REVIEW: MUSE Presents “Edges”
By Kiran Gupta
The song cycle is an interesting form. It’s a little like a musical, but there’s no choreography. There’s no acting either. Often, there isn’t a continuous story line. But that in itself is the form’s charm. Jason Robert Brown was the first maestro of the musical theatre song cycle, with the breathtaking Songs for a New World. The duo Pasek & Paul followed up with Edges some ten years later, after being dissatisfied with the parts they received in their university production and wanting to write their own show. About a decade later, they had written the smash Broadway musical Dear Evan Hansen (for non-theatre lovers, the one with the lead who everyone in theatre swoons over).
I was curious to see how MUSE would approach this very challenging song cycle. With no distinct plot, rather all the songs revolving around the theme of coming of age, the challenge was always going to be maintaining the dramatic energy throughout. This was outstandingly accomplished by the cast. The mix of strong vocalists, hilarious character actors and heart-tugging singers was refreshing. It did truly feel like a complete unit, which was absolutely fabulous to see.
As the song cycle form does not offer the safeguards of choreography and staging like a regular musical, there was a real emphasis on the singing. On the whole, I thought the vocals were incredibly strong. One of the most beautiful performances occurred near the beginning of the show when Kimberly Alison Jones delivered a perfectly balanced, vulnerable yet powerful performance of “Lying There”. The subtlety of her vibrato in her upper register reverberated through the theatre, establishing a strong dramatic energy that would set the tone for the rest of the show. Although there were many strong singers in the production, Callum Piotr Byrne’s stunning performance of “Part of a Painting” was certainly the highlight of Act 2. The controlled power through his entire range that he exerted was a pleasure to witness, his tone reminiscent of the late Luther Vandross. Needless to say, it was an absolute treat to hear such a rich tone give life to this performance.
Ensemble work was also fantastic throughout. Some of the harmonies were chill-inducing although there were a few times when I found clashing vibratos slightly distracting. It’s a very minor point but there were times when it caught focus, especially in some of the most emotional moments where the foundations had been set up so well.
Although it may receive less credit than in a traditional musical, serious props must be given to the lighting team, who contributed perfectly to the ambiance the vocalists on stage created. The choreography was also subtle but highly effective, often contributing to the feeling that sound was coming from all around the audience.
There were, however, a few opening night jitters. There were a few cues missed by the vocalists on stage, a few words clearly dropped and a microphone mishap. That said, these things happen on opening night and the audience was very understanding. There was also a little cracking especially from some of the male vocalists in their upper register. The score was clearly a challenging one however at times, I felt like a lighter and slightly breathier timbre would have been beneficial to avoid obvious strain. A few harmonies were also slightly off at times and it seemed as though the vocalists were not quite in sync with the piano at all times. These are all minor points but, in my opinion, worth a brief mention.
That said, to pull off the challenge of a two-hour song cycle with such gusto is a testament to the performers that graced the stage. It was clear that the production team of Lauren McNamara, Anna-May Parnell and Madeleine Lapstun had done an incredible and tireless job of developing the nuance of all the songs and characters and I offer them my highest commendations. It is a rare treat to hear individual vocal numbers delivered with so much emotion yet with an air of simplicity. That was what this production delivered, in a way that traditional musical theatre just simply cannot. There was no choice but to focus intently on the vocals presented and, on the whole, they were extremely impressive. Overall, a fabulous production which I would highly recommend for lovers of musical theatre.
If you’re interested in seeing MUSE’s “Edges”, you can grab tickets here.