Sunday, October 5, 2014


Where to start on this recording? How do you talk about a score so unclassifiable? Marisa Michelson's music for Tamar of the River teases and tastes at an endless list of styles and genres that simultaneously make the score sound like it was written in the distant past as well as the distant future.

The fact that Michelson's palate is so expansive is part of what makes this score such a joy to listen to. It electrifies and jolts us. It gets under our skin. It twists and turns in such unexpected and jarring ways. It floats with melodic beauty.

There's American and European classical influence here, but there's just as much contemporary pop, African tribal music, gospel, Middle Eastern folk, and sprinklings of so much more all over the place. All of these are used to new effect that shatters expectation. This is one inventive, even innovative, piece of musical theatre writing.

Chanting is used effectively throughout the score, sometimes with voices being used as a replacement for instrumental orchestrations. Hums, buzzes, trills, and wails permeate the soundscape with visceral results. Sometimes pleasant and lovely, other times disturbing, the whole score is a continuous ride through the dark.

The central attraction of the cast is Margo Seibert, who starred in this show off-Broadway just prior to her engagement as Adrian in Ahrens and Flaherty's Rocky. We hear a completely different side of her voice than we did in the aforementioned Broadway spectacle. Dynamic, sharp, and risky, Seibert tackles the ridiculously difficult vocal arrangements with enviable skill. For instance, in the stirring Finale, Seibert sings 15 consecutive lightning-fast chromatic scales, a motif that appears in the score a number of times. Moments like this are gorgeous and addictive to listen to, and the vocal performances on the whole are endlessly impressive. The names of much of the cast won't be familiar to you, but I'm sure their work here will put more than a few of their names on your radar.

I almost don't want to point out any 'highlights' in the score because the piece is one that should really be taken in as one cohesive piece. There are standout moments in this eclectic score, yes, but I'd encourage you to take the full journey that the innovation of Marisa Michelson's music and the poetry of Joshua D. Cohen's lyrics provide. This is an emotionally and intellectually rewarding piece of musical theatre that does a rare thing: It breaks totally new ground. It's not an easy piece to get into. But it's abundantly worth it.

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