nytheatre.com review by Robert Attenweiler
August 13, 2011
While it’s inaccurate to call Araby, the new collection of songs with music and lyrics by Chris Rael, the CliffsNotes for The Dubliners, the comparison does give some sense of what this performance is able to accomplish in its 80 minutes. Araby gets its title from one of the 15 tales contained in The Dubliners, James Joyce’s canonical collection of short stories. Rael has turned that collection into a concert, composing one original song for each of the stories—from cover to cover—from “The Sisters” to “The Dead.”
Overall, this ambitious project is well realized, with many of the songs finding a satisfying balance between the hooks of popular music and the narrative of each song’s source material (the Middle-Eastern tinged rock of the show’s title track and the country/gospel “Grace” are particularly addictive). I left feeling like I’d seen a 1970s progressive rock band perform its new musical theater-inspired concept album.
It’s supremely difficult to make 15 songs all uniquely memorable, though, and, without a unifying narrative, Araby does hit a point where the songs begin to blend together, where the mission of doing the entire collection of stories might have benefited from an editorial eye aimed at finding the strongest work to present to the audience. But there are still gems along the way. The performers and musicians were admittedly still getting to know each other in the show I saw, but they all, Rael included, do fine work in bringing the drudgery of Irish living (a Joyce joke … kind of) to life through popular, theatrical song.