Review: Starry Concept Album

RATING: ★★★★

One of my favorite films of 2018 was Julian Schnabel's "At Eternity's Gate," which stars Willem Dafoe and explores the last years of Vincent van Gogh's life. I was particularly fascinated by how it delved into the relationship between Vincent and his younger brother, Theo van Gogh (played by Rupert Friend). So when my friend Lexi told me that there was a new musical written about the van Gogh brothers, I had to check it out.

The concept album for "Starry" was released at the end of January and they held concerts at 54 Below in New York at the end of February. The show's music and lyrics were written by Matt Dahan, with book and lyrics by Kelly Lynn D'Angelo. Obviously, as with any concept album, I have a lot of questions about how the show would function outside of just the music, but it does a great job at giving a decent idea of the action of the show overall.

The show is largely about the relationship between the two brothers: one a painter, the other an art dealer. Vincent and Theo exchanged hundreds of letters during their short lifetimes (neither lived to the age of 40) and many hundreds of Vincent's were published by Theo's widow after his death. The show also showcases the brothers' relationships with many of the other French Impressionist artists of the day, including Degas, Pissarro, and Paul Gauguin.

The music is in a contemporary musical theatre style. The beginning of the "Prologue" is a wistful piano and strings instrumental piece and it sets the tone of the show which is at times boisterous and at times more intimate, but always characterized by a sense of yearning. There are similarities to composers as diverse as Tom Kitt, Dave Malloy, and Alan Menken throughout the music. The ensemble numbers like "Impress Me" and "United in Distaste" are genuinely rousing, while ballads like "Something After All" and "The Red Vineyard" are beautiful and melodic.

Dylan Saunders is a great Vincent with his beautiful vocals making "The Starry Night" one of the best songs in the whole show. Joe Viba is his perfect counterpoint as Theo with his smoother voice. The two blend together perfectly in "A New Horizon," one of my personal favorites on the album.

Mariah Rose Faith plays Theo's wife, Jo, and her solo "Enlightenment" is easily one of the highlights. She has the sort of voice that gives you chills when she hits the final soaring lines. Jeff Blim is easily the standout of the ensemble as the prickly playboy artist Paul Gauguin, bringing his parts a rock sound that reminds me of a young Adam Pascal. (Someone, cast him in "Aida" immediately, please.)

If you love van Gogh's work, are interested in his life story, or just love contemporary musical theatre, you should definitely check out "Starry." It's a show that I would love to see fully staged one day (think about the opportunities for production design or even projections to match van Gogh's work!). You can use this link to find out where to purchase or stream the album.
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