Good lord, I just noticed it’s been almost exactly a year since I wrote the first part of this. It’s been a pretty crazy year, and a ton happened that I was apparently too busy to blog about. I’m going to try to be better at that this year, and so in that spirit, I at long last present to you my number two show for folks looking for more of that Hamiltion high going into the New Year.
2. February House
So you loved Hamilton’s heady story of a man who wrote his way to the top, then back down again, but you’re more into Sufjan Stevens and Fleet Foxes than hip hop? Have I got a show for you. Based on Sherilll Tippins’ book about a 1940 attempt at artistic communal living in Brooklyn involving the likes of W.H Auden, Carson McCullers, Erica Mann, Gypsy Rose Lee, and Benjamin Britten, February House is a stunning introduction to a new and unique voice in American musical theatre. Gabriel Kahane takes a show filled with 20th century arts titans, and manages to create an warm, intimate score around them. It’s hard for me to think of a musical theatre song in recent years that matches the achingly lovely “Coney Island,”or a comedy number funnier than Benjamin Britten and his lover Peter Pears turning the discovery of “Bedbugs” into an operatic tour de force.
In many ways, February House feels a lot like Rent for adults. It maintains the themes of community and artistic as well as sexual independence, but does so in a way that’s less colored by the defiant naivete of youth. A major plot point of February House, for instance, is just how the characters ARE going to manage to pay the rent. Its ending is also more downbeat in a way that feels very true, with the whole experiment falling apart, but going on to inspire great work in those who attempted it. I also fully anticipate that, in light of this year’s election results, February House’s central debate about just what responsibility artists have to respond to the political environment around them is going to feel very timely indeed.
As with most of the shows I’ll be talking about, I haven’t actually seen February House (Yay life in the Midwest). And having only experienced the cast recording, I can’t speak to the success or failure of the show’s book, which from reviews I’ve read seems to have its problems. Regardless of any dramaturgical missteps, though, the musical storytelling on display on the album deserves a large hearing. So if you’re a musical theatre geek looking for that one buried gem that you haven’t heard yet, this is very good place to start. A story of artists trying to create a small-scale Paradise for themselves where they can live and love freely that manages to be both buoyant and melancholy, February House is must-hear cast recording, and perhaps, a great show for smaller theatre companies to start taking a chance on.
Here’s some video to take you down the rabbit hole: