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October 12, 2015
Tori Amos Is Intent on Bringing Her Musical 'The Light Princess' to Broadway
'The Light Princess' original cast recording is out now.
Even after decades of performing and recording, Tori Amos is still finding new avenues of musical expression. Her repertoire includes endeavors like classical crossover album Night of Hunters; contributions to movie soundtracks like Toys, Great Expectations and Higher Learning; and performing for fashion designers Viktor & Rolf. One of her latest sonic explorations is The Light Princess. Amos wrote the music and co-wrote the lyrics to the U.K. theater production that premiered at the National's Lyttelton Theatre in 2013, and she oversaw the original cast recording that Mercury Classics/Universal Music Classics released Oct. 9. Amos also performs two songs from the play on the album: "Highness in the Sky" and "Darkest Hour."
"'You realize this is my first one?'" Amos recalls telling the label when it asked her to helm the project. "They said, 'It's not your first record. You make records. Go make a record.'"
Although cast recordings are typically banged out within a few days, Amos spent far more time putting together The Light Princess. It took 11 months to record the orchestra, and 26 actors performed the album's 33 songs. Mixing also took months, but she had the advantage of being married to recording engineer Mark Hawley, who has a studio in Cornwall, England. Amos invested so much time on recording because she "wanted to have a sonic theater experience for that girl in Ohio who puts it on and it magically comes alive in her headphones."
That girl in Ohio and "this boy in Wisconsin," as Amos puts it, are the intended audience for The Light Princess. She describes the play as "a 21st-century fairytale [that] deals with issues that teenagers are dealing with today. And I felt like musical theater, we all know it can do that. It doesn't just have to entertain, and I do think that there are some tough subjects being tackled" -- including falling in love, blossoming sexuality and its consequences, and body issues. "But I also would like to think that [teens can] feel empowered [when they hear or see the play], and that's what drives me."
The Light Princess is the story of how a princess named Althea cannot cry when her mother dies and beings to float because she is light with grief. Meanwhile, Prince Digby reacts his own mother's death by becoming weighed down with a sadness that makes it impossible for him to smile. The play observes how society expects the genders to display certain emotional responses to trauma: Althea's father interprets her "unfeminine" lack of emotion as rebellion and imprisons her in a tower. Digby's stoic demeanor reflects how men are conditioned to swallow their pain, and his father uses this to his kingdom's advantage by training the prince as a warrior. The king's actions demonstrate how parents can unintentionally make bad choices for their offspring.
"We sort of explored the idea of parents, even today, how we think our teenagers should react in a certain way or feel something in a certain way because we see it that way. And it spirals out of control. And you don't think you're being bad parent," explains Amos. "But you are making bad decisions for your children, because they're decisions you would make for yourself, not that they are making. And that's what we really wanted to explore through the piece."
The play apparently has struck a nerve like Amos' breakthrough album, Little Earthquakes, did in 1992. On that deeply confessional record, Amos explored such topics as religion, emotional disconnection, self-identity and sexual assault. She says she has gotten letters from teens about The Light Princess that are similar to ones she received in response to Little Earthquakes, "talking about [the song] 'Crucify,' the self-harming. Talking about 'Me and a Gun.' Talking about loss and not having a relationship in 'Winter,' the longing and the yearning there," she observes. "So in some ways they remind me of each other, and the response that I got from those kids is what made me think, 'If there's any breath left in me, I can't let them down.'"
To Amos, not letting those kids down means bringing The Light Princess to Broadway. She believes that for that happen, it's about "working with the right Broadway producers who want to uphold that sacred oath that the album is making with teenagers and their story."
She adds, "You know if you're going to come to a musical of mine, you're not going to hold hands and sing 'Kumbaya.'" Amos giggles. "But hopefully you'll walk out feeling strong and like you can tackle something, whether it's having that conversation with your parents they don't want to have, or parents being able to say, 'Let me listen. I'm not going to talk. Let me listen. You talk.'"
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