The musical Brownstone, with music by Peter Larson and Josh Rubins, lyrics by Rubins, and a book by Larson, Rubins, and Andrew Cadiff, about a small apartment building in New York and five of its inhabitants, had two brief Off-Broadway productions in the 1980s, then largely languished until the Berkshire Theatre Festival mounted a new version in 2002 that seems to have inspired this first-ever recording, although only two of the performers, Liz Callaway and Kevin Reed, were featured in that production. That makes it a "studio cast" album, the other participants being Broadway veterans Brian d'Arcy James, Debbie Gravitte, and Rebecca Luker. (While the show lay fallow, the melancholy ballad "Since You Stayed Here" earned covers by the likes of Dionne Warwick and Bette Midler.) Set in "the present day," the show explores urban apartment living among thirty-sometings including Mary (Luker) and Howard (James), a married couple, Stuart (Reed), newly arrived from Wisconsin, and two single women, Claudia (Callaway) and Joan (Gravitte), the latter of whom is involved in a long-distance relationship. Their issues include their relationships with each other, their hopes and fears, and, in a newly added song for 2002, the matter of cell phones and how, because of them, you can no longer easily identify the crazy people on the street (they might not be talking to themselves after all). The obvious antecedents for this sort of show are Stephen Sondheim's Company and Richard Maltby, Jr. and David Shire's Closer than Ever, and the songs are often in a similar vein. Callaway's "What Do People Do?," for instance, finds her character at loose ends without a date, and explores other (unsatisfactory) possibilities (reading? knitting?). Inevitably, the married couple is considering starting a family, but it's unusual that the funny "Baby on the Brain" is given to James, the husband, not Luker. The music is in familiar show tune style for the ‘80s, with the exception of "We Came Along Too Late," which locates the songwriters' hearts in the era of the Great American Songbook and intentionally sounds like something Fred Astaire could have danced to. The intention of the recording may have been to demonstrate to regional theaters that here is a smart, tuneful show with a small cast that could be ideal for a modest production. If so, that goal is reached with the disc.
AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann
|Brownstone: The Musical, musical play|