Theatre

Little Fish – Cast Recording



track listing

1. Days
2. Robert
3. It’s A Significance
4. The Pool
5. Winter Is Here
6. Short Story
7. Perfect
8. John Paul
9. He
10. Cigarette Dream
11. Flotsam
12. I Ran
13. The Ninety-Year-Old Man
14. By The Way
15. Remember Me
16. Anne
17. Little Fish
18. Poor Charlotte
19. The Track
20. Flotsam (Reprise)
21. Simple Creature
22. Revelations
23. In Two’s And Three’s
It’s popular nowadays to proclaim intelligent musical theatre composers “the next Stephen Sondheim.” Sondheim, in our day and age, represents the pinnacle of songwriting for the theatre.

Mostly – though not always – undervalued during their original runs, his shows are revived on Broadway on what seems like a yearly basis, usually to critical acclaim. Like Sondheim, composer Michael John LaChiusa chooses challenging subject matter for his shows. Because of this (also like Sondheim), his shows rarely find an audience. They’re too niche, too uncommercial, or too musically complicated – the kinds of shows hardcore musical theatre geeks fawn over after they’ve closed prematurely.

Little Fish, which enjoyed a brief New York run off-Broadway at Second Stage in early 2003, can safely be considered minor LaChiusa. Less ambitious in scale than his The Wild Party and Marie Christine on Broadway and even his off-Broadway scores for Bernarda Alba and See What I Wanna See, until now, the score had gone unrecorded. This is a recording of the Los Angeles production by the Blank Theatre Company, headed by the superb Alice Ripley and a talented company of actors who bring this largely forgotten score vividly to life.

The story revolves around New York short story-writer Charlotte, who has quit smoking in order to address the various neuroses in her life. Along the way, she confronts her former lover Robert (Robert Torti), her friends Kathy and Marco (Dina Morishita and Chad Kimball), her new roommate Cinder (Samantha Shelton), a new love interest named John Paul(German Santiago), a former boss named Mr. Bunder (Gregory Jbara), and a new friend named Anne (Brooke Tansley), each of whom only serves to intensify her feelings of aimlessness.

There’s little plot on display here, mostly character development, but that’s the kind of intimate story LaChiusa embraces best. He’s often dismissed as a trader in pastiche, but this score is discrediting proof. The songs on display here are each bolstered by a specificity of character largely unrivaled in musical theatre today. The opener, Days, sets the ball rolling – an elegy to smoking full of energy and neurotic choruses of “You wanna go.” The monotony of a ticking clock and the sounds of a woodblock punctuate the rhythm beneath the company’s chants of the days of the week. LaChiusa’s music is a challenge to grasp at first, but spending the extra time to warm to his score is worth the effort. It contains plenty of nuance as a reward to those patient enough to persist.

There are, of course, a handful of songs that should be immediately accessible to a listener; these are no less impressive than the rest of the score. I Ran, a quick, pop-infused tune about Marco’s failed relationship and subsequent self-discovery, with energetic vocals by Chad Kimball and lyrics like, “My life has gotten better./I bought an Irish setter,” is a highlight. It even features Buddhist “Ohmmm”s amongst its lyrics. Remember Me, sung by Dina Morishita as Kathy, is similarly affecting. A ballad with acoustic guitar, the song expresses Kathy’s fear that she’ll die of the illness with which she’s recently been diagnosed, unremembered by those she’ll have left behind. “The only things that I’d leave behind would be cluttering my purse,” she sings. “No carvings of creatures on ancient stone.”

The score, even when it’s most melodic, is far from an easy listen. The themes at hand are challenging and devoid of easy answers. But LaChiusa is best as a composer when he’s attuned to the subtle tics of his characters, and his score for Little Fish is no exception to this rule. His work here may not feature the more lush, grandiose tone of his Broadway scores, but its simple orchestrations mirror its simple plot. Little Fish may ultimately not attract attention on par with that directed toward LaChiusa’s other shows, but it deserves a listen nonetheless, especially as recorded by this talented cast.



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