Just under three years ago I spent two months travelling across Hungary while doing a mixture of teaching English at summer camps and just general touristy stuff. In fact, you can read all about my adventure by following the series on my blog which starts with Hungary Blog part one which is available at https://rhysreviews.com/2019/07/27/hungary-blog-part-one/. Within the summer camp, there were a plethora of Hungarian students who wanted to develop their understanding of the English language so people from all over the world (whose first language was English) who visit these camps and develop conversation-based English lessons. In our free time at the camps, when we weren’t teaching or taking part in some sort of organised activity, all the English speaking people would group together and all the Hungarian people would to group together which was almost the complete opposite purpose of these immersion camps. This was due to the fact that it was easier to communicate with those who competently speak the same language as yourself (although I believe this was not through ignorance or laziness as I tried my best to learn Hungarian while there. In fact, I delivered a very short Hungarian presentation to the students out there which is available at https://www.facebook.com/rhys.payne.7/videos/2849224441772252/? .) This phenomenon also occurred when I was going through high school (without the language barrier of course) where all the polish speaking people or people from the Philippines tended to group together naturally.
The new musical “I am alive” comes from the creative minds of the award-winning composer Denise Gentilini and the wonderfully talented songwriter Lisa Nemzo. It follows the story of the aftermath of the Armenian genocide of 1915 where two orphaned survivors connect to rebuild their lives together in a new home. This idea of building a new home after relocating has been explored in many musicals such as Rags (which I reviewed at https://rhysreviews.com/2020/07/03/rags-soundtrack-review/) however these musicals seem to have a much bigger inclusion and focus on the horrific events that influenced these characters to escape their family homes. The story is based on real events in fact it is said that the story is heavily influenced by Denise’s own grandparents’ experience and you can really sense the emotion and passion behind the majority of the songs in this concept recording. This is labelled as a concept recording which means that the album has not yet reached its final form but it does contain thirty-five fully-fledged musical numbers (with the album covering just under 1.5 hours in length) with a heavy focus on musical storytelling. It is clear that the minds behind this project have carefully thought about the fact that people who are listening to this cast recording may not have seen the show and so are basing all their ideas on the album. When I started reviewing recordings during lockdown, I quickly realised that while the music in many albums was great I was still missing at least a little bit of the show due to not being able to see it staged. (This is actually why I started my youtube channel where you can find interviews with the creative minds behind new musical projects to help everyone get a greater idea to look at the overall show! If you haven’t already subscribed you can do so here https://youtube.com/channel/UCHSoxy7Iw6ru0P6mUFOr2iw) However, it is nice to see that the creatives have considered the medium in which people will access the show and so have adapted the show to include a large amount of dialogue to help fill any gaps the listeners may have. At times I did get very strong video game underscore vibes from some tracks in this musical as they contain tense music and very powerful/intense dialogue.
“Our little village” is the third track in this album but it functions as an almost opening number. The song covers just over seven minutes (which I often find quite tiresome) but it helps to introduce the story, sets up the scene and introduces the audience to some of the key characters within the plot. This idea alongside the vivid storytelling music the show contains helps to take the attention of the listeners away from the length of the song and instead puts them into the centre of this new world. I can imagine that when stagger live there would be very busy on the stage with the key plot ideas being introduced in isolated episodes! I stated earlier that I Am Alive is based on real-life experience and no song shows this more than “This Day in 1915” which talks about what actually happened in Armenia in that year which was obviously very horrific and terrifying. These traumatic events help the two lead characters connect within the story which leads to a very beautiful duet called “A Very different life” which not only highlights the differences between the old and new home but also explains that although people may be from the same background often times their experiences may have been very different. The song “Poor You” is a very powerful and emotional number that discusses the violent experiences many refugees may have faced. It also talks about the unconditional love that mothers possess for their children when a story is told of a mother who sacrificed everything to make sure their kids can have the best possible life. However, the highlight in this album for me was the titular song “I am Alive” which was a big chorus number that was crammed full of energy and was an insanely uplifting way to end the show. I always believe that an audience should leave a show feeling positive and renewed which is exactly what this final track of the show does perfectly. It almost hints at a happier life in their new home for the characters and reminds everyone that it’s not about where you come from but where you end up that counts.
Overall, this is a very theatrical and intense concept recording that transports its listeners right into the heart of the action through clever storytelling techniques. It is amazing that the people behind this show have carefully considered the fact that this may be people’s first exposure to the show and so have adapted the album to suit this online format. It tells a very important and real story that many people will be able to relate to and those who cannot develop a greater sense of empathy towards refugees. I would rate this show 4.5 stars out of 5!
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