult to care about Edson Taylor at all. On the other hand, the relationship between Edson Taylor and her sister is presented effectively and movingly and shows us a more sympathetic side to her character.

The music itself is some of LaChiusa's most accessible, but also some of his least interesting. At times it sounds as though he set himself the task of writing an "American musical" that splits the difference between the sentimentality of Ragtime and the cynicism of Assassins. But LaChiusa on a bad day is still better than many composer-lyricists on a good day, and there are some wonderful songs here, such as "On the Other Side" and "Letter to Jane." The CD's main asset is that it exists-- a piece of theatre history saved for present and future generations.

(press copy)

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