Frontiers [Release date 14.06.19]
I like a musical. In fact, it was only recently I suggested that a prog rock version of Hamilton by Izz could be a big hit. Jesus Christ Superstar is another personal favourite although, in hindsight, a little patchy. But then musically, most productions are when removed from the full theatrical experience.
Fuelled by his Christian beliefs and the germ of an idea from a friend 10 years ago, Neal Morse (prog keyboardist / guitarist of Spocks’ Beard, Transatlantic, and his own Christian rock solo career) has come up with his own two hour progressive rock musical based on the gospels.
With the premiere at Morsefest 2018 being received with almost religious awe, the main vocal protagonists are Ted Leonard (Spocks Beard vocalist) as Jesus, Nick D’Virgilio (Big Big Train drummer) as Judas Iscariot, relative Nashville pop newcomer Talon David as Mary Magdalene, and Rick Florian (White Heart, another Christian rock band) as The Devil.
The ‘main’ band features Morse (guitars, keys, bass, percussion), Paul Bielatowicz (Carl Palmer’s ELP) (guitars), and Neal Morse Band members Eric Gillette (drums, guitars), Bill Hubauer (keys) and Randy George (bass).
Then there’s minor cast vocalists, vocal ensembles, strings, brass, and the kitchen sink. It’s a hugely ambitious undertaking, and one I’ve yet to see a concise dissertation of. So, let me be brief.
Firstly, Neal Morse fans will not be disappointed – buy with confidence. Secondly, the narrative content (which forms the vast majority of the production) is impressively delivered in a manner that will unquestionably appeal to Broadway musical fans, many of whom who will equally welcome the fact that prog excesses are largely curbed. And thirdly, despite the appropriate ‘widescreen’ arrangements there’s some impressively ‘straight’ rock that, at times, even brings original rock opera pioneers The Who to mind.
If it were ever to get sufficient backing to get to Broadway, which is probably unlikely, it’s not hard to see Jesus Christ The Exorcist becoming Morse’s most enduring legacy. Ambitious and epic in equal measure, it rewards repeated listening, and offers something for everyone. And that’s pretty damn impressive. ****
Review by Pete Whalley
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Pete Feenstra celebrated his 300th show in October 2019. Pete heads up a five-hour blues rock marathon when “Tuesday is Bluesday” from 19:00 GMT. Listen out also for his interview-based Feature show on Sundays (20:00 GMT)
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