Thursday, July 11, 2024

Review: OBCR: The Outsiders

Cast Recording Review:
OBCR The Outsiders

The Tony Award-winning Best Musical of 2024, The Outsiders has released its Original Broadway Cast Recording. It features music and lyrics by Jamestown Revival - Jonathan Clay and Zach Chance - and Justin Levine. Levine also has a co-book writing credit (with Adam Rapp), as well as contributing the show's orchestrations and arrangements. They are all well-deserving of their Tony nominations. Here are some thoughts on the cast recording:

The show hews closely to S.E. Hinton's seminal young adult novel, and Rapp and Levine wisely expanded the show to include a deeper understanding of the characters and their relationships. With Levine as the bridge between the book and the score, his contributions are crucial to this being a carefully, skillfully integrated telling of this story where everyone is really an outsider looking to find themselves and their place in a society - wealthy and poor alike - in a world that doesn't really see them. 
As a result, even in isolation away from the staging, the recording offers and emotional, exhilarating listening experience. Every note, every lyric remains true to these beloved characters and their story. The mixture of 60s country-pop, honky tonk/rockabilly and folk feels so authentic, and just "Broadway" enough. Just like in the show itself, the recording showcases the quality of the ensemble cast, as well as the remarkable principal characters, with each give ample opportunity to show off their talents.

"Tulsa 1967" -
The opening number sets up the story perfectly through the lens of its narrator, Ponyboy (Brody Grant), who lays it all out in simple turns of phrase, but with a mature awareness of reality that only comes to a teenager who has faced some tough times. The way it builds and builds to a crescendo is a great way to start the show with unmistakable energy.

"Grease Got a Hold" - Another high energy number that brings Ponyboy into the Greaser fold at the urging of the toughest of the gang, Dally (Joshua Boone). With smooth jazz and rapid fire runs. Here each Greaser gets a moment to shine, and come together with sharp harmonies in the choruses. As exuberant and cocky as the number is, there is an undercurrent of anger and resignation behind the catchy rock beat.

"Runs in the Family" - Here's where the musical takes a deeper look at the Curtis family. Brent Comer as Darrel lets us know where life has lead him - more father than brother. The sense of duty he has is both a source of pride and a constant reminder that this isn't the life he chose.

"Great Expectations" - With this song, Ponyboy realizes through his love of literature, that he has much in common with the Dickens novel he's reading. He and the Greasers all dream of better - again their harmonies are spectacular, and Grant shows that he is a force to be reckoned with as the new generation of Broadway talent emerges.

"Friday at the Drive-In" -
Our first look at the Socs is a catchy bop of a song, full of references to all that they have and take for granted. As Cherry, Emma Pittman gives us our first glimpse of the character in the company of her group and all the expectations that come with it. The song is a swinging number that parallels the Greasers' earlier number, with intense keyboards and rock guitar.

"I Could Talk to You All Night" - Pittman and Grant establish a chemistry here that is as palpable on the recording as it is in the theater. You can't help but wonder what might have been with these two if their circumstances were different. They both seem shocked at how they aren't really that different. Simply played, but impactful.

"Runs in the Family (Reprise)" - Darry's fear as anger in this hardcore reprise ends up being the catalyst for all of the events to come. So powerful.

"Far Away From Tulsa" - At an emotional crossroads, Ponyboy at odds with his brothers, Johnny (Sky Lakota-Lynch) virtually ignored by his family, the best friends plan to run away to greener pastures and how they'd be each other's family. A beautiful power ballad duet, that ends with a full company reprise of "Great Expectations."

"Run Run Brother" -
As things come to a violent turning point, the boys, needing to flee for their lives. A great act closer, this number is simply orchestrated to make the dialog crystal clear, and an urgent, driving beat, it makes everything feel desperate and exciting, especially as the entire company comes in to sing the final choruses, ending with the roar of a passing train out of Tulsa. Grant, Lakota-Lynch and Boone are superb here.

"Justice For Tulsa"
Act Two begins with an ominous tune with a dangerous ticking beat, suggesting an urgency of time running out, and the lyrics revealing a finger-pointing mob and others defensively denying all. As the number progresses, it is interesting how the music and vocal arrangements depict the in-fighting within the Socs. The title, of course, really only means justice for some, not all of Tulsa.

"Death's at My Door" - The largely acoustic nature of the instruments here allow for some stellar vocals and acting by Grant and Lakota-Lynch. Guilt transitions to compassion and togetherness as these friends now depend on each other for survival.


"Throwing in the Towel" -
A brilliant showcase of the aftermath and consequences of horrible events, here's the best expansion of the original work. The Curtis brothers are hurting and scared, and Comer and Jason Schmidt (as Sodapop) deliver powerful vocals, and when Grant joins in, in three part harmony, it's probably the single best moment of the score and of the Broadway season. Gorgeous and heartfelt.

"Soda's Letter" - With its happy-go-lucky feel and plucky tune, this short bit gives Schmidt a great moment to shine on his own. I love his voice - the perfect blend of professional and character.

"Hoods Turned Heroes" - The relief and pride resonates in this rocking number encapsulates the theme of expectations vs reality - Greaser's can be the good guys. With some great vocals from Two Bit (Daryl Tofa), this is a toe-tapper.

"Hopeless War" - A poignant but brutal reality check, this is a great showcase for Grant and Pittman, both of whom use restraint rather than histrionic vocalizing to bring home the point. 

"Trouble" - The orchestrations - urgent strings, pounding percussion and electric guitars - are the stars of this interlude as the rivals prepare for a rumble. "Do it for Johnny!" is a war cry for the ages.

"Little Brother" -
A powerful soul-blues showcase for the brilliance of Boone's performance. The song fits the post-rumble scene perfectly, but it bears the weight of so much more - the poverty cycle continues, taking victim after victim. Loss, regret and an explosive guilt are superbly conveyed here. A self-eulogy is a shocking and thrilling way to convey this profound tragedy.

"Stay Gold" - From beyond the grave, Johnny connects with his best-friend one last time in a moment of clarity and understanding. Simple acoustic guitar with simple, beautifully sung harmonies really makes this so sad, yet uplifting. Keep a tissue close when you listen to this one. 

"Finale (Tulsa '67) - Musically back where we started, but emotionally eons apart. A great coda to a beautiful show.

Grade: A

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