Elizabeth Swados Alan Rich - Essay

Alan Rich

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

The first time I came across music by Elizabeth Swados was at La Mama a couple of years ago, during one of Andrei Serban's stagings of some Greek play or other. The room, as I remember it, was full of flying bodies: actresses being thrown off balconies, things like that. Although I spent most of the evening cowering in protected areas, I do remember every now and then picking up a snatch of something that sounded like bad Carl Orff (very bad, in other words) to texts that sounded something like gratch, grotch, pook. I left with the firm resolve that the mysteries of Ms. Swados's art—to say nothing of Mr. Serban's—might be safer in other hands in the future.

But now there is Nightclub Cantata …, and with it comes reason for an upward evaluation of Ms. Swados's musical qualities….

There are a couple of clunks, as there would be in twenty of any composer's songs. Ms. Swados is not on very firm ground in simple love ballads, and the one or two in Nightclub Cantata are somewhat awash in sentimentality. There are also a couple of rather hysterically angry pieces that tend to fly apart from a failure to control their inner tension, somewhat the way so many Jacques Brel songs do. But a good three quarters of the material is absolutely topnotch, and it covers a wide range of expression, from a throaty inner rage ("The Applicant," to a text by Sylvia Plath …, to a wild, antic hilarity ("Pastrami Brothers," a teeming spoof of all those vaudevillian acrobatic skits that could demolish the genre forever).

I liked virtually everything about the show: most of the songs, the easy way one piece runs into the next without a touch of the preciousness or plasticized charm that the "intimate revue" can so often generate, and the sense the singers generate of being genuinely happy with their material. (p. 68)

Alan Rich, in New York Magazine (copyright © 1977 by News Group Publications, Inc.; reprinted with the permission of New York Magazine), January 31, 1977.