Vocalist Chad Sloan. photo: Aron Norman
Songs from an Unmade Bed
A Theatrical Song Cycle
Based Upon Poems of Mark Campbell
Review by Annette Skaggs
Entire contents copyright © 2018, Annette Skaggs. All rights reserved.
Not too long ago John Austin Clark, the founder, and harpsichordist of Bourbon Baroque approached Chad Sloan, a now tenured professor of Voice at the University of Louisville School of Music, about how neat it would be to present a Cabaret featuring a rotation of vocal talent from in and around the Louisville area. Mr. Sloan was certainly on board and suggested Songs from an Unmade Bed. As luck would have it, I knew that this intimate night of performing was on the horizon as not too long before the posters announcing the show went up I had had a conversation with Dennie Humphrey, the owner of Jimmy Can’t Dance, who shared with me that he would be hosting the cozy affair. Sometimes the stars align just right!
Songs from an Unmade Bed is a Theatrical Song Cycle based upon 18 poems written by Mark Campbell that illustrates the dating life of a young, urban gay man. During Mr. Clark’s curtain speech, he shared with the audience about how some of the poems reflect his own life and that the ticket sales of the concert series would benefit the Louisville Youth Group. LYG is a safe place for youth who identify as LGBTQ where they can be themselves and be among peers and supporters without fear and/or prejudice. Mr. Clark holds LYG close to his heart and credits them as a major influence on his life and career as it is now (as well as having a supportive family).
The 18 poems are all set to music written by different composers, such as Jenny Giering, Duncan Sheik, and Jake Heggie. As you can imagine, with 18 different composers you can find 18 different musical styles and you would be absolutely correct. But the cycle offers an amazing amalgam of orchestration and symbiosis of thought and form, even if we only got to hear 17 of the pieces.
The lyrics are just as varied as the song styles. Throughout the cycle, the lyrics could be poignant and reminiscent of long ago such as in Peter Golub’s “I Miss New York”, or funny and clever such as in Debra Barsha’s “He Never Did That Before”. The lyrics also tended to lean toward deliciously bawdy, like in Mark Bennett’s “A Dinner Party”.
Above all, the musical adaptations of these delightful and insightful poems were a musician’s dream of complexity and challenge. One piece, in particular, Jeffrey Stock’s “He Plays the Cello”, was a test of a professional cello player’s ability and skill to offset what would actually come natural, but to do something totally unnatural. A huge tip of the hat to cellist Travis Carlisle for making bad cello playing look so easy. And did you know that throwing in some Rave/Dance music, complete with a disco ball, within a Broadway-esque song is totally normal? It is if you are composer Brendan Milburn (“I Want to Go Out Tonight”).
Throughout the evening Mr. Clark kept the accompaniment going on an upright piano while helping to conduct Mr. Carlisle on cello and the multi-instrumentation of percussionist Benji Simmons, who had absolute control and dexterity of his domain.
Mr. Sloan has a huge and mesmerizing voice and is able to entertain across different styles of music and has a career doing just that. The songs within “Unmade” fit his Baritone timbre perfectly, allowing him to even go into falsetto mode a few times. While the microphone was needed to hear him over the instrumentation and the set-up of the room, there were times that I thought that Mr. Sloan could have lowered the mic as the heft and volume of his natural ability was almost distorted in the sound coming from the speakers. That isn’t a major problem, but I think a better balance might have been balanced.
While I believe that all 17 songs were as close to perfect as they could be, save for a pitch movement here and there or a strange rhythm, Mr. Sloan’s performance of Steven Lutvak’s “Exit Right” and Jake Heggie’s “The Other, Other Woman” were probably my favorite. Truthfully, all of the songs were performed with cheekiness, deference, and showmanship.
I was not familiar with this particular song cycle, but am very, very grateful that John Austin Clark and Chad Sloan, two phenomenal artists in Louisville, have brought it to our fair city. I hope to hear it in repertory, from someone, again soon. What a fantastic and inspiring performance you’ve given us.
P.S. Hearing Bea Arthur in Concert before the performance was an absolute delight, too!!!
Songs from an Unmade Bed
May 21 – 23, 2018
Jimmy Can’t Dance
119 South 7th Street
Louisville, KY 40202
Annette Skaggs is heavily involved as an Arts Advocate here in Louisville. She is a freelance professional opera singer who has performed throughout Europe and in St. Louis, Cincinnati, Boulder, Little Rock, Peoria, Chicago, New York and of course Louisville. Aside from her singing career, she has been a production assistant for Kentucky Opera, New York City Opera, and Northwestern University. Her knowledge and expertise have developed over the course of 25+ years’ experience in the classical arts.