Jericho Road: A Musical Event (Original Cast Recording)
Avondale College of Higher Education, 2017
When first listening to the soundtrack album of Jericho Road, I began with a number of disadvantages. I have only a passing knowledge of the musical genre and none of The Last Five Years, the 2001 musical by Jason Robert Brown to which Jericho Road responds. I could not attend any of Jericho Road’s short run of performances in March 2017 and I had inadvertently tripped the “shuffle” function on the Jericho Road playlist first time through. And that matters when trying to get a sense of the storytelling element that should come with the soundtrack to a musical event.
That this album could overcome my ignorance and ineptitude speaks to its listenability and its success as a musical experience. As a reflection on love, loss and faithfulness, Jericho Road has something to say—and says it with melodies that are neither too light nor over-written, effective orchestration from a small ensemble and generally understated vocals, with the original cast transplanted from the stage to the recording studio.
The fourth musical written and produced by Dr Lindsay Morton, Assistant Dean (Teaching and Learning) in the Faculty of Arts, Nursing and Theology at Avondale College of Higher Education, the musical performances and subsequent recording sessions drew on the musical contributions of Avondale students and members of the wider Avondale music community. As such, it is a truly homegrown production—one of which the contributors can be justifiably proud and that deserves the wider hearing this recording offers. May we see and hear more such productions with this standard of creativity, thoughtfulness, performance and production.
As an album, the songs have to stand on their own, without the narrative, production and lighting effects of the stage. And the musical form dictates an album that builds slowly to the narrative climaxes at the end of the first act—in this case, “Faithful”, a standout track complete with obligatory cultural references, a cameo from a contemporary worship song in this instance—and then again to the end of the story, meaning the strongest and most memorable tracks are in the second half of the track listing. Perhaps the inadvertent “shuffle” was a good way to start, in this sense.
"Jericho Road is more about questions than their too-easy answers."
A common feature of the musical form is also reprise of songs, revisiting and reinterpreting their musical and lyrical themes at different points in the story. This is used to good effect with the opening and closing “Altar” and in the first act with “Overflowing”. These bind the 16 tracks into something more than a mere collection of songs, reinforcing the narrative connections (thus the difficulties with the shuffle).
The second act begins with the whole cast performance of “Lest We Forget”, a somewhat martial tune that sets the stage for the final choice the characters face. The ending differed with each performance of the musical event, offering a different kind of narrative tension and less certain resolution. After all, Jericho Road is more about questions than their too-easy answers. Nonetheless, “Sing in the Rain” offers a place of trust and beauty, even as the story remains unfinished.
Jericho Road—the album—asks for an attentive listener, perhaps initially with the liner notes and story summary from the digital booklet on screen. But it will reward this listener, even if it requires that second pass without the shuffle.
Jericho Road: A Musical Event (Original Cast Recording) is available from the iTunes Store.