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Fabulous Connick; awful musical theatre
on June 23, 2002
Thou Shalt Not is one of Broadway's most recent flops, assuming a place of honor alongside such other eager shows as Seussical and Jane Eyre. The score for the musical did win Harry Connick, Jr. a Tony nomination for Best Original Score, and the score has been preserved on CD for fans of Harry Connick, Jr., if for nobody else.
The CD itself is minimally packaged; lyrics to the songs are presented but there are no appreciable liner notes and (most regrettably) no synopsis to aid with connecting Connick, Jr.'s music with the story, which is a re-telling of Emile Zola's 1868 book, "Therese Raquin". The show's creators moved the setting from Paris to New Orleans, giving Connick, Jr. free license to use his talent for New Orleans jazz writing.
The story of Thou Shalt Not is built around the relationship of Laurent LeClaire (Craig Bierko) and a married woman, Therese Raquin (Kate Levering). Their heated affair climaxes at the end of Act One with the murder of the one obstacle in their relationship, Camille Raquin (Norbert Leo Butz) -- Therese's husband. Act Two features the return of Camille in ghostly form, intent on torturing the adulterous lovers.
If I had just purchased a new CD by Harry Connick, Jr., expecting his usual mix of fabulous jazz crooner songs and big band numbers, I would be extremely pleased with Thou Shalt Not. This point is emphasized even more in the sound of Norbert Leo Butz's rendition of "All Things" and "Oh! Ain't That Sweet", where Butz channels the sultry tones of Harry Connick, Jr. (and therefore, indirectly, Frank Sinatra) with astounding accuracy. The fact is that the recording encompasses some of Connick, Jr.'s best writing; that in concert with his full orchestration make this an almost must-have album for any fan of Harry Connick, Jr. An end-to-end listening to the recording, however, merely highlights Connick Jr.'s discomfort with the genre of musical theatre.
All of this discomfort is summed up in "Sovereign Lover", a five minute mishmash of styles that starts out as a love ballad for Therese (Kate Levering) before quickly turning into an upbeat jazz number, followed by a bizarre out-of-place tap break complete with "we're going to commercial at the Oscars" orchestra swells... and just when you're wondering what on Earth Connick is doing, all three all thrown together into a horrid non-climax that leaves you thinking you've just been listening to the original cast recording of "Waiting For Guffman"'s Red, White and Blaine. In fact, about a quarter of the recording is completely orchestral; this is no doubt due to the influence of Susan Stroman, who undoubtedly put intense, torrid music like "The Other Hours Ballet" and "Thou Shalt Not Ballet" to extremely effective use with her trademark 'Stromanography'.
As a cast recording from a piece of musical theatre, I think this is an extremely weak effort. As a collection of "Very Harry Connick, Jr." songs, I think it's wonderful. Musically, there are several standouts besides the aforementioned "All Things" and "Oh! Ain't That Sweet". Craig Bierko does a respectable job of a song I'd love to hear Connick record -- "The Other Hours". "Take Her To The Mardi Gras" is a high-energy company number with brassy orchestrations and latin overtones; "Won't You Sanctify" is a slow-burn New Orleans funeral march; and "It's Good To Be Home" (thanks to the efforts of Ted L. Levy as Papa Jack) reminds me of the best of Louis Armstrong.
All in all, this is a very strong recording of a musical theatre score that simply does not comprehend the genre. If Hamlisch's score for Sweet Smell of Success is a mix of ingredients that don't quite gel, Thou Shalt Not is a recipe that should never have been taken off the shelf. If you are a fan of Harry Connick, Jr., I think there is a great deal to enjoy on this CD.