It's Only Life is a musical revue assembled from 20 years' worth of songs by musical theater songwriter John Bucchino. It was first staged at the Summer Play Festival in New York in July 2004, and a concert version was performed on January 27, 2006, at Lincoln Center as part of a songwriters' series called "American Songbook." Five days later, the five-person cast went into a recording studio and, accompanied only by Bucchino at the piano, made this album. Bucchino is part of a group of serious young theatrical songwriters (also including Adam Guettel, Michael John LaChiusa, Jason Robert Brown, and Ricky Ian Gordon, among others) who have struggled to get attention at a time when the musical theater, at least on Broadway, is dominated by Disney-inspired cartoon-based extravaganzas and "karaoke" or "jukebox" shows stuffed with old pop hits. Bucchino comes out of an entirely different tradition. Specifically, he is a direct descendent of Stephen Sondheim and clearly aspires to continue Sondheim's investigation of dark, personal themes. Although the songs in It's Only Life may come from many different aborted musicals or other projects, it's easy to think of them as having been written for a new version of Company, Sondheim's 1970 musical about modern urban single people, or even as a sequel to Richard Maltby, Jr., and David Shire's 1983 musical revue Closer Than Ever, another examination of the ups and downs of contemporary romance. Bucchino's characters are extremely verbal and extremely self-examining, and that becomes apparent right at the start with "The Artist at 40," which is full of lines that begin, "I'm afraid," many of them conflicting ("I'm afraid to love too little/I'm afraid to love too much"). Whether these characters are trying to out-analyze their analysts ("Painting My Kitchen") or second-guess potential lovers they've just met ("Playbill"), they tend to over-think things, and their need for love is only exceeded by their ability to criticize their partners for not loving them enough. (In "Love Quiz," the singer informs her significant other that he/she would have failed a quiz found in a women's magazine if the singer hadn't graded on a curve, and "On My Bedside Table" uses ordinary items to build a case of recrimination against an ex-lover.) Occasionally, there is a bit of comic relief, such as "A Contact High," in which a teenager is busted by a parent, but for the most part, the song cycle is a serious, articulate look at love and its foibles. Bucchino is unabashed about the influence of Sondheim, who is even name-checked in two songs and who has lines quoted here and there. There are, however, worse models to have as a songwriter, and Bucchino has occasional moments that approach his mentor's wit and tunefulness, especially as aided by the quintet of professional stage singers who give his work the powerful readings they receive here.
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AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann
|It's Only Life, musical|