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Sound Advice Reviews

Flying Over Sunset and Liam Forde: Great to Be Here
Reviews by Rob Lester

Masterworks Broadway
CD and Digital

We serious music collectors are seriously addicted to our drug of choice: any adventurous cast recording that feeds our minds and fills our ears with exciting performances and songs. Therefore, I'm high on hearing the intoxicating contents of Flying Over Sunset, a show in which the main characters sing only when they are feeling the effects of having taken LSD. Calculated risk though it may be for a full-length score that could have devolved into diminishing returns if the different hallucinations don't feel different enough, somehow it all works because enough variety is found. And the performances are strong, often appropriately hypnotic. With Tom Kitt's melodies that are often ravishing (or aptly harrowing), intensified by Michael Starobin's artful and emotion-stirring orchestrations, conducted by Kimberly Grigsby, we're swept off into each hypnotic dreamscape.

What's expressed in Michael Korie's lyrics reflects the drug-caused expanded awareness of one's senses and deepest feelings. Thus, a few real-life celebrities seem articulately analytical, exultant, daring or anguished. Thoughts spill out in freefall. Flying Over Sunset's public figures we might think of as sturdily larger than life become both fragile and relatable, due to the fact they really did take the drug in the 1950s when it was legal. And so we meet Cary Grant, Aldous Huxley, and Clare Boothe Luce–separately and together.

As evoked by the cast and directed by bookwriter James Lapine, Flying Over Sunset's public figures are provocatively personal, becoming relatable due to the stresses behind the successes. We learn of their past and present burdens and woes: spouses or parents who withhold love; mourning loved ones who died tragically or are dying; feeling insecure and unfulfilled. The anything-can-happen setup lets the vignettes be wildly imaginative but tied to the characters' concerns.

Many numbers purposely avoid traditional musical theatre signatures, like predictable builds and "buttons" for precise, applause-triggering ends, and seem to drift away as, perhaps, the chemical effects diminish without a grand finish. You might feel a twinge of frustration and want the music to play on. That's the case for me with "The Music Plays On"; it's a super-satisfying waltz that the company begins the proceedings with and is happily returned to in a sweet duet for Harry Hadden-Paton as Huxley and Laura Shoop as his wife as they sing and try to find le mot juste that will rhyme as we smile and sway along. And in another warm-and-fuzzy selection capturing the joy of being opened to full appreciation of the marvels of the visual world, Hadden-Paton manifests delight with "Wondrous."

But some trips are unsettlingly fraught, such as Carmen Cusack, as Luce, processing the losses of her mother and daughter in a series of numbers. Her singing voice is powerful and passionate, prominent in the ambitious musical's gloriously ingratiating title song.

As Grant, the always engaging Tony Yazbeck gets amply contrasting material. In "I Have It All," he ambivalently acknowledges his way of life as a pampered movie star; in the energetic highlight called "Funny Money" he revisits his youth, literally, as his singing/dancing partner is his younger self, played by the cheery and charming young teen Atticus Ware in his Broadway debut. And in a score short on humor, we have to settle for the jolly but juvenile "Rocket Ship" to find the erstwhile classy Cary Grant proudly parading as, yes, a male sex organ.

It's a lot to drink in, but it's often fascinating and the recording is produced, sung, and played with care and drama. There are some marvelous harmonies in group numbers with this cast of 10. The show only had a short run, but curious appreciators of musical theatre shouldn't let Flying Over Sunset be a score flying under their radar.

CD and Digital

Checking many a box and thinking outside the box, Liam Forde is endearing, enthused, vivacious, vulnerable ... very versatile indeed. His impressive showcase debut collection is called Great to Be Here. A canny chameleon, he's cutely carefree on one track, he and the music boppity-bop-bouncing along like a kid skipping down the lane, and in another he's the pensive, shy romantic with his sweet high voice caressing the air, ending on a sigh. He projects a knowing old soul coexisting with a youthful spirit.

Musical ambience ranges from finger-snappy jazz-hugging romps to meltingly slow portraits of tender topics. Oh, and he can be quirky, too. The scorecard for versatility accumulates points when we note that the gear-shifting singer wrote the words and music for all ten songs, plays piano and flute, and collaborated on the arrangements (with his drummer/producer Zachary Eldridge and synth player Joel Thompson).

Grabbing attention in New York City's cabaret world and picking up a few awards in short order, Liam Forde has also been steadily building an acting resumé. Great to Be Here shows his ability to to convey cabaret's intimacy in hushed moments, and with an actor's attention to detail he shades his characters' moods and finds turning points and subtle touches. His attitudes and viewpoints are as crisp as his diction, diving into descriptive detail whether he's sticking close to home celebrating Manhattan's famed "Plaza Hotel" or reflecting on "Paris When It's Grey." His playful story-song of "Mrs. Dudley" will make you wonder if, as writer and presenter, he's morphing into this century's version of Noël Coward or Cole Porter.

The fertile Forde mind can spin the potentially plain or mundane subjects into something special and artfully appreciated. The best example is "Pajamas" wherein he disarmingly croons, describing his new, blue, buttoned garb as "cozy cotton armor" and his mindset as "doubtful and doleful."

Listening, we can imagine a twinkle in his eye sometimes, a faraway look or a tear in his eye at other times. Keenly observant, sensitive, and flush with a carpe diem sensibility, Liam Forde is good company.