Sunday, 3 March 2013

Musicals everywhere!

I'm not really what you would call a musicals fan. Well, okay, my mother thinks I am a musical fan, but she's not right, she bases this idea on the fact that my friends and I used to sing songs from Les Miserables on the way home and the fact that I had a thing for Phantom of the Opera for a while back in the mid- to late nineties. I suppose I am more prone to enjoying musicals because I have a guilty secret love affair with Eurovision every year - my wife and I score them out of ten and actually ended up buying every CD between 2009 and 2012 (we also bought 2007 but not 2008). This would make us pretty sad individuals.

Would you like to know more?

Anyway, as much as I am only a mini-fan of musicals I do recognise the difficulty that they pose generally. There's the fact that a plot and characterisation must come across through the medium of song - meaning that acting must be done through the standard means of song but also, sometimes, against a beat and in amongst the stories of other people. Choreography and dance numbers must play a role within a believable progression of events and the people within the story must develop and change. And all this must be shown with minimal dialogue, minimal stage space and a great deal of music that must also stand alone as a song beyond the musical itself. It is no small order and there is a minefield in trying to make sure even one thing gets done to a high standard.

Being tone deaf when singing, and being completely unable to act, I therefore have a lot of time for the people that can do either of these things. Like Anna, for example, who took part in a summer school for Les Mis and has a pretty good collection of musicals that she enjoys. I should also declare my interests in Chess and Le Roi Soliel at this point. On the former, Anna and I disagree: she likes the US version and I prefer the original cast recording (she doesn't really like Elaine Paige whereas I like the way the original cast version has a much sleazier and angrier American than the US version, whose Russian is also a little less cantankerous and bitter). On the latter, I have Anna to curse / thank for the liking of the music. The damn' things in French too, so I can't even sing along when I think no one is listening.

None of this is really what I was going to talk about. For I discovered, as you're probably aware if you've read any of my posts since my NaNo novel, that the Pet Shop Boys have also written and produced a musical: Closer to Heaven. I now own the CD of the original cast recording and I have to say that I really enjoy it. The story is a standard love triangle set in a nightclub but with a couple of decent twists. Twist one is the fact that the main narrator character is not involved in the central love story at all. Indeed, she has no real stake in the main events of the musical, but clearly has a stake in the state of the nightclub, which is predicated on the state of its owner, the father of the female in the love triangle. He too has a plot and a progression of his own that is largely unconnected to the main plot. The second twist is the gay angle. The leading male ends up with another male, who dies. The main love theme, closer to heaven, is well composed and still manages to make me go all teary eyed even though the primary love it speaks of is not one that I can ever experience - man on man love is not something I believe I can understand, but I can follow the basics well enough in the musical.

It is mainly for that reason that I find myself respecting the musical. Quite apart from the fact that it maintains the Pet Shop Boys's 'sound' through a different medium, there is something about their use of electronic flicks that makes this unusual among the musicals that I have heard. There is the progression of the gay night club owner from his worries in In Denial through his angry re-assertion of his own personality and choices in Call Me Old-Fashioned to the eventual decline and fall in Vampires. The last of that little trilogy I was already very familiar with, being one of my favourite tracks from the album Nightlife. In that the song had an edge of horror and visceral seediness which is missing in the musical, instead the musical version carries an edge of desperation and sadness that actually had me in contemplative mood.

Also, there's Out of my System which sounds like it was written by and for a female only dance-troupe from the nineties - which is not a sound that I would associate with the Pet Shop Boys - or the rather trippy K-hole that also sounds like it was written and made by someone else. In both cases I enjoyed the music and the way they fit into the musical, but in neither case was I able to link them effectively to the Pet Shop Boys style of music.

Basically I enjoyed the CD, a lot, and would recommend it for a listen if you liked the youtube versions I have included here.

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