Andrei Strizek

Music | Musings

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Pastiche in Stephen Sondheim's "Assassins": an economical and powerful score

The following was originally published in the Winter 2015 edition of The Sondheim Review (Vol. XXII, No. 1), in an issue focused on the 25th anniversary of Assassins.

Any discussion and celebration of Assassins would be incomplete without examining Stephen Sondheim's vivid and at times ironic use of pastiche in this, his most compact theatre score. More than any of his other musicals, Sondheim's score is filled with pastiche and parody songs. These songs evoke specific time periods in this nonlinear show, helping ground each scene in its historical setting. Sondheim achieves this through direct quotation or metamorphosis of familiar melodies such as Sousa marches and "Hail to the Chief," or by crafting tunes similar to revival-tent hymns and 1970s AM radio hits. The awareness of well-known styles draws the audience in to the play's difficult subject matter, but concurrently distances the audience in part through the paradoxical usage of many of these styles.

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Cast Album Review: "Tamar of the River"

I've started writing album reviews for My first piece was on Tamar of the River, an off-Broadway show written by Marisa Michelson & Joshua H. Cohen and featuring Margo Seibert. It's a beautiful postmodern score, unlike most other cast albums you'll hear. As I wrote, its clear the composer owes a debt to Meredith Monk, and this work would find a comfortable home in a Roomful of Teeth program, but it's also quite original in its writing.

Side note: About a week after this was published, I got a Facebook notification from a friend. I was mentioned in a comment after Maria Michelson found this review and posted it. Her reaction was positive, as were the comments of her friends (some of whom had worked on the show in some capacity or another). It's weird to know that the creators read my review (not that I expected them to ignore it if they came upon it); it's difficult to write if you think that the composer is looking over your shoulder, reading what you write. But it made me feel good to know that my review was read, respected, appreciated, and shared.

Stay tuned for more reviews - I have a few albums coming down the line, and I'll share them here when they're published.

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