Stephen Heller: The Music of Stephen Heller

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Stephen Heller

The Music of Stephen Heller

The Duplex, NYC, May 13, 2018

Reviewed by Chris Struck for Cabaret Scenes

Stephen Heller

One of the best types of shows to see at The Duplex are their nights where a songwriter or songwriters take over the stage to debut some of their works in progress. Often, it is surprising how much the shows vary from night to night, but one thing is for certain: There are musicals being planned all over Manhattan by talented writers. One of these is Stephen Heller, who joined the group of singer-songwriters showcasing their work and, this time, with some added gusto. The material included passionate stand-alones, a group of film-inspired firecrackers called the “Space-Time Songbook,” and selections from a musical project called Far From Silent.

Well, far from silent, Heller’s songs and guests definitely impressed with catchy music. Choosing my favorite from each “set” it would be the stand-alone love song called “Night in St.

Cloud” performed by Caitlyn Caughell, the intense “V for Vendetta” anthem from the “Space-Time Song Book” a group number, and “Silent Melody” sung by Matthew Hougland. Caughell’s clean and all-around solid vocals made lines like “It’s clear on this night in St. Cloud” go from descriptions of the mundane or familiar to eerie reminiscences of a mysterious past romance. I could see someone pirouetting to it which conversely was not the case for the utterly intense “V for Vendetta.” While the lyrics played off the poem “Remember, remember,  the 5th of November” sung by Jordan Paige Aanrud, Mara Friedman, Hougland, and Joseph Valle-Hoag, it took on an excitingly intense melodrama with the chorus line, “There’s no flesh or blood within this cloak to kill/There is only an idea/Ideas are bulletproof.” The combination of four singers sweeping through a diverse range and hammering home the point was enough to get the heart racing.

Finally, “Silent Melody” came from Far from Silent, about a madman stealing music from the world set in the future. Singing the villain’s plan, Hougland drew a dark, brooding character and a mistreated heart whose hope for music has been shaken: “If they won’t hear what I’m playing, hear silence instead.” The play’s idea itself is, honestly, a little strange and, other than “Silent Melody,” which really struck me, I think the score is a mixed bag. However, another of the selections did feature one of the best singers to take the stage (also the show’s director), Kevin Michael Murphy. Heller, a competent pianist and vocalist in his own right, joined him for a duet called “What They Deserve” with Murphy (his vocal teacher) to tell of challenging the musical’s villain to bring the music back.

The last singer was Zachary Tallman, who also presented a selection from Far from Silent. He definitely showed that he had the talent to match the group. Another cool moment, though, was Valle-Hoag’s performance of a song detailing the plot of his favorite Christmas movie, Die Hard, where he donned a white tank top and sang, “Yippee Kai Yay, Mother F#%*er” for the chorus.

All around, good work by Heller and crew, who were aided by Christopher Zander (on piano for most of the night) and his music direction.

Chris Struck

Chris Struck's debut novel, Kennig and Gold, is due to be officially published in June 2019. He's written reviews for Cabaret Scenes since August of 2017. For more information about the writer, see