(This is not really a great video; the last minute and a half of this is not, in fact, “If I Said I Love You.” I thought I’d have this problem at some point, and I’m pleasantly surprised it took this long. Go find it on Spotify.)
Honorable mentions: “I’ll Be There,” “Here on this Night”
Boublil and Schonberg are responsible for two of my three favorite musicals of all time. The formula, when it works, is more or less unbeatable. Choose a beloved story, write three hours of music which bounces from character to character with recognizable themes; hit ’em in the feels early, strike with a brief comedic interlude, shift focus onto new characters before Act 2, play for spectacle through most of Act 2, and then hit ’em where it hurts again before they stand up and applaud for ten minutes. This same formula, which is executed perfectly in Les Miserables and almost perfectly in Miss Saigon, is applied to The Pirate Queen, where it’s, uh, not perfect. The Pirate Queen lacks the density that characterizes Les Miserables and the pain that runs through Miss Saigon. Only a few songs in The Pirate Queen can compete with the songs from the big two Boublil and Schonberg productions; “If I Said I Love You” is about as close as it gets.
Stephanie J. Block and Hadley Fraser are two of my favorites, and both have distinctive voices. In her comfortable zone, Block sounds so natural, almost conversational. It’s part of the reason she’s better at flipping from dialogue to song and back again than just about anyone else I’ve listened to. In her upper range, Block’s voice is forcefully breathy, which sounds like it should be the worst thing in the world, but it’s actually really listenable. Hadley Fraser, like a more thickly accented Anthony Warlow, can leap into forte with great precision; unlike Warlow, he sounds like he has to try a little to get there. (I spent a lot of time being seventeen and wishing I could do a better Hadley Fraser impression.) Together, two of the more individual and recognizable voices on Broadway play seamlessly off one another.
Part of the problem with The Pirate Queen, really, is that this is one of just two duets that Block’s Grace and Fraser’s Tiernan get together. How many times does Marius sing with some woman? When are Kim and Chris not singing to one another? It’s a pity. “If I Said I Love You” is a better individual song than just about any of the duets from Miss Saigon or Marius’ Really One-Sided Love Triangle. Its first three minutes match the moods of its characters; hesitant, a little unsure, subdued. From time to time, the singers leap up optimistically, but it’s short-lived; they quickly return to the fairly quiet aspect of the song. It’s only in the last thirty to forty-five seconds that “If I Said I Love You” delivers its punch, a blast of singing in unison which is well worth the wait.