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Music Review

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Two Song Cycles


Music: Stephen Flaherty
Lyrics: Lynn Ahrens
Performed by: Marin Mazzie, Jason Danieley, Sarah Uriarte Berry and Steven Pasquale
Label: Broadway Records
RRP: £12.99
Release Date: 09 February 2021

After a brief hiatus, I’m glad to be able to bring you some great new releases from Broadway Records - what is now the premier Broadway and theatre-related label. Over the next week or so, I’ll be reviewing their best releases from the recent months, and am starting with something I’ve been looking forward to hearing for a while - a new song cycle by one of my favourite composers / lyricists Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty.

Those names will be no strangers to regular theatre listeners - Ahrens and Flaherty have been responsible for some of the most successful Broadway musicals of the last 30 years - including Ragtime, Seussical, Anastasia, and Once On This Island, and also one of my favourite Broadway scores, My Favourite Year. Broadway Records have previously released a great night of their music at Feinsteins 54 Below, called Nice Fighting You - A 30th Anniversary Celebration, which is a great listen and well worth looking out for.

Legacy, a collection of two previously unheard song cycles by Ahrens and Flaherty, features stunning performances by Marin Mazzie and Jason Danieley, Sarah Uriarte Berry and Steven Pasquale. These demos, recorded 16 years ago, have been enhanced and remastered. As the pandemic hit, Ahrens and Flaherty were working on a new show in Florida and preparing for another to arrive on Broadway. Covid brought this work to an abrupt halt. But with time to pause and reflect on what they’ve experienced and produced together over the course of their mutual career, it seemed the right moment to put Legacy into the world.

The first song cycle, 1859: A Farmer's Diary, is based on excerpts from the diary, of a farmer in upstate New York, which he wrote over the course of one year, revealing the joys and sorrows of an unpredictable life. It was first recorded in April of 2004 with Marin Mazzie and Jason Danieley on vocals, and Stephen Flaherty at the piano.

The next song cycle, A Boy With a Camera, was inspired by photographs taken in the '40s and '50s by Ahrens’s father, and is a celebration of New York City itself. This piece (including the song 'Legacy') was recorded in November 2004 with Sarah Uriarte Berry and Steven Pasquale, with Steve Marzullo at the piano. The final track of this song cycle, 'Something Beautiful,' sung by Marin Mazzie, was recorded live at 54 Below with Stephen Flaherty (piano) and Antoine Silverman (violin) on 28 September 2013.

I wasn’t sure what I would make of these ‘demo’ albums - just recorded with a piano - as so much of the appeal of their work is the different styles of numbers that allow the orchestrator to really make their work come alive. However I wasn’t disappointed. Whilst it would have been better fully orchestrated (what isn’t?) this works really well as an intimate album. The calibre of performers is second to none - especially the much missed Marin Mazzie. The opening number ‘Prologue’ sets the scene, and lets you know that this is proper Ahrens and Flaherty at work. I think I enjoyed the second cycle the most, and the last number is indeed ’Something Beautiful’.

The packaging for this release is stunning - great photographs by Carroll Siskind really bring A Boy With A Camera to life, and as usual Robbie Rozelle has worked magic into making them into a beautiful product.

All author proceeds from this release are going to organisations supporting the theatre community, so this really is a must-buy.


Ian Gude

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