Arts, Features

REVIEW: “Starry” concept album shines with impressive musical moments, potential for growth

It’s safe to say most people are familiar with Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh and his most renowned painting, “Starry Night.” But not many people are as familiar with other parts of Vincent’s life, including his younger brother, Theo van Gogh, who was also prominent in the art world as an art dealer and collector.

The soundtrack for the pop-rock musical “Starry,” which tells the life stories of Vincent van Gogh and his brother, Theo, was released Jan. 31. ILLUSTRATION BY AUSMA PALMER

An up-and-coming pop-rock musical, “Starry,” tells the story of the lesser-known van Gogh brother. With music and lyrics by Matt Dahan, and book and lyrics by Kelly D’Angelo, the concept album for the show was released on Jan. 31.

The first track, titled “Prologue,” starts off with just strings and piano. This gives the beginning of the song a gentle, almost mysterious yet upbeat opening. The relatively minimalist opening gives the “Prologue” room to grow.

The strings and piano grow and swell, which leads smoothly into a burst of sound from more strings, more piano, drums and eventually guitar.

This combination of instruments gives “Starry” a sound that lives up to its pop-rock musical description right off the bat. It has a sound similar to other more recent contemporary musicals, such as “The Prom.” Within 30 seconds of the first song, “Starry” fits right in with modern-day musical theatre greats.

“Prologue” blends seamlessly into the next song, “Impress Me,” which performs its role as opening number of a musical perfectly, orienting the audience to the setting of the story.

“Impress Me” starts off the album with a full company number, featuring a beautifully-blended ensemble of singers. The vocal line is layered with multipart harmonies that complement the instrumental track behind it in a way that is pleasing to listen to.

The third song on the album, “A New Horizon,” offers the first appearance of Vincent, performed on the album by Dylan Saunders, in a duet with his brother, Theo, performed by Joe Viba.

Saunders’ rich and full voice against the gentle instrumentation blends perfectly with Viba’s voice in their duet. The bright feeling and optimistic message that comes with “A New Horizon” could help it become a well-known song throughout the theatre community as “Starry” continues to grow.

In the same way “A New Horizon” showcases Saunders and Viba’s voices, “Enlightenment” shows off the gentle and powerful abilities of Mariah Rose Faith’s voice. The song also teaches the listener about Faith’s character, Jo van Gogh-Bonger, Theo’s wife.

The electric guitar featured in “Where Are We Going?” creates a new and unique sound to the soundtrack thus far. The song also serves as a chance to show off some of the featured ensemble members, namely Jeff Blim, who sings as post-impressionist French painter Paul Gauguin. Blim’s voice has a raspy feel that he carries the song exceptionally well.

“The Sower,” one of the standout songs on the album, contains counterpoint melodies at the end that are enough to send chills down a listener’s spine.

“The Sower” leads into “The Road,” which is almost certainly meant to be an act one finale. It is arguably the biggest musical moment on the album so far, and the lyrics deliver a driving force that will carry the second half of the show. The entire company is featured and the song has a big finish.

Saunders’ standout vocal moment comes later on in the song “The Starry Night” that he performs by himself, allowing his voice to shine completely without any distractions. The accompanying instrumentation works to enhance Saunders’ already impressive performance.

“Wheat Fields/Finale Ultimo” delivers the end of Vincent’s life that most listeners will know about prior to listening to the album. His fate is delivered by Jo through spoken narration over instrumentation. This delivery is powerful because it makes a statement about legacy that a person doesn’t get to tell their own legacy, but rather passed on through those who live on.

The “Starry” concept album still does a good job telling the story, which is the hallmark of a well-written musical.

Hopefully, “Starry” will continue to grow beyond a concept album and concert renditions, like the one being held later this month at Feinstein’s/54 Below in New York City. There’s a shortage of unique, untold stories on Broadway right now, and “Starry” could be a great contender to fill that gap.

The concept album for “Starry” shows that the groundwork exists for it to grow into a great full show.

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