Master Voices (a large chorus based at City Center here in NYC) presented a series of online concerts, a large, complex piece called *Myths and Hymns* by Adam Guettel. Chapter 1, “Flight,” premiered on January 13th (I watched it February 10th). The piece is being rolled out a month at a time and will be available for viewing until June 30, 2021. The first segment is less than 30 minutes long. Check it out:
Guettel is best known as the composer of the Broadway musical *The Light in the Piazza,* which I saw in 2006. That show is exceptional, so strong and lyrical and effective. I should also mention Guettel’s musical theatre pedigree: his mother is Mary Rodgers, who wrote the music for *Once Upon a Mattress* and thank you, Wikipedia, I didn’t know that she wrote the novel *Freaky Friday*! And yes, Mary Rodgers is the daughter of Richard Rodgers of Rodgers and Hart and Rodgers and Hammerstein. If you don’t recognize any of those names, you’re reading the wrong blog.
Let me give credit to the whole crew:
Music and lyrics by Adam Guettel
Additional lyrics by Ellen Fitzhugh
Orchestrations by Don Sebesky and Jamie Lawrence
New choral arrangements by Ted Sperling
Production conceived, supervised, and conducted by Ted Sperling
The first movement, “Prometheus,” was an overture for the piano duo Anderson and Roe. They were fierce! So exciting, a perfect way to open the concert. I should mention that the camera work throughout was thoughtful and creative but never tricked out or cutesie. Thank you for that, Master Voices. This movement was directed by Greg Anderson.
Joshua Henry sang the moody first song, “Saturn Returns: The Flight. (directed by Ted Sperling).” He appeared to be in his apartment! It was cool seeing a poster for *Shuffle Along* in the background. The song ended with him losing his cool and needing to get out of his apartment, something many of us can relate to.
This dropped into the next song, “Icarus,” sung by Mykal Kilgore and Norm Lewis (directed by Sammi Cannold), with backup vocals by members of Master Voices (chiming in from their small Zoom screens on the side). This song had a fabulous funky beat, I loved it.
“Migratory V” (directed by Lear Debessonet) was sung by three women on the classical side of the spectrum: Julia Bullock, Renée Fleming, and Kelli O’Hara. I’m often annoyed by Fleming but she chose to rein in her bad impulses in this case. Thank you, Renée Fleming. I don’t have a lot of familiarity with Julia Bullock, but she was delicious. What can I say about Kelli O’Hara, I adore her, she’s so sincere and direct and has such a gorgeous, pristinely clear voice. The three of them sang in harmony at the end of the song, that was genuinely touching.
“Pegasus” (directed by Ted Sperling) started with a sort of once-upon-a-time narration done by Annie Golden, who I had seen in *Xanadu: The Musical* years ago. Jose Llana was the first singer in this song, and I wasn’t wild for him, his singing was a little loose and full-blown for my taste. But oh Lord, Capathia Jenkins! All hall Capathia Jenkins! I’ve seen her and heard her a number of times, she is a force of nature. She had a supporting role in this context, but it’s always a joy to see her. Elizabeth Stanley was a hoot as the gadfly who bit Pegasus, it was a treat to have a little overt comedy.
The final song in this segment was “Jesus, the Mighty Conqueror” sung by Take 6 (directed by Khristian Dentley). Those guys are beyond belief and Guettel wrote the piece gloriously with them in mind. This song also had backing vocals by Master Voices. Another song with a funky groove and some tasty harmonies, very FM radio, just what I needed.
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I watched the second part of *Myths and Hymns* online on March 2nd (it was live on February 24th). The first part was called “Flight.” This part was called “Work.”
It opened with a short chorus followed by a hymn-like solo by Anthony Roth Cosantzo, “Children of the Heavenly King.” Lovely song. Costanzo also directed the video, and the next video.
The next song, “At the Sounding,” was an energetic number for Costanzo, Ailyn Pérez, Nicholas Phan, and the chorus. Fabulous music, very exciting. The three soloists didn’t really seem to have much to do. Costanzo, Pérez, and Phan are all extraordinary classical singers, if you’re going to write something for them, why not write something that really shows them off?
“Build a Bridge” was a soulful ballad sung beautifully by Michael McElroy, sitting beside a babbling brook. This song featured some fantastic writing for electric guitar and electric bass. The video featured a woman knitting and dropping her knitting in the snow. I didn’t quite get that, but I don’t need to, I suppose. The video was directed by Ted Sperling.
John Lithgow gave a spoken introduction to the next number, reading a poem about Sisyphus. The poem was goofy but he delivered it like it was good. That’s entertainment! The song about Sisyphus was sung by Daniel Breaker. The video was a cute animation showing Sisyphus rolling the rock up the hill (directed by Anne Kaufman, animation by Manik Choksi).
“Life is But a Dream” was sung by Shoshana Bean. This was the best song in the segment, it was a gorgeous pop ballad. It gave me chills, which happens very rarely these days. Yes, I am very quickly moved to tears, but chills, that’s another matter. The video was mostly just her singing into a mic in a cabin (directed by Ted Sperling).
