Tori Amos and Samuel Adamson: The Light Princess Original Cast Recording
Tori Amos' music has always been impactful and dramatic, and often incorporates a thematic concept into her work, so composing for a musical was a logical next step.
Although Tori Amos's achingly confessional ‘90s work, from Little Earthquakes to From the Choirgirl Hotel, may be her most celebrated period, she’s never stopped creating music and challenging her audience. Amos has dabbled in a number of inventive concepts, including a covers album of songs originally performed by men sung a woman’s point of view (2001’s Strange Little Girls), a holiday album in which she adapts traditional winter carols and adds her own creative spin (2009’s Midwinter Graces), and a stunningly beautiful orchestral work in which she shapes classical pieces and merges them with her piano and melodies in a song cycle that traces a woman’s mystical travels through the dim past as she struggles with a relationship that is unraveling (2011’s Night of Hunters).
Her latest excursion into new stylistic territory is the cast recording for her musical The Light Princess, which opened to generally positive reviews in 2013 at the National Theatre in London. Samuel Adamson adapted the story from a 19th century Scottish fable by George MacDonald. Amos composed the lyrics and music, and from the sound of it you’d think she’s been doing musical theater her entire career. But then, in a way she has, albeit not as formalized. Her music has always been impactful and dramatic, and she often incorporates a thematic concept into her work, so perhaps composing for a musical was a logical next step (and she is, after all, a classically trained pianist). She doesn’t disappoint; The Light Princess is a beguiling delight.
It’s a project that took several years and endless rehearsals to complete, and the scope of Amos and her collaborators’ ambition is on full display in the cast recording. With 33 songs stretching past two hours, The Light Princess requires time and attention to absorb, but the effort is rewarding. The story in Adamson’s adaptation involves a young princess named Althea who perpetually floats in weightlessness, unbound by gravity, except when she is swimming. The narrative follows Althea’s struggles with her heartless father, her relationship with Digby, a prince from a neighboring rival kingdom, and her quest for a life of love and normalcy according to her own terms. The album opens with the familiar strains of Amos’s piano, immediately recognizable, in a prologue that sets the story in motion. Rosalie Craig sings the part of Althea, and her vocal performance is luminous throughout. Nick Hendrix is a bit bland as Digby, but the supporting cast is largely stellar. Standout tracks include the stunning “Darkest Hour”, the gorgeous “Amphibiava”, a duet between Craig and Hendrix, and “Tears”, a piece of chill-inducing splendor in which Althea regains the ability to cry which had been lost since the death of her mother.
Obviously listening to two hours of a cast recording is a very different experience than seeing it on stage, so it can be overwhelming to take in all at once as a listening experience. That said, the pieces are engaging enough to enjoy on their own, and fans of musical theater are very likely to enjoy it. While The Light Princess is very obviously quite different than a traditional Tori Amos album, her presence is certainly recognizable not only in the piano but in the turn of melody, the direction of the arrangements, and in the mystical beauty of the lyrics. Still, fans who don’t really engage much in theater and who haven’t seen the show are likely to find it all a bit much. Tori Amos fans will particularly want to seek out the final two tracks. As if she’s gracing the stage for a well-deserved encore, Amos performs two of the show’s finest pieces, “Highness in the Sky” and “Darkest Hour”. She sounds as lovely as ever, and it’s wonderful to hear her vocals after nearly two hours of listening to her compositions sung by others. It’s a sublime ending to an epic that’s enchanting, but perhaps best aimed at those who have either seen The Light Princess, or who appreciate musical theater in general.