We ended Act One with The Legend of Baboonita, written by Ben Price. This show involved two baboon masks we found in The Cellar when we first got into the space. The end result of this play really showed just how much of our inspiration came from the space we were in, and the objects we found there!
I’m going to write this blog in 2 parts. The first (this one) is about the songs the cast sang throughout, and the second will be the extended techniques the musicians used.
After reading Ben’s script, I noted how similar and consistent his lyrical writing was for his song ideas. Obviously this was an artistic intention, so I thought it was my duty as a composer to match his consistency by having a recurring melody for his similar lyrics. The tagline is “The circus is a cruel, cruel place” and every time the song comes back, this line has been altered and tweaked, with the melody staying the same.
Opening number – Ripley Family Circus Time!
We have the fun, circus-like verse, which I wrote to pastiche the sort of song you might hear when you go to see a circus. The sadness comes in the middle section, from “Isn’t it hilarious?” The fun & energetic tongue twisters driven by the band in the first section contrasts with the sudden halt to reveal a static solo line, emulating and over-exaggerating the sadness. I muted the piano strings with my left hand to aid this contrast, adding a hint of seriousness (but still in a spoofy way) after the first 3 verses.
Ben’s original idea was to keep the song slow from this point on, but I suggested it might be more effective to enter this slow section, and then almost immediately travel back to the fast and silly tone of the first 3 verses. It was in the hope that the audience would listen to the point of the slow section, which then immediately contrasts as the characters go back to the fast section after singing about how bad they feel for the animals. Although nothing else was said, it became clear to the audience that the characters realise how harmful the circus is to animals, and although aware of this fact they carry on, ignoring this realisation.
Song #2 – Sergeant Slipper
Matthew Ripley and Sergeant Slipper are old friends. Here, Sergeant Slips (on the floor) is trying to convince Matthew (mostly stood (on the floor)) to set the animals free, but Matthew sings to him as a form of explanation as to why they run the circus. A mixture of family business, and the belief they are looking after the animals to keep them safe.
The melody for the first section is the same as the opening but much slower, and the piano accompaniment is more static to accompany the free vocal line. I added one new section here that is not repeated in any of the other songs. The new sections starts when Matthew sings “They have a shot at fame, a potential for glory” the harmonic changes are heroic sounding to reflect the animals being portrayed as stars.
Song #3 – Sergeant Slipper’s Solo
Sergeant Slipper has just told an elaborate story as to how he saved Baboonita’s son, Babowan. With a plan in place, he is determined to save the circus once and for all by setting the poor animals free. The tag line here changes from “The circus is a cruel, cruel place” to “The circus has hope at last.”
Song #4 – Mr & Mrs Ripley Duet
After finding out about Babowan’s escape (aided by Sergeant Slipper), Mr & Mrs Ripley are torn between leaving the circus and staying put.
The piano introduction is the same as every other time it is heard, but the melody and harmonic progression for the first 2 verses is totally new. The tagline is changed here multiple times to “The circus is a dangerous place” “The circus is our only home” and “The circus will go on tonight,” showing how through this song, Mr Ripley has tried to persuade Mrs Ripley to leave the circus, pleading about how much danger they are in. Mrs Ripley despairs, making it clear she does not want to leave as they have built an empire and the circus is where they belong; it is their home. They eventually decide to put the show on, as the punters have arrived and everyone is ready to perform.
This song took a bit of an unexpected twist in the form of a tango. It wasn’t written like it at all initially, it so happened that in the rehearsal room we were joking around with the different styles the song could be in. I played a typical tango bassline and Tom and Stan sang along energetically, making up a spoofy dance and everyone loved it. We decided to keep it in and… voila!
Song #5 – Tierce de Picardie ending
Matthew has accidentally shot Sergeant Slipper. He was aiming for the ape.
Babowan is reunited with Baboonita, and Slips lays dying.
In Slip’s eyes, he has saved the circus because he has reunited Babowan with his father. The show ends with a final Tierce de Picardie passage, keeping the tagline “The circus is a cruel, cruel place no more,” and of course I couldn’t resist turning the chord major on the line “no more” showing through the music how the circus is no longer a cruel, cruel place.