Every once in a while the inbox has something that few of our readers would know about – even those who try very hard to stay up to date with new releases in the musical theatre field. Sometimes these items fall into the category of a real find. Others are less exciting, but interesting nonetheless.
Mark Carroll’s latest musical falls into the category of “interesting nonetheless.” It is obscure from the perspective of readers/listeners in America. It isn’t even available for purchase through the usual sources in the U.S. – you have to go to the website of England’s Dress Circle to order a copy, and once you have it, you may only listen once or twice.
But hidden in its nearly ninety minutes of playing time are a few songs that devotees of pop-rock-musicals may want to add to their iPod or MP3 playlists. The fact that it is intended for such a market is telegraphed loud and clear by its very title: www.SUPERNOVAthemusical.com. Yes, the URL is the full title of the piece.
SUPERNOVA – to use the abbreviated version of its title – is presented in a concept album which was recorded in London. The recording is highly professional, the performances are polished and the packaging is slick.
It is a mashup of Dreamgirls, Sunset Boulevard and a host of musicals over the years that have tried to use the latest video technology to tell their story. From Dreamgirls comes a plot centered on the rise of a pop star. From Sunset Boulevard comes a framing story of a murder in the entertainment world with the back story told through flashbacks. The story seems to be presented through a technological approach that has an honorable tradition, from – say – Woman of the Year through The Woman in White.
I have to say “the story seems to be presented … “ because the slick packaging doesn’t happen to be very clear about the story or its structure. There is a 300 word synopsis on the musical’s website, but it is more of a teaser than a story. (“There is a gunshot but who is the shooter and whom are they aiming for?”) In the packaging for the recording itself, there isn’t even that much. Instead, there is a short blurb of marketing hype. (“Using a mixture of rock, pop and R&B this show finally brings the music of the charts and internet onto the stage in what promises to bring musical theatre well and truly into the present day” …. Whew!) The two-disc recording is packaged with a list of the song titles but no indication of who is singing what and the cast listing is a mere alphabetical roll.
All of this might be less of a concern if the audio on the two discs added up to a compelling theatrical presentation of the story but it does not. Perhaps that is the result of the use of video technology to handle some of the heavy lifting of the storytelling. As a concept album on audio CDs, however, it could benefit from a bit of streamlining.
Still, there are some individual numbers that, given half a chance, can get under your skin and worm their way into your musical consciousness. The solo tune “Do You Believe” works as both a soulful pop-style torch song for a single vocalist and as a message song that you can believe would be a break-out hit for a vocalist. “Jimmy Dean” might remind you of some of the edgier work of Jim Steinman working with or without Andrew Lloyd Webber. “Only With You” is a high rhythm burst for a boy band style group. “It’s About Time” would work as a girl-group music video with a driving rhythm section. There is an intriguing concept for the song “MP3 People” and the structure of the song seems solid, although it fails to build to the satisfying climax it seems to promise.
There are two tracks most likely to catch your ear. One is a pop love duet titled “I Will Love You.” Its catchy digression “Stop pretending / There’s no happy ending / When you know you’re safe with me” sets it apart from the routine nature of most of the other pop-style numbers. “Dance in the Rain” with its twisty middle phrase in “Dance in the rain / kiss in the sun / remember the days / when everything was said or done.” could benefit from a less synthesized orchestration but is a lovely song, nonetheless.
“You’ll Never Know” is not the Harry Warren, Mack Gordon song of that title that Frank Sinatra made a hit during the musician’s strike in the early 1940s. Here is Alison Jiear singing the show’s version from the New Concept Album.
The transition of this work from a concept album into an actual musical on stage will entail many changes but those who enjoy a pop-rock musical might find this two disc set worth exploring.