Thursday, September 13, 2018

INTERVIEW with Composer Steven Bergman The Long Awaited Studio Recording of “Jack the Ripper: The Whitechapel Musical” By Beverly Creasey

JACK THE RIPPER, THE WHITECHAPEL MUSICAL by Steven Bergman and Christopher-Michael DiGrazia is a Gothic juggernaut, driven by Bergman’s dark, hypnotic score. If you missed it on stage, the premiere Studio Recording is now available on CDBaby, Amazon and iTunes, where you can discover what makes this retelling of the tale shockingly unique.

You’ll find, surprisingly, that it’s the women of the story who interested Bergman and DiGrazia. “We’ve given voice to the victims,” Bergman emphasizes. “[The story] is told from their perspective… the tale is such juicy fodder for a musical. [It has] all the elements… a great story, an unsolved mystery… It gave Christopher and I the opportunity to take an actual piece of history, and (figuratively, of course) flesh out what was missing in an attempt to give audiences an engaging story.”

Right from the get-go, the sinister, foreboding Story of the Century carries us into the heart of tabloid journalism. Bergman tells, “The Jack the Ripper murders were one of the first instances of sensationalism in the press, and we strove to make sure the listener makes the connection between this case, and the ‘fake news’ we have to endure today.” We then meet Jack (Matt Phillipps), as he gives us insight into his contorted perspective with the chilling Finger of God.  The scenes shifts to the Brittania pub, where we meet the women who, DiGrazia writes in the intro, “become immortal at the edge of a knife.” The Likes of Us (featuring Lori L’Italien and Agatha Babbitt) and Here and Now (performed by Maryann Zschau, Kathryn Howell, and Broadway’s Cristin J. Miller) are just two of the powerful songs which allow the humanity of these victims to seep through their sad souls. Other powerful performances on this recording include Cilla (Michael Levesque as the conflicted Inspector Abberline), and Walls Closing In (Holly Jennings as the young prostitute, Mary Kelly).

Most Ripper vehicles sensationalize the murders, concentrating on the Ripper’s ghoulish exploits, his victims merely a footnote to history. Speculation for more than a century has fueled theories which link the Ripper to the royal family… Queen Victoria’s son drew attention at the time for carousing from night ‘til dawn, often with ladies of the evening. One theory about why the murders abruptly ceased sent the Ripper to America! “Precisely because the murders are unsolved,” Bergman explains, “we were afforded dramatic license to fill in the pieces.” From Johnny Depp in From Hell, to Jack Palance’s terrifying performance in the 1953 Man in the Attic, there has been no shortage of conjecture as to the identity of the killer.  Sherlock Holmes’ help has been enlisted in several films and an Italian-Spanish entry into the horror genre even depicts the Ripper as a cannibal… but my favorite is Peter O’Toole’s wild and wooly performance in The Ruling Class.

I’ve seen two versions of the Bergman/DiGrazia musical, years apart, with major revisions built into the current one. (The music is Bergman’s. DiGrazia wrote the book but they both shared in the lyrics.) The new recording represents for Bergman “the way I heard [the songs] in my imagination.” After a 25-year creative process, he cites Smarter Than You, a humorous face-off between Abberline and the Gentlemen of the Press as to who knows more about the best method for capturing the slayer, among his favorite songs on this recording. “I wrote this piece while on a national tour over twenty years ago.  We had stopped in Indiana for the night, and there was a piano in the lobby, so I sat down to give it a play, and came up with the opening accompaniment.”

Several of the songs have benefitted from the passage of time. Mary’s Reminder is one of the last songs to have been written for the show. Placed near the end of the show, it features the ghosts of all the women and allows Bergman and DiGrazia one final opportunity to reinforce and gruesome nature of the killings.

Bergman hopes this recording of “Jack the Ripper: The Whitechapel Musical,” will entice perspective producers into bringing Jack to the stage for years to come.  In the meantime, listeners can enjoy the premiere of a new musical through the digital outlets mentioned above.