The American South inherited much of its musical and cultural traditions from the British Isles. So, it’s really not surprising that J.M. Synge’s classic 1907 play The Playboy Of The Western World, set in a small Irish village, has been adapted with great success by Peter Mills and Cara Reichel as the new musical Golden Boy Of The Blue Ridge, set in the backwoods of Virginia.
The shared plot involves a handsome young stranger who wanders in from the night claiming to be a fugitive who has killed his father in self-defense. He captivates the townsfolk (especially the women) and becomes a local celebrity. But the surprise arrival of a second stranger causes an upheaval that tumbles into the dramatic climax.
The original New York off Broadway production was entertaining, witty, and compelling, impressions all reinforced by this original cast recording. The opening number “Way Out Back And Beyond” sets the mood, conveying the hardscrabble poverty and sense of isolation that have long haunted Appalachia. The songs (all with music and lyrics by Mills) are quite good and at times amusing, hair-raising, or poignant. Best of all, each number advances the musical’s plot, which is easy to follow on the CD. The singers and backup musicians are outstanding, energetically rising to the challenging material.
The mountain influenced music is played on guitar, banjo, fiddle, mandolin, and acoustic bass, with “A Wanted Man” and “Sixes And Sevens” coming closest to being straightahead oldtime bluegrass numbers. However, the songs are structured predominately in Broadway-musical style, with shifting modulations, accidentals, and counterpointing, competing duets. So, I’d recommend this recording to listeners who enoy an adventure outside traditional bounds. If you do, chances are you’ll be rewarded by Golden Boy Of The Blue Ridge. (Tumble Dry Music, 300 W. 43rd St., Ste. 302, New York, N.Y 10036, www.tumbledrymusic.com.) RDS