Sondheimas 2k16: "Free" with George Abud
If you're expecting a stodgy version of this song from A Funny Thing Happened On the Way To the Forum, you're in the wrong place. With his typical wit and dry delivery, George has a new take on Pseudolus's song "Free."
I met George at last year's Sondheimas, where he performed two wonderful songs: "The Right Girl" (Follies) and his version of "Children and Art" (Sunday In the Park With George). He's one of my favorite people to work with and to watch perform. George has a unique voice, unlike any other performer's out there today, and his attitude towards music, singing, and acting is the "right" one, as far as I'm concerned. So when we asked him to perform again this year, I knew that he would come up with a great song and arrangement.
After some back and forth on song choices, George came to us with a demo of "Free" played and sung by Sondheim. Why this was recorded and when, exactly, we're not sure; it's closest to the movie version of this song, but even then there are many differences, lyrically and musically, between the two. This demo version - with its bright tempos, different key centers, and better - in my opinion - lyrics and character development - became the basis for our arrangement.
I set to work transcribing the demo. This was not too difficult once I got the general form outlined, because while it's different than the version of "Free" most of us are used to, it has many of the same elements that can be cut and paste, so to speak, into the new version. George and I met for a work session as we hashed out further plans for the song. Sondheim's demo was all one fast tempo - the tempo we eventually get to in our version. George, in his wisdom, wanted to start the song more gradually. This gave him more time to act - and we all know how much actors love to act - and gave the song some variety. Some more rehearsal time as the date got closer helped solidify George's choices, and gave me (and the audience!) some lines to sing.
What we ended up with is an arrangement of a demo version of a song that's different from any other version I've heard. To me, it's much more comedic at the faster tempo, and it's thrilling to hear George sing the lyrics at this tempo. The song works great with just piano; catching all the cues and stops and starts is definitely easier when there isn't an ensemble to cue in! But I love what I wrote for the band parts too: simple lines, in an older style mimicking the orchestrations of uptempo theatre songs from the 1930s and 1940s, that help drive the song to its conclusion. Both audiences that evening easily got their role in the song. With a room full of Sondheimites (yes, that's what they're called), that shouldn't have been too surprising!