Cantata Pansophical

Fan collaboration on an epic level

Vox Machina: An Exandrian Musical  – Album Artwork by Pumpkin Queen and Angela McCain

Last year I was involved in a very ambitious project that combined two of my favourite things; singing and roleplaying.  Critical Role has become an online phenomenon, with a ‘bunch of nerdy-ass voice actors’ playing Dungeons & Dragons.  The cast of the show were known to be big fans of another recent phenomenon, the Lin-Manuel Miranda musical, Hamilton.  Will Crosswait and Danita Gilbert were huge fans of both and conceived the idea of basing the plot and words of the Critical Role roleplay to the music of the Hamilton musical.  Not only that, they had the talent and dedication to go through with it.  They put a call out to the Critical Role online community, known affectionately as ‘critters’, to contribute additional voices, and art to the project.  It turns out that the musical-roleplay crossover is pretty big, because many, many fans contributed this project; 67 singers and 42 artists from across the globe!

After an audition, I was given the role of backing singer (Ensemble).  Because of my recent work as a voice over artist, I was able to get on with the recording.  The task was made much easier by Will, who organised the ensemble into teams and allocated songs to them.  Each group was given the lyrics, backing tracks, and most importantly, a scratch track. I fondly remember making notes whilst stop-starting Hamilton tracks on You Tube and combining their harmonies with Will’s rhymes and timings.  It was a pleasure to sing Hamilton tracks and building up the Cantata Pansophical soundtrack.

That was back in the Summer of 2017.  As naturally happens when real life gets in the way, not everyone is able to commit or make the deadlines.  Because of this, some of us were asked if we would do more takes.  I’m sure I speak for others involved when I say it was a pleasure to be involved in such an inspiration project, so yes, I wanted to do more!  More lyrics  and tracks followed.  When I was given the new alternative versions to ‘The Schuyler Sisters’ and ‘It’s Quiet Uptown’ I was thrilled, as these are such great songs to sing along to.

I wrapped up in November, but there must have been so much more to be done by the Cantata Pansophical that we just don’t see.  Those members of the cast who checked into the chat forums online will have known more.  Many have continued to network and even form roleplay groups together, which is awesome! In the meantime, I had managed to get tickets to the hottest ticket in the West End – Hamilton had arrived in London, and it was fantastic!

On the 23rd February, Cantata Pansophical released their epic musical project to the rest of the world.  Not only that, they made it absolutely free! – 47 tracks, fan art for every track and an accompanying digital booklet!!!  I was staggered by the generosity and sheer ‘fan’tastic gesture by Will Crosswait, Angela McCain, Danita Gilbert and the rest of the Cantata Pansophical.  They only requested donations to worthy charities that some of the cast are supporting.

The reactions so far have been incredible.  Fans from the ‘critters’ community have shared their love for the tracks and artwork. The Critical Role cast has also been astounded by the efforts of their community, and they even responded:

Laura Bailey: You guys are unbelievable!!! This is so epic!!!

Marisha Ray: Matt and I are currently listening to this in our living room just holding each other as we laugh-ugly-cry through the whole thing. Ugh… it’s like reliving 5 years in a musical.

Critical Role cast – photo by Pamela Joy Photography

On that note, time to wrap up this blog post, but I will simply say that it’s great to be involved in something that is bigger than you and that you believe in.  Well done Cantata Pansophical and thank you for involving me in your inspirational project!

Reviewing Hamilton (West End)

Rise Up!

Every so often, there comes a musical whose popularity, originality and style sets it apart and it defines a decade as well as transcending its own time. Think the grand epics of Les Mis and Phantom in the 1980s, the gritty, bohemian hit Rent in the 1990s, or the green and yellow dazzle and wit of Wicked in the 00’s.

Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical was created in a perfect storm.  It was written during a progressive, enlightened time in US politics but soon after Hamiltons rise to fame, this story of America’s founding fathers feels like a rebuke to America’s current political turmoil.  Not only does it seamlessly combines hip hop with more traditional musical styles but it tells a historic drama but with color-blind casting. This is today’s America telling the story of the birth of their nation.  Unlike most of the classics previously mentioned, the staging here is minimal with just a balcony and two rotating circles in the floor.  The drama, then, is left to the characters to tell, and boy, do they tell it!

There was an incredible buzz for my wife and I being in the audience so near the beginning of the West End run and on Alexander Hamilton’s birthday no less (he would have been 263, in case you’re wondering).  Fans either booked a long ways in advance or paid high prices to be able to see this show so tickets were not bought on a whim.  In fact, we had the distinct feeling that the vast majority of the audience knew the songs and the lyrics already.  As the house lights dimmed, the first immense cheer went up from the crowd. Seeing the songs being played out in front of our eyes was a joyous occasion, the soundtrack having prepared and whetted our appetite.  There was an almighty cheer after the line “Immigrants (We get the job done)!” – Well done, London!

The hits came thick and fast.  The energy of My Shot was incredible.  The Schuyler Sisters kept the excitement levels at max.  You’ll Be Back changed the tone to joyous comedy before the heart-wrenching emotion of Satisfied.  The first half was relentless and absorbing as Hamilton fought alongside Washington in the War of Independence, and ended aptly with the song Non-Stop.

The second half continued to tell the life of Alexander Hamilton, but at this stage

his story becomes more personal and political.  The energy is more sporadic but the telling no less engrossing with comedy and tragedy each taking their turns and including some clever character swaps for the actors.  The finale is beautifully poignant and thought provoking, leaving a positive after-taste.

So would I recommend seeing it?  Emphatically yes!!  Book when you can, or if you’re feeling lucky, there is a daily lottery for tickets which would costs the winners £20 each.  Finally, I want to mention some of the players before the Broadway soundtrack colors my memory of the experience:

  • Jamael Westman as Alexander Hamilton is relatively inexperienced in the West End but took his shot with both hands giving a young, scrappy and hungry performance.  Hamilton would be proud!
  • Giles Terera as Aaron Burr had probably the hardest job in the musical keeping all his lines in order as every narrative introduction starts with the exact same music, but he delivered with brilliant consistency.
  • Rachel John as Angelica Hamilton had a superb voice and was mesmerising in Satisfied.
  • Rachelle Ann Go as Eliza Hamilton gave a brilliant, emotional performance.
  • Jason Pennycooke as Maquis de Lafayette/Thomas Jefferson had the charisma to carry off two larger-than-life characters and add his own nuances to the performance.
  • Michael Jibson as King George had the swagger and stage craft to carry this royal, comedic part.
  • Obioma Ugolala as George Washington had a lovely bass tone to his voice and gave an assured performance as the Father of America.

The cast were exceptional throughout and the ensemble had as much to do as the principles and did it brilliantly.