A New MusicalBy Seth Bisen-Hersh
Original Broadway Cast Recording
RCA Victor: Released April 18, 2000
Words and Music by Michael John LaChiusa
Broadway musicals have evolved over the years. In the early 1900s they consisted of either musical reviews or big, lavish dance shows. In 1932, Showboat revolutionized musical theatre. It had dialogue, music, and dances that all came together to create a story. In the 1950s, Rodgers and Hammerstein’s musicals permeated New York. The songs became popular not just among theatergoers, but with the general public. Decades later, the type of music in musical theater has greatly changed. No longer does it always appeal to the masses. Instead, it is more intellectually based. A modern musical, Marie Christine (the last new American musical to open on Broadway in the 20th Century) played a limited run last December at Lincoln Center’s Vivian Beaumont Theatre. Its soundtrack is both intellectually and emotionally stimulating as it recreates Marie Christine’s tragic tale.
Based on Medea, Marie Christine consists of two acts. At the beginning of the first act, Marie is thrust into a prison. The prison mates demand that Marie explain why she has been tossed in the cell. The rest of the show is a flashback of Marie’s life, from her childhood all the way up to the events leading to her imprisonment.
The majority of the play is sung through. The soundtrack, thus, is filled with endless melodies, rhyming lyrics, and motives. The music provides a layer for the story to be told upon. The opening number in the prison draws one into the plot as the prisoners interrogate Marie. The intense counterpoint builds tension and passion. The best song in the show is “Way Back to Paradise” where Marie explains to her maid, Lisette, how to survive in a man’s world. It boasts a great melody and fascinating lyrics as Marie claims, “There is a way back to paradise, there is a way: Study all men. Learn what they lack. Sweeten and stroke before you attack: Put up a front and then slip through the back ...” Other high points of the recording are “Danced With a Girl,” when Dante seduces Marie and “The Scorpion,” which foreshadows how Marie cannot go against her nature. The finale is also very well done as the entire ensemble laments the tragedy.
The best reason to purchase this recording is undeniably Audra MacDonald who portrays Marie Christine. MacDonald, a three-time Tony award winner, is amazing. Just listening to her go through the tragic emotions creates awe and amazement. The score was tailor-fit to her amazing range. Tony winner Anthony Crivello and Tony nominee Mary Testa are also remarkable and add to the list of reasons to purchase the album. Anyone who cares about the future of Broadway musicals should buy a recording of Marie Christine, listen to it many times, and embrace this tragic tale.