Full disclosure first, I was a contributor to the Kickstarter campaign for this studio cast recording of new musical Paradise Lost as attested on this page here (although darn that pesky line break!) I can’t really remember what prompted such benevolence from me, ‘twas just the second thing I have helped to fund in the smallest way but something about this musical treatment of John Milton’s poem clearly caught my attention and with the finished product now in hand, I can clearly see why.
Lee Ormsby’s music and story and Jonathan Wakeham’s book and lyrics has a self-confessed aim of “epic storytelling” and through a determination to forefront character and bold, accessible music, the 24 tracks that make up this double album offer a tantalising glimpse into what has the potential to be a truly spectacular musical. Bucking contemporary trends somewhat, it looks back to a time of 80s mega-musicals but infuses it with real heart to make a beguiling confection.
Wakeham contextualises the political and cultural turmoil of the war in heaven through the classic mechanism of a love triangle. Angelis, an ambitious newcomer to Heaven, has her head turned first by the leader of Heaven’s army Michael and then by troubled outsider Lucifer and is faced with a choice which soon extends far beyond where her heart lies. It’s a clever take on the story, an adaptation alive to a respect for its source material but crucially also to the needs of its new form.
Lee Ormsby’s score rises to the challenge magnificently too, truly sweeping in scope as lush tunes, elegant orchestrations and some seriously killer power balladry combine to glorious effect. It’s skilfully constructed too, with repeated melodies and motifs interwoven throughout so that the hummability factor is strong. Case in point, by the time the soaring ‘There’s An Emotion/Kingdom Of Your Own’ arrives midway through the second act, you’ll be able to sing (albeit wordlessly) along to the whole tune.
And what a tune, Ricardo Afonso’s Lucifer and Charlotte Wakefield’s Angelis duet gorgeously here as drama and passion flare up in the song I am most excited to eventually see staged (I envisage much dry ice and moving platforms). Wakefield’s delivery of Angelis’ ‘When I See His Face’ and Afonso’s raw power in Lucifer’s ‘Here I Am’ also stand out and as the third point of the triangle, Matthew Wycliffe’s Michael is equally powerful especially in the plaintive ‘Silence In My Heart’.
Amongst the rest of the score are touches of musical comedy (Anna Francolini, Amanda Minihan, and Annette McLaughlin’s lovelorn angels having lots of fun), dramatic recitative (Julie Atherton’s tragic Oriale opening up the show in great style) and stirring choral numbers that the nearly 30-strong company here bring bracingly to life. The bombastic style of the music of Paradise Lost may not necessarily be to everyone’s taste but for me, it makes for a hugely exciting prospect for musical theatre in the (hopefully near) future and an absolute treat for your ears now.