A capella musical theater


As a still – if not eternally – aspiring musical theater orchestrator, it may seem self defeating to be lauding a show that uses no instruments at all. But this a capella musical is so extraordinary, especially in its use of voices in a panoply of sonic textures, that it’s truly inspiring on any music level.

Along with Michael R. Jackson’s A Strange Loop, this show by polymath composer Dave Malloy was the talk of New York’s theater scene in the summer of 2019, and in my opinion should have split the Pulitzer Prize. The piece (the Times dubbed it a “chamber opera” but it could also be called a multi-voiced song cycle) is an almost dizzying exploration of the effects of our obsession with and addiction to the digital world. And even with no instrumental backing, the score holds nothing back: this is as demanding a piece as you’ll find in any genre.

Each singer/character is given an aspect of internet addiction to explore. Much like Loop, this is also a raw, no holds barred work that is giddy with achievement.

This recording, funded by public contributions, was culled from several live performances which adds immeasurably to the viscerality of the experience: audience reactions are great signposts throughout the show.

One of the bizarre ironies of this catastrophic pandemic is the amount of creative content available at a click – almost overwhelming in both quantity and breadth. (I’ve unquestionably seen more Shakespeare in the last three months than in the rest of my life, and certainly more opera than in the last five years). Which is why a few weeks ago I took a breather from Weighty Content when I noticed Birdland’s Facebook stream presenting this trio’s weekly Monday night jam.

Who knows if I ever would have encountered this group were it not for the current circumstances? But have they ever been a tonic (in addition to what’s usually in my glass when I’m listening to them).

Their talent speaks for itself: these guys groove every which way and then some. And while almost all their streams are archived, I’m still making a point to catch them live: this weekly appointment has made the start of what are increasingly tense and exhausting weeks so much more tolerable. They accept donations of any amount (scroll down their Facebook page for the various options), and they’re well worth the financial love.

If and when in person events ever start up again, this group will be high on my list. In the meantime, these virtual gigs are superb.