2003 DECEMBER 26 #360
The George School is a Quaker boarding school for ninth through twelfth grade students in Newtown, Pennsylvania. Boasting a strong emphasis on the arts, one of the George School's more famous alumni is playwright Stephen Sondheim, who wrote his first musical there at the age of 15. "By George" was a parody of his peers at the school, denounced by his mentor Oscar Hammerstein as the worst thing he'd ever read. One has to wonder what Hammerstein might have thought of "Journey of Persephone". Though the plot as depicted in the liner notes seems relatively innocent - a loose contemporary adaptation of a Greek myth - closer inspection of the lyrics reveals some post-Summer of Love almost-drug-references, like this example (from "High Road"):
Have you seen the man from the moon?
He lives around the corner
Have you seen
He splashed down last June
I remember when he came back home
I looked into his eyes, you should have seen those rolling stones
Or this, from "Bright-Eyed One":
If you wanna see the universe
Discover what is real
Then step aboard my sunshine-mobile
Praise the Queen
Praise the Queen
She makes the grass green
...and so on. Then Director of Theatre Arts and lyricist/composer Robert F. Mandel is the culprit. Though it didn't seem like any of the current faculty had heard of the play (not surprising, given the number of musicals that have most likely been performed there since), a few persistent e-mails to the George School resulted in the two archived photos of the production seen below. The girl in the flannel shirt is Persephone (played by Bonnie Kron), holding the "golden umbrella", though I have no idea what's going on around her. It looks like a bee is attacking from the left, but who are the people next to her? The drones? What's the sculpture in the middle (a honeycomb?), or the net above it? Do these same bees make the honey referred to in "Sweet Honey"? If you look closely behind the sculpture to the left, you can see a (left handed?) guitar neck sticking out. I assume the other photo is the Sun Queen; I especially like the Pennsylvania Dutch styled sun in the background. I wish musicals in my high school had a band as cool as the one on this album - "High Hoppers" finds these teens jamming like it's 1968 instead of 73, with some great bluesy lead guitar & manic drum soloing. "Sweet Honey" is a funk tribute to the country mouse's substance of choice, and the aforementioned "High Road" plows through weird stop/start time signatures in search of consciousness expansion. My only regret in posting this is that I couldn't share the whole album; it really is great all the way through. However I'm sure you'll find it if you seek it out.
The George School exists to this day: http://www.georgeschool.org/
Special thanks to Rebecca J. Wilkinson and Kingdon Swane for the performance photos.
- Jeremy Pisani, http://geocities.com/elefantplatte/
TT-13:42 / 18.8MB / 192kbps 44.1khz
(Images courtesy of Jeremy Pisani)