As David Kaplan, who put together the stage production of Tennessee Williams: Words and Music, says in the poetic liner notes to the glorious Alison Fraser’s Ghostlight recording of this set of songs and text garnered from the Williams canon due for release on April 8, the playwright uses music to represent “the promise of love and happiness just out of reach.” It is a promise of a love and happiness that may be achievable in some hope-filled future, a kind of paradise. The music represents the voyage of a traveler to that paradise.
Whether you agree with Kaplan’s reading of the playwright’s intention or not, you may find it nigh onto impossible not to find Alison Fraser’s performance as close to the Garden of Eden you’re likely to come across this side of paradise. This woman can sing. And backed up by The Gentlemen Callers, an ensemble of New Orleans all stars who presumably (at least in this context) take their name from The Glass Menagerie, in jazzy arrangements of some classic tunes by Allison Leyton-Brown, Fraser makes sure you hear just how well. In addition, her readings of strategic dialogue selected from some of the Williams plays makes clear she has some acting chops as well.
The set includes great old tunes like “If I Didn’t Care,” “It’s Only a Paper Moon,” and “Sophisticated Lady,” as well as some lesser-known works like “You’re the Only Star (In My Blue Heaven)” and “Come le Rose,” offering listeners a mix of the familiar and the unfamiliar. In the same spirit Williams readings are taken from the same kind of mix—A Streetcar Named Desire shares the stage with Auto de Fé and Clothes for a Summer Hotel.
There is a fine Dixieland take on W. C. Handy’s “St. Louis Blues,” with some sweet solo work from trumpeter Bobby Campo and the tenor sax of Jason Mingledorff. Handy’s “Yellow Dog Blues” is a tour de force for Fraser, supplemented by the trombone of J. Walter Hawkes. The concluding piece is a bang-up job on “Bye Bye Blues,” representing the end of the journey to paradise.
The spoken word segments include a couple of elegant monologues from Talk to Me Like the Rain and Let Me Listen and a piece from Ten Blocks on the Camino Real. There is also a selection of portions of Stanley’s revelations about Sister Blanche as she showers, as an introduction to a plaintive rendition of “I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles.”
Fine music paired with dynamic performance—Tennesee Williams: Words and Music Has a lot going for it.[amazon template=iframe image&chan=default&asin=B000026F43,B00IBQ5OWY]