Being separated from the theatrical community I love so much in recent months as a result of the pandemic has been really difficult. With live performances inside still a way off despite positive steps in the right direction, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how the industry might change as a result of the current climate: the kinds of work being created, how we as audiences interact with it, and so on. It’s an uncertain future, but I know that the community I admire so much is full of incredibly talented, resourceful and resilient folk that will pave the way for their return to doing what they love.
Until that time, there have been some immensely bright and powerful sparks of hope, and I’d like to tell you all about one now: The Original Studio Cast Recording of a new musical: Mascherato!
Recorded prior to lockdown with a cast including Rob Houchen, Katy Treharne, Jeremy Secomb, Nathaniel Parker, Oscar Conlon – Morrey and Emma Kershaw, a 12 member chorus, and a 22 piece orchestra at the infamous Abbey Road Studios, Mascherato was conceived in 2015 by composer & lyricist Michael Elderkin, (featuring a book by James Willett) and following a successful workshop in 2017, the team have released the show as a concept album in order for it to reach as wide an audience as possible in the current climate.
Set in 18th Century Venice, Mascherato explores faith, love and fate, as we meet Luca and Elena who have fallen in love as Venice slowly sinks into war with the Ottoman Empire and, torn apart by the conflict, the young lovers must fight to be reunited.
I’ve always been fascinated by Italy, and what struck me immediately and stayed with me throughout listening to the show was how easily I was able to conjure up those images and feelings, and imagine how this might look onstage. It’s made even more accessible with narration (read beautifully by Ionna Kimbook) interspersed between scenes, so you can easily follow the action as it unfolds – I personally wish more recordings were like this as I was invested in the characters and story immediately without having to go searching elsewhere for context, and though the dialogue and story are abridged, it loses none of its charm and intrigue.
With its 2017 workshop being so well received, it’s refreshing to see a new, British musical taking such confident, well judged strides towards its future. There are moments where it perhaps teeters towards losing focus as some sequences could be shortened to help the story flow more smoothly, but overall it feels very slick and polished; I really enjoyed the balance of romance with the drama and adored the flashes of humour in Luca’s relationship with Corto and Folletto.
Elderkin’s score feels incredibly sweeping and epic, both in terms of its scope and its presence within the story. His ballads are luscious, dreamy and romantic, whilst ensemble numbers like ‘Under Venetian Skies’ teem with energy. There’s a mixture of musical styles at play too during the battle, and scenes featuring the Ottomans that offers a striking, intense contrast, and all of it underpinned by a wonderful orchestra conducted by Jae Alexander, and the Capital Voices who make proceedings suitably dramatic and ever atmospheric!
And what do you need with a vibrant score like this? A cast easily able to elevate it to an even higher standard, which they do with immensely enjoyable ease. Rob Houchen imbues Luca with that likeable, easy charm that I have come to know and love his performances for, whilst Katy Treharne’s Elena is refreshingly fiesty and resourceful, with a beautifully moving vocal that fits this score like a glove; I marvelled at how easily I could sense Luca and Elena’s chemistry only having spoken scenes and lyrics to go by. Elsewhere, firm favourite of mine Jeremy Secomb is on perfectly menacing form as General Leandros.
I make no secret of the fact that I can and should do more to support new work, both here on my blog and in the shows I choose to see, and if my reaction to Mascherato is any indication, I think the future of this show is very bright, indeed.