I have a special fondness for some of the darker, serious, subtle, more intense musicals that were dominating Broadway when we first moved the NYC. Some shows in this category include The Wild Party, Marie Christine, Ragtime and this week’s Geek Out choice James Joyce’s The Dead.
The Dead ran on Broadway from December 1999 to April 2000 and is, as the title indicates, based on James Joyce’s story. The setting is Ireland at the turn of the century, specifically at a holiday party. The party starts off as a jolly, happy affair but then turns more poignant as a husband and wife attempt to rekindle their passion.
All the music is infused with Irish rhythms, which I loved. And, well before the recent productions of Sweeney Todd and Company, the actors were playing instruments on stage. The lyrics of the songs are mostly from other Joyce writings, although some lyrics were original.
The show had an amazing cast: Blair Brown, Christopher Walken, Daisy Eagen (who won the Tony as a child actress for her role in The Secret Garden) , Alice Ripley and Emily Skinner (Tony nominees for their work as Siamese twins in Side Show) and Stephen Spinella (another Tony Winner, twice, for the two part Angels in America). Walken in particular was a sight to behold. Where he usually plays over the top characters, in this show he was quiet, subtle and emotional.
After an acclimated off-Broadway run, it did not last on Broadway long, closing even before the Tony nominations were announced. It did pick up six nominations that year, including Best Musical as well as acting nods for Walken as lead actor and Spinella as featured actor. The show did win the Best Book award.
The thing that saddens me most about this show is, even with its big name cast, there was never a cast recording. The music was sublime. Perhaps some day a studio recording will be done…
As this show failed to succeed, along with its similarly toned Wild Party and Marie Christine, the era of the dark/serious show was coming to an end. We saw it attempt a come back this season with A Catered Affair, but that too had a short, unprofitable run as well.
One of the only performance clips around is from the 2000 Tony Awards. Even the show had closed, the cast was allowed to perform. Check out this spirited number from the holiday party.