Monday, July 14, 2008

20 Great Broadway Songs of the Past 10 Years: “Freedom’s Child”

I hate country music. And yet, during the tour of The Civil War, I had to often resist the urge to get out of my seat and move during the Frank Wildhorn/Jack Murphy songs. There was just something about those stupendous voices (led by Larry Gatlin, Michael Lanning, and Keith Byron Kirk) and the rock-infused, country styling of the music that was irresistible.

Some criticized the show for not having one running plot thread, being composed with musicals scenes and scenarios forming a mosaic of experiences of those who fought, died, or lived during the Civil War. Others trashed the music for its heavy Frank Wildhorn rock-infusion which placed emotions over character development. But to me, the music was exactly what the show needed, and the show itself powerful.

“Freedom’s Child” is marked with a catchy, upbeat rock melody, the kind that could have made the song a hit on the radio. Lyrically, the song is about America’s greatest asset, freedom, and the struggle for all Americans to live its benefits. When you really stop to listen to the lyrics, keeping in mind America during that time, there’s great power in their ideas. When mega-talented Keith Byron Kirk and the cast sang “Look through these eyes / Imagine what they’ve seen / This long, dark night / Must now come to an end,” it’s powerful. If you don’t know what his eyes have seen, just read Harriet Jacobs’ autobiography/page-turner Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl—his eyes have seen horrors. That’s a pretty powerful cry for “the birth of Freedom’s Child.”

The ideas of the song are also presented in a strong progression—a reminder of the reality of slavery (the “Look at these hands” verse that opens the song), a reminder of the promise of freedom inherent in America (the “Look at these words / To God all men are equal” verse), and then the cry for war to bring about freedom if necessary (the “give us our freedom now / Nothing less, nothing more” bridge, coupled with the chorus of “Let the dogs of war run wild”). The lyrics give “Freedom’s Child” an intellectual strength since the song provides a logical progression of ideas, and the melody gives the song an additional emotional push.

It was a travesty that the original Broadway cast never recorded a full Broadway album, though it is fortunate that a few cast members do appear on the 2-disc concept album and that Matt Bogart recorded the moving “Tell My Father” for his solo JAY album. There are many other powerful songs in the show—“If Prayin’ Were Horses” is stunningly beautiful, and “Brother, My Brother,” “This Old Gray Coat,” and “The Glory” are just a few of the other highlights.

the Broadway Mouth
July 14, 2008

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