I haven’t seen Michael McLean’s new stage production “Threads.”
But I have heard the CD.
And, as with most things McLean, hearing — not seeing — is believing.
I quickly learned the title “Threads” does double duty. It refers to the clothing worn by various women but also serves as a metaphor for the strands of values and experiences that stitch the lives of women together throughout history.
Musically, the CD plays like an old fashioned Victor Herbert operetta, with the narrative serving to break up the cycle of songs (think “Cats”). The simple “thread” of story follows a granddad as he explains to his granddaughter why clothes don’t make the woman. Clothes are simply an embellishment for the soul within.
The gifted McKenzie Turley handles the vocals.
As for the songs themselves, McLean moves them around quite a bit — a touch of bottleneck blues guitar here (“Rebel Chic”), a nip of hip-hop there (“Open Up”). The McLean roots get a tug with some Celtic stylings on “Not Waiting for Tomorrow” and the composer even pioneers a new vein with “Amazing Things.” Call it devotional disco. (The song calls to mind the time the songwriter got crossways with the powers-that-be for putting a Beatle-esque backbeat behind an inspirational melody).
As expected, the strength of the production lies in the two or three McLean power ballads — the composer’s signature. “Hardest for Me,” with its gentle waltz rhythm, is especially moving.
Of course, after the stunning success of “The Forgotten Carols,” which was based on the Savior, the clothing conceit of “Threads” can feel a bit thin. Once you've retold the Greatest Story Ever Told, it's hard to come up with something to rival it. Nevertheless, McLean, as usual, is able to find the human heart within the fashion statements here and, in doing so, he again elevates the human spirit.
The final stanza of “These Are Women,” a song near the end of the cycle, sums up his theme:
We are women
Unadorned by worldly fashion
With a beauty born of passion
For the service that we bring;
Women who will raise a generation
On a firm and sure foundation
And prepared to greet their King.
The musical “Threads” is Michael McLean’s love letter to women everywhere. My guess is it will become a major part of the McLean canon.
Now, Brother Mike, do you have a little something for guys in white shirts and suits?