Best known for his work as the wry frontman for the Magnetic Fields, Stephin Merritt’s music and lyrics for the off-Broadway version of Neil Gaiman’s “Coraline” officially debuted last night (June 1) in lower Manhattan at the Lucille Lortel Theatre. The production has been in previews since May 7 and is scheduled to run through July 5.
“Coraline” has been a wildly popular novella and film, but this version adds a musical spin to the story of a young girl who finds a portal to an alternate world. Merritt’s score and lyrical compositions are used throughout the play, often pairing the actor’s voices with eerie combinations of piano, toy piano, and prepared piano (an instrument with various objects, like tin foil and playing cards, attached to its strings).
While the story remains faithful to the original, Merritt’s lyrics retain the wittiness that has lined his work in the rock worlds, but also add a new dimension to the play. The songs are used as story devices- and Merritt’s stripped down, simplistic presentation creates a creepy ambiance. The songs are either told from protagonist Coraline’s perspective or from the perspective of the cast around her singing together.
This isn’t the first time Merritt has shown interest in composing and adapting music for another medium. His band the Gothic Archies wrote and recorded music for the audiobook series of “Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events.” Nonesuch released a compilation of Merritt’s Lemony Snicket compositions in 2006 called “The Tragic Treasury: Songs From A Series Of Unfortunate Events.” Merritt has also collaborated on three other musical theater productions this decade (“Orphan of Zhao,” “Peach Blossom Fan,” and “My Life As A Fairy Tale”) for which Nonesuch also released a compilation in 2006 entitled “Showtunes.”
Within the “Coraline” program, playwright David Greenspan praises Merritt’s work by saying he’s “a wonderful story-teller. He is able, in song, to not only develop character and advance plot, but to create moments of emotional expansion.”
Currently, there are no plans to release any recorded material from “Coