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10/29/15

But the Music in Songbird, You Guys and Gals...

I have a tumultuous relationship with Anton Chekov’s The Seagull. Namely, I think it is boring and it sucks.

Eloquent critiques right here, get 'em while they last folks...


Now, if you think my abhorrence of that show was going to keep me away from Songbird, a country musical riff on The Seagull now open at the 59E59 Theater, nope, that's not the case. Michael Kimmel, the writer of The Last Goodbye (a Romeo and Juliet update incorporating the music of Jeff Buckley), collaborating with Lauren Pritchard - yes, that’s right, the Ilse of our hearts, minds and dreams from Spring Awakening - on such an ambitious concept had all the elements in place worth checking out.

As it turns out, I was right. Songbird is imperfect and despite a great effort from Kimmel - the story silhouette is a misguided hodgepodge and just like The Seagull, there are way too many characters, side-plots (ahem, not-plots) with a notable lack of heft - but there also is the music…

The. Music.

The music is truly something…in fact, even though Songbird’s existence was meant to honor The Seagull, Pritchard’s score, which not only is genre-accurate and has a couple of listenable tracks, highlighted exactly what’s wrong with the story. Most notably, the conflicts are repetitive - seriously, it feels like every character is sad, unfulfilled and/or romantically pining for someone else who is romantically pining for someone else - and there are no journeys or resolutions, as the characters remained entrapped in the doom-and-gloom of their existences start-to-finish.

That is where the music comes in. The characters, whether they are singing a happy, honky-tonk romp, the blues or some harrowing ballad, are vastly more relatable and interesting to watch while an in-scene music number takes flight (pun not intended). Let’s face it: musical numbers in general, but particularly in Songbird, are an improvement over a slate of characters talking in circles and staring at the sky, the lake or wherever for hours on end. Everytime a character reaches for an instrument and starts playing, I perked up in my seat.

Now, there is a noticeable disconnect between the score and the story in a conventional sense. Each song is more of a reflection of a character’s emotional state, just dialed up in euphoria, as opposed to each song propelling the story forward. But on the other hand, I’d chalk that up to The Seagull influence and the limiting fact that THE SEAGULL DOESN’T GO ANYWHERE TO BEGIN WITH. Pritchard’s score, bottom line, is simply great as a stand-alone listen.

Songbird also benefits from some typically amazing work from Kate Baldwin, playing the Arkadina update, who looks fabulous, nails her southern twang and has never met a song she couldn’t blow out of the water. Kacie Sheik is also giving a stunning performance as Missy, the Masha figure with a dash of Eponine from Les Miz. The numbers Kacie sang - and by that I mean, SANG - were my personal favorites as she showed off her impressive acting and vocal ranges/styles, disappeared into character and brought the house down. Twice. Because slaying makes everything better, doctor’s orders.

Pretty much every musical, good or bad, on or off-Broadway, is preserved on a cast recording nowadays (if not, there is always crowd funding!) and I hope Songbird is no different. The show may have its problems - some of which the blame lays at the feet of the source material and its author in dire need of anti-depressants - but Songbird’s intriguing nature and unique music for the stage is more then enough to remember it by.


Ticket provided by the production


Photo Credit: Jenny Anderson

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