CD Review: HELLO AGAIN (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)

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by Tony Frankel on April 17, 2018



Hello Again is Michael John LaChiusa’s 1993 musical adaptation of Arthur Schnitzler’s play about sexual intricacies (Der Reigen and, in French, La Ronde), which has itself been adapted dozens of times on stage (David Hare’s The Blue Room) and screen (360) since its scandalous censor-banning beginnings in 1897. The basic premise consists of ten intertwining scenes between pairs of lovers, with each of its ten characters appearing in two successive scenes: the Whore takes the Soldier, the Soldier takes the Parlor Maid, the Parlor Maid takes the Young Gentleman, etc., until the final scene where the Whore, having appeared in the first, is now with a Count.

LaChiusa elasticizes Schnitzler’s idea over a century, with each scene in a different decade: it opens with the Whore and the Soldier around the turn of the 20th century, then moves to a tryst between the Soldier and a Nurse during WWII, then the Nurse and a College Boy in the Vietnam War era. The time-traveling affords LaChiusa some fun construction as well: A lower class young gay hustler aboard the Titanic in 1912 returns as a pretty boy in a 1976 disco.

Even with a stellar cast of brink-of-stardom performers (Donna Murphy, John Cameron Mitchell, Malcolm Gets, Carolee Carmello, Michele Pawk), the original cast CD of the Lincoln Center Theatre production was difficult to get into at first. The writer is a fan of both Stephen Sondheim and John Corigliano, so unlike his very accessible The Wild Party (one of my top favorite Original Cast Albums of all time), this is in no way conventional musical fare but rather challenging stuff, esoteric and inventive and demanding, a work consciously designed for serious theatergoers who are interested in and excited by new approaches to musical theater (the tired businessmen and casual tourist types are hereby warned), but repeat examinations unearth a rich, varied score as it hops from one locale and time period to another.

The same could be said of the soundtrack album of director Tom Gustafson’s film adaptation, which quickly disappeared after its release last November, 2017. On April 27, 2018, Broadway Records is releasing the CD, which features a movie cast largely made up of Broadway pros, including Cheyenne Jackson, Martha Plimpton, T.R. Knight, Nolan Gerard Funk, Jenna Ushkowitz, and the great Audra McDonald (who has always triumphed “newer” composers like LaChiusa). As disappointing as the reception was for the film, the soundtrack deserves attention … but it doesn’t come easy.

Much of the record feels like a soundtrack to a David Lynch film: It’s creepy, weird, and dangerous with an often hollow sound (which makes me wonder if the CD was recorded directly from the film), and songs don’t always sound like the era they’re taking place in — this may have been done to create an arc to the disparate pieces, but a lot of tracks sound like they should accompany music videos (and one actually is a music video!).

Complicating things is the liner note’s bemusing lack of both lyrics and information elucidating who’s singing. There’s an inherent danger here: the scenario is so confusing that those unfamiliar with LaChiusa’s style — a bit abstruse to say the least — will be put off. This means that the listener new to this venture will have to be even more patient than with the original cast album, but stick with it.

A “Hello Again” leitmotif has been inserted here as a bridge between pieces, which have been changed a bit in date and gender. The 1944 section sounds great, with a super swinging band arranged by Todd Almond and Cory Krueckeberg. There are still standout songs, mainly because they are standalone tunes: “Tom,” performed rapturously by Rumer Willis (Audra McDonald covered this on her Way Back to Paradise solo album); “The One I Love” sung by Jackson and Tyler Blackburn; and — new to this project — a ballad for La McDonald, “Beyond the Moon,” orchestrated by Enrico de Trizio in a perfect pastiche of disco queen style as a bonus track single (is there nothing this six-time Tony winner can’t sing?!).

Time-jumping allows for a robust, surreal score that integrates and plays with musical genres from boogie-woogie and blues to Viennese opera. Once you understand the daisy chain of fleshly meetings (“oh, that’s how those two are connected”), all the impish banter and urbane composition can be so much more appreciated and, eventually, loved.

stills courtesy of SPEAKproductions

Hello Again – Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
Broadway Records
12 tracks | 71:30
release date: April 27, 2018
available at Broadway Records and Amazon

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