Stone Tables CD
Cast recording starring John Huntington
Music by Robert Stoddard
Book and lyrics by Orson Scott Card
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This recording of Stone Tables is more than just a re-creation of a landmark LDS musical about Moses, Aaron, and the Exodus. It's actually the definitive version of that work and has been transformed several times since it was first written twenty-four years ago.
The original script wasn't even a musical; it was a five-act play in verse. Orson Scott Card had written two of the acts during his mission in Brazil and sent them to our mentor at Brigham Young University, Professor Charles Whitman, for feedback. I vividly remember Whitman (I still can't call him "Chuck") pulling me into his office right after the holiday break in January of 1973, as excited as a child at Christmas to show me parts of Scott's "marvelous" new script (I know him too well to call him "Card"), written on his mission, no less! Whitman was wild about directing the show as soon as possible. He was scheduled to direct the Mormon Festival of Arts production that March, just two months from then, and, on the spur of the moment, decided to substitute Tables for whatever it was he originally had planned to do.
Whitman saw the show as epic theatre, full of pageantry and music. Music? What music? I was stunned when he asked me to musicalize sections of Scott's poetry for the show. Would I? Scott and I were undergraduates, and it was unheard of for a student work to be presented as a main stage production! Since we had joyously collaborated before on another musical, I was also confident that Scott wouldn't mind the transformation of his dramatic verse into a musical play by Stoddard and Card.
Whitman cabled Scott asking for the rest of the script immediately. Not only did Scott not have a finished script, he most certainly did not have a finished musical script! But the show went into rehearsal anyway. Scott obliged by writing the rest of his drama as a musical play -- and in record time! (How he found the time to write anything at all while on his mission remains a mystery, although he is still able to churn out scripts faster and better than anyone else I know.) Just as soon as we received material from Brazil, Whitman would rehearse it with the actors, and I would retire to whatever piano practice room was available at the Harris Fine Arts Center to write the songs as fast as I could.
Whitman didn't want the songs in Tables to sound like those of the typical American musical. He wanted offsetting songs, which would serve as commentary on a plot rather than advance it. This was a clever move; the song structure could not be typical anyway, because there were no lyrics per se, just Scott's verse. Eventually, the show got the reputation of being a "rock" musical because the score was played in performance by a small combo consisting of electric organ, two electric guitars, drums, flute, and a piano, thumb-tacked to produce a metical sound, which Whitman and I thought was unusual. However, the five main tunes were rather traditional musical theatre stuff, very melodic and certainly not rock music by any means!
The production was the event of the 1973 BYU season. The set was a huge, racked turntable, changing at will into an angular mountain or a sudden cavern. There were no other set-pieces or props. The actors were dressed alike in bold simple colors, creating story magic through their skills alone, rather than with the aid of costuming. The plot was Moses as Everyman on a spiritual journey out of Egypt as Babylon. Some simple truths were movingly portrayed: how skewed our lives can become when we pattern them after the world, instead of Christ; how the Lord uses suffering and circumstances to shape and lift us out of the world if we will follow Him; how influential loving teachers and the scriptures are when we're ready to grow; and how healing love is, especially when it is a spiritual seeking above all else. Aaron was portrayed as the slighted brothers, dutiful but jealous, until he's so horrified by his own role in the golden calf incident that he's humbled to the core. Audiences were stunned by the piece's spiritual power. The sold-out run was one of the few BYU productions at that time to be extended.
The play refused to disappear or remain the same. Two years later, Scott himself directed a slightly modified, sold-out production in Provo for his own theatre company. In 1981, Whitman mounted a revival at BYU, which included major revisions to the script and the addition of seven new songs.
Then, a few years ago, Scott and I discovered that we shared a mutual dream of combining the best elements of all the different productions of Stone Tables into a definitive version. Nothing might have come of this dream were it not for Deseret Book's interest in publishing a novelization of the play and producing a companion recording of the score. This commitment was the catalyst for our third collaboration on Tables. The result is a show transformed yet again, with six new songs and many other extensive changes. (The novel is an important, thrilling work in its own right.) The music has been polished until it gleams and is sung by a brilliant cast of Mormon artists. In its new setting, the story seems fresh and even more timeless, and the spiritual power of the original production is at once re-captured and enhanced.
Given the show's history of transformation, it comes as no surprise to me that twenty-four years later, Stone Tables is back, better than ever!
-- Robert Stoddard
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