Soft Power

Started by scenicdesign71, Oct 16, 2019, 10:43 AM

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I saw this at the Public on Sunday evening, and still haven't been able to pull my conflicting reactions together into anything resembling coherence.  I wanted to like the new show a lot more than I actually did; but, in addition to being a uselessly broad and vague reaction, that's also a relatively common one, coming from me -- noteworthy, if at all, only for the intensity of the ambivalence in this particular instance.

Besides, while there's a lot about the show itself that could be called broad, "vague" is hardly the word to describe the experience of watching it; whatever its flaws, its fascinations are numerous and genuine enough to deserve more than a vague thumbs-up (and/or -down) summary.  But, try as I might, I just could not sort out my feelings about Soft Power.

So I'm grateful for Jesse Green's NYT review, which manages both to convey many of the show's intricacies and convolutions, and to sustain a reasonable tonal approximation of its overall effect -- neither panning the work outright nor overpraising it.  And while I agree with every point Green makes here, I couldn't have pulled my reactions together with such well-judged lucidity to save my life.  Definitely worth a read:


How was the score? If it's released as a cast recording, would you recommend it?


I'd pretty much recommend an album of Tesori snoring; among the small armada of so-called "baby Sondheims," she's had my vote for true keeper-of-the-flame for some years now despite the fact that she mostly doesn't write her own lyrics (or at least doesn't take credit for any).  And I would certainly buy a copy of any forthcoming Soft Power OCR for myself.  But to others I'd probably recommend with the proviso that this isn't necessarily her most perfectly realized work.  Per Green:

Quote from: New York TimesThough not imitations of Golden Age hits, Tesori's songs are loving tributes that swim in and out of currents of familiarity. Orchestrated by Danny Troob for that unusually large orchestra, they sound marvelous, and yet they don't quite do the trick. It would take the brilliancy of Sondheim, especially in the lyrics — Hwang's are bare-bones, devoid of panache — to pull off the necessary double act here: to succeed as worthy successors to the originals and satires of them at the same time.

My favorite parts of the score weren't actually the "Golden Age"-ish-sounding songs (which seemed to comprise most of it) but the  harmonically rangy, lyrical, straight-up Tesori-sounding passages.  Given a libretto in which satire and earnestness seem to toggle so rapidly that it's sometimes hard to tell which is which, I wished there were more of these passages.  Troob's orchestrations gleam, and that scenic reveal of the orchestra, about twenty minutes in, is kinda breathtaking.

And Green is dead-on about the lyrics ("bare-bones, devoid of panache"), regrettably: the conspicuous lack of a brilliant lyricist here -- or, to be more blunt, even an adequate one -- may be Soft Power's single biggest liability.

He's probably also right that it's "the kind of show that deserves, and unfortunately needs, to be seen at least twice," which I'm tempted to do, despite and/or because of how maddening I found it the first time.  (Likewise, "[no] easier to parse than it is to praise" sums up quite a lot, in the context of a review as strongly mixed as this).


Between, at the time, being a lovestruck idiot and attending to MS's final wrap-out, I missed this until just now — but the recording was announced last month:

I'm not expecting it to bring me around the way the Fun Home OOBCR did (as it undoubtedly did, though the B'way restaging was the clincher that made everything else click into place).  But you never know, it could happen -- and even if I never love Soft Power the way I do FH or Caroline or Violet, it'll be nice to get a better understanding of its score.


I just got an email from the Public saying that the OCR is still on track for a 17 April release, and is available for pre-order at Ghostlight:

Meanwhile, they've also posted this little taste: