Those who have lived with parents — and have had grandparents visit them – were quick to learn one fact of life.
Grandparents love you in a way that your parents can’t, don’t or won’t.
We see that once again in BEAU, a new funk-folk bluegrass musical that isn’t blue in either mood or language. Considering that it takes place in Nashville, this intimate show could also be called a “li’l ole opry.”
Seven musicians ranging from violin to mandolin add to the flavor. One of the two guitarists is Ethan D. Pakchar, who did the orchestrations of the music he co-composed with Douglas Lyons, who wrote the lyrics.
(Does Lyons’ name ring a bell? Perhaps you know him from his performing the same two tasks with POLKADOTS: THE COOL KIDS MUSICAL.)
BEAU – its recording is now available at Masterworks Broadway – shows us that Ace Baker and his mother Raven certainly have issues. He’s stunned when he learns that she’s been lying to him like a wall-to-wall rug.
Raven has always told Ace that his grandfather died around the time he was born. So imagine the boy’s fury when he discovers that the man is very much alive but Raven had long before chose to cut him out of her life. Ace makes it his mission to meet him.
He’s Beau, who’s been ill for a while. Although a grandson may not have been just what the doctor ordered, Ace certainly cures what ails Beau by giving him something to live for. Both give each other unconditional love.
Grandfathers have also been known treat their grandchildren better than their wives. That’s true of Beau, as you can tell from the song that Beau sings to his spouse: “Shut Up.”
Beau isn’t the first husband to say “I’ll get home when I get home” and he won’t be the last. Lest he seem too ornery, he does tell his wife “I love you” before adding “But tonight, let’s take a little break” as he assures her that “our love’s still strong.”
By the end of this song, we believe him.
Grandfathers often give advice to their grandchildren. In “By Your Side,” Beau shows that if he knew G(a)linda, he’d disagree with her: “It ain’t about what’s popular,” he sings. “Only what makes you smile.”
He has more to offer Ace by teaching him to play guitar. Beau still remembers how from the days when he had his own band. We can tell how long ago that was from the name of his group: The Bell Bottoms.
Fifteen years after, Ace is profiting from his grandfather’s lessons as frontman for a group he’s assembled. To honor the man, the band is called Beau. Now he’ll tell his audiences his history, taking them from the ‘70s to this decade, from a hospital to a high school to one home and then another.
Beau had become Ace’s father figure because his own father had never been on the scene. Even now, twelve years later, Raven is shown in “Better” that she’s still on the wild side.
As she sings to the man she’s just met, “I’m not playin’; I’m just sayin’ you can get it.”
Those who have been in Ace’s father-less position will relate to his song “Comin’ Home.” Here he imagines the questions he’d ask the man if he’d ever had the chance to meet him — twenty-one in all. “Do you like to drive?” sounds so matter-of-fact, even trivial until Ace makes clear that if his father doesn’t care to take to the road “Tell me where to go – if you’ll be there.”
Throughout grammar school and beyond, Ace has a tough time of it because of a bully named Ferris. Then comes a major twist. When Ace and Ferris get a little older, they find that they’re attracted to each other.
Lord Alfred Douglas over a century ago called it “the love that dare not speak its name.” Ace probably doesn’t know Alfred Douglas from Douglas MacArthur, but in “It Couldn’t Be” he basically says the same when telling Ferris about “a speck of curiosity that none would dare to speak … we’re not at all the same but a flame is flickering.”
Ferris is more forthright: “Can I enjoy you?”
Opposites attract, but do they stay attracted? Just from the title “Disappear,” we see that Ace and Ferris won’t last now and forever. (We’ll keep secret which one dumps the other.)
Because the love that a grandfather gives is of an extra-special nature, Ace is understandably more jittery about coming out to
Beau than he is to Raven. Learn of Beau’s unexpected response in “By Your Side.”
This is not an original cast album, and, as studio cast albums go, a bit of a maverick too. Although in the actual musical Ace sings “Crush” – about his latest attraction – and “Disappear,” Aisha Jackson does the former while Charity Angel Dawson and Olivia Griffin perform the latter.
Some of you may have already heard “Crush” from Mykal Kilgore’s recording. Here he instead sings “Thursday in July,” marking a certain day that Ace won’t ever forget.
So the album comes across as a compilation of individual recordings of BEAU’s songs that various artists had made on their own before someone made a mix-CD of them.
There are a few performers on the recording who appeared in BEAU when it played The Adirondack Theatre Festival in upstate New York this past summer. Max Sangerman portrayed Ferris, so he does his part in “It Couldn’t Be.”
Matt Rodin played Ace, and although he sang most of the songs on stage, he only appears in one solo and one duet (with Jeb Brown, the original Beau, who joins him on “By Your Side”).
That left the field open for the above-named artists as well as Jenn (COME FROM AWAY) Colella, Saint (AIN’T TOO PROUD) Auburn, Gerard (BE MORE CHILL) Canonico and Katie (OKLAHOMA!) Thompson in addition to a few others.
The show scored mightily at the festival. One critic hailed it as “joyously tuneful, emotionally rich and a wholly satisfying story.” Another proclaimed “There’s such a rush of emotion from the solid musical score, charismatic band and heart-tugging story line, it’s hard to hold back a few rogue tears.” A third agreed: “There are musicals that entertain you. There are other shows that touch you emotionally. And, there are those shows that demand discussion on the way home. BEAU, a new and beautiful musical … does all three.”
Thus all enterprising producers who are looking for The Next Big Thing should listen to this album. BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN, which also dealt with gays that weren’t at all stereotypical, couldn’t win the Oscar. Let’s see if BEAU can win the Tony.