I don’t really remember how it happened, but four years ago I found myself driving cross-country singing along to the cast recording of Bright Lights, Big City at the top of my lungs. I didn’t get a chance to see the (rather short-lived) production of the show off-Broadway and I didn’t even read Jay McInerney’s iconic New York novel. But with a cast of powerhouses Patrick Wilson, Jesse L. Martin, Eden Espinosa, Christine Ebersole, Gavin Creel, Sherie Rene Scott, Sharon Leal, Anne Marie Milazzo, and Celia Keenan-Bolger making up the cast, I just had to see what kind of work could attract such a great group of talent.
And though the album’s timing and themes often bring about comparisons to Rent, the music and story stand on its own. Though some lines aren’t necessarily the most adept (lyrics of “I wanna have sex tonight” and “I love drugs and everything they do”), there is still a lot of truly quality stuff in here. Much of the music is rousing, evoking rushes of the light and energy of New York. The quieter songs are perhaps the most powerful—intimate and heart wrenching, full of psychosis and memory, disappointment and dreams. Standouts definitely include “Are You Still Holding My Hand,” sung here by Mary Michael Patterson from UMich:
And here is the lovely Sherie Rene Scott shining just as brightly as she does on the cast CD in a performance:
The music comes from the mind and talent of Paul Scott Goodman, a Glasgow native, who seems to delight in playing with sound, words, and music in every project he does. Though he came under a lot of criticism for the framework of his storytelling in Bright Lights, Big City, you have to give him credit: he experimented in writing a musical for a story whose source material is structured around an unnamed narrator.
Goodman’s last project to hit New York was Rooms: a rock romance, a two-person musical which featured Doug Kreeger and Leslie Kritzer in its off-Broadway run. Telling the story of a kind of odd-couple pairing who meet in Glasgow, the musical follows the duo as they begin writing music together, eventually ending up in New York where they are offered a chance at their big break. I especially like Michael Dale’s Broadwayworld.com blog review and the way it describes Goodman’s play with language throughout the show:
“Goodman's score, which mixes conversational sections with pull-out songs, sets a musical difference between the two by having Ian express himself in a sound resembling acoustic, protest folk while Monica's influence is the strong-woman pop sound of the late 70s. But as they feel an attraction for each other Ian's sound becomes catchier, with more hooks, while Monica starts revealing harder edges. Another fun feature of the score is how Goodman has the characters occasionally quote popular song lyrics as part of their normal conversation, illuminating how the songs that touch you become a natural part of your language. It subtly adds texture to the two when Monica mentions riding in a ‘Big Yellow Taxi’ and Ian quotes ‘Within You Without You’ when confronting her about their relationship, but we can use some further explanation as to how Ian came up with ‘Every Day A Little Death.’”
Curious? See for yourself!
Here is an excerpt from Seth Rudetsky’s Sirius Satellite Radio where Doug and Leslie sing “Scottish Jewish Princess”:
And here is Jeremy Kushnier and Natascia Diaz singing “I Love You For All Time”: