By Bart Greenberg . . .

Robert Lowell was one of the most celebrated American poets of the 20th Century; his collection of poems entitled Life Studies was extolled as one of the most influential works of his time and an inspiration for those who followed him, such as Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton. He was also a political figure who served time in prison during the Second World War as a conscientious objector and continued to take very public stands up to his support of Eugene McCarthy for President. Privately, he led a very stormy life, including dramatic marriages to three strong women, all of them well-known writers in their own right, and long hospital stays for his torturous bi-polar disease.

On February 25, 2022, The Green Room 42 presented a workshop of the songs from In the Shade, a new play with music about this troubled artist and his wives, with book and lyrics by Daniel Egger and music and additional lyrics by Tom Laverack. The work was described as “a happy-sad true-to-life exploration of mental health, creativity, love, marriage and hearing.” The author also acted as host for the evening, narrating the story and setting up the musical numbers. He indicated that he hoped, in the future, to offer up the entire show in a concert setting for future development. Covering the poet’s entire adult life, it encompassed a large number of settings and characters in addition to the four central personalities, at times leading to some confusion as to where and when the songs were occurring and who was singing.

The evening featured three fine singing actresses, Courtney Basset as Jean Stafford, Pearl Rhein as Lizzie Hardwick (who also doubled on piano and violin) and Caroline Strange as Lady Caroline Blackwood and several other characters. They all were fully committed to the work and their characters. Composer Laverack also did double duty as guitarist and actor, singing the role of the central character, Lowell. Also involved were Milo Fryling on piano and electric piano, and music director Mark Ambrosino on bass, electric piano and percussion. This made for a very crowded stage and some awkward sight-lines.

Egger’s lyrics throughout were quite poetic and filled with arresting imagery, which was also present in his narrative. Clearly, this is a very personal work for him. Laverack’s musical was quite attractive, with a country rock influence, making a choice to keep the style consistent without any suggestion of the passage of time nor the various geographical settings of the show. It will be interesting to see how the work develops in the future.