“Every Poodle” once again featured Pérez, Constanzo, and Phan. The animation was really cool, with lots of marvelous animated line drawings of poodles, surrounded by dots and bubbles. I make it sound kinda dippy, but take my word for it, it was cool (directed by Doug Fitch, animated by Tommy Nguyen). But once again the trio of soloists were underutilized. But the song was fantastic, it had a great beat, some funky rhythms, a nice balance of singing and instrumentals, and a sure sense of what it was doing. It gave a rousing finish to the segment.
I'll make an overarching comment about the whole project and say that Adam Guettel is the star of the show. The music is so strong, he is a really gifted composer.
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I saw the newest installment of Adam Guettel’s piece *Myths and Hymns* on April 28, 2021 (it premiered online on April 14). This was the third chapter of four total chapters. It opened with some tasty chords from the woodwinds and some humming and “ah”s from the chorus, each singer filmed individually and layered on top of each other.
The first song, “Hero and Leander,” was directed by Master Voices’ artistic director, Ted Sperling, who also directed the intro. The song was sung by Cheyenne Jackson, who I adore - - did I see *Xanadu* on Broadway two or three times? I also saw him in *Damn Yankees* and *The Most Happy Fella* at Encores, and a few things on TV. He’s dreamy, but I wasn’t wild for the way he sang this song. He seemed to think he was Luther Vandross or one of the Isley Brothers. Which he’s not.
“Come To Jesus” really felt like a musical theatre song, since it had a specific dramatic setting. And a nice surprise, the video was directed by Victoria Clark, an extraordinary singer who won a Tony for Guettel’s *The Light in the Piazza.* The song opened with Shereen Pimentel, a singer I’d never heard of and wow, she blew me away, gorgeous voice and a sure sense of what she was doing. The song switched halfway through to the man in the story, played by Drew Gehling. Another singer I don’t know, another lovely voice. This song was one of the high points of the whole project.
“Medusa” was an animated film (visuals by Earl Womack, directed by Sperling) about the guy who decides he’s going to cut off Medusa’s head. The voice of the guy was John Brancy (he sounded like Thomas Hampson to me, not a bad thing) and Medusa and her two ladies-in-waiting were Nina Bernstein, Lori Wilner, and Dianne Drayse Alonso. The song was cute and featured some electronic sounds that were a nice change of texture. The thrust of the song was that Medusa was sad and lonely, which was an interesting point of view. I felt bad for her when she got her head cut off.
Dove Cameron sang “How Can I Lose You?,” again directed by Sperling. What a marvelous song, it could easily find its way beside countless other songs in the American songbook. It had that kind of aura, and Cameron sang it in a sweet and direct way, and she was even a little funny in her performance. Another find, both the singer and the song. I had the tune stuck in my head for the rest of the day, and how often does that happen.
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I watched the final chapter of Adam Guettel's musical project *Myths and Hymns* on May 28, 2021 (it was dropped online on May 25). The final chapter was called "Faith."
The first movement was called “The Great Highway” and was an abstract, moody piece for three wordless voices, singing “Ah” and similar. The three singers were Kelli O’Hara, Anthony Roth Costanzo (who also directed), and Nicholas Phan. A wonderful way to start things.
“There’s a Land” was more optimistic and upbeat, featuring singers Theresa McCarthy, Miles Mykkanen, Emma Lou DeLaney, Milan Magaña, Justine Rafael, and Katja Stoer. There were dancers in this song too: Emma Lou Delaney, Milan Magaña, Justine Rafael, and Katja Stoer. The choreographer, Andrew Palermo, also directed the segment. Miles Mykkanen really impressed me in this, he has a stellar voice.
The next song, “There’s a Shout,” was preceded by a title card that said, “The artwork used in this song was created by refugee children and families living in camps around the world, through the cultivated guidance of Artolution teaching artists.” I was intrigued that Jennifer Holliday was one of the soloists in this song. She sounded fantastic and looks great. The artwork was wonderful and it was cool how director Ted Sperling placed Holliday in the midst of it. She was joined in this song by The Gospel Soul Children of New York. The song was tremendous and was clearly written to the strengths of Holliday and the gospel choir.
“Awaiting You” was sung by Mykal Kilgore, who sounded to me like he was a descendent of Luther Vandross and Al Jarreau, but still doing his own thing. I have to check him out, he was very special. This song had some tasty, unexpected harmonies and was directed in a welcoming, low-key manner by Ted Sperling.
“Saturn Returns: the Return” was sung by Larry Owens. Honestly, I wasn’t won over by the song or the performance (or the film, directed by Sam Cullman).
The final song, “Light After Darkness” (naturally directed by Artistic Director Ted Sperling), appeared to feature nearly every darn performer who had appeared in any of the four chapters: Dianne Drayse Alonso, Anderson & Roe, Shoshana Bean, Nina Bernstein, John Brancy, Julia Bullock, Anthony Roth Costanzo, Drew Gehling, Annie Golden, The Gospel Soul Children of New York, Jennifer Holliday, Cheyenne Jackson, Capathia Jenkins, Mykal Kilgore, Norm Lewis, John Lithgow, Jose Llana, Theresa McCarthy, Michael McElroy, Miles Mykkanen, Kelli O’Hara, Larry Owens, Shereen Pimentel, Nicholas Phan, Elizabeth Stanley, Take 6, Lori Wilner, and of course those MasterVoices. It had a cool groove and was fun to see all those wonderful musicians again. It had a fantastic, celebratory vibe. I got a little teary when Take 6 came on the screen, I didn’t know that I was so into them.