Subject: I have found a CD that I think you would enjoy
|Fields of Ambrosia|
Fields of Ambrosia
Genres: Pop, Soundtracks, Broadway & Vocalists
A Overlooked Masterpiece
Ben Fink | 02/08/2003
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Of all the musicals I know (and I know a good number of weird ones), this might be the most obscure. A piece that premiered successfully at the George St. Playhouse in New Jersey and then had a short (and unsuccessful) stint in England (the latter cast is recorded here), FIELDS has apparently slipped through the cracks of the modern musical theatre canon.
But don't let that fool you.FIELDS is a truly wonderful, innovative piece of musical theatre, on par with Boubil and Schonberg Jason Robert Brown, and even Sondheim. When describing it to friends, I generally ask them to first consider THE MUSIC MAN. Its hero, Harold Hill, projects an image of a swave, confident, swindling salesman on top of his game and the world, but ultimately is revealed as a depressed man whose lonely life on the road has finally caught up to him. Now imagine if Harold Hill, instead of selling instruments, had been an executioner.That, in gross oversimplification, is the story of Jonas Candide (what a name!), the Traveling Executioner for the State of Tennessee and the central character of THE FIELDS OF AMBROSIA. In this retelling of an old myth set in 1918, Jonas arrives in a small town with instructions to execute a German brother and sister convicted of treason (the paranoid, zenophobic world of World War I America pervades much of the piece, to great effect). He executes Willie (whose long Germanic last name I shall not even attempt to spell), the brother, promptly. However, Gretchen, the sister, is granted a short stay of execution. During the next few days, Gretchen succeeds in seducing Jonas. The rest of the show concerns Jonas's numerous, often very humorous, and ultimately futile attempts to free her.Such a story, as you have no doubt seen, could easily lead to idiotic melodrama. This is not the case here. Joel Higgins, who wrote the book and lyrics and plays Jonas, and Martin Silvestri, who wrote the music and whose wife Christine Andreas plays Gretchen, handle the material with delicacy and wit. Even as the tragic story develops with the dramatic weight it deserves, Higgins and Silvestri maintain the charm and lightness that befits such a folk tale. Jonas and Gretchen are, simply, two of the most fascinating, multifaceted characters I've ever come across in musical theatre.And the music. Excellent. From the opening, Les Miz-esque-but-not-really chain gang scene, Higgins and Silvestri transport the listener into the world of American folklore. Silvestri's old-style upbeat ("Reasonable Man", "Continental Sunday") and patter ("Step Right Up") songs keep the story grounded in period, while the raw elements of rock ("Ball and Chain", "Hungry"), the drama of 'scene-songs' and recitative ("The Poker Game"), and the sheer emotional power of the classic musical theatre ballad ("Alone", "Too Bad") and rousing choral number ("The Fields of Ambrosia", "All In This Together") give the score a timeless quality. (Plus, the short intro to the warden's aria "Reasonable Man" is possibly the greatest fanfare-opening to a piece of theatre music I've ever heard.) Meanwhile, Higgins's lyrics fit perfectly into this mythic world, allowing his characters to talk in slightly stylized speech patterns that sound at once heightened and believable.I have docked this CD a star for two reasons. First, one or two of the songs come off as a bit trite and unnecessary ("Nuthin'" comes to mind). Second, some of the sound engineering, especially in ensemble scenes, robs the music of the force it so clearly could have. Do NOT let these small liabilities dissuade you from purchasing this CD. FIELDS is a wonderful piece, a show that simply deserves much more attention than it's gotten. In the words of Jonas Candide himself, "Step Right Up!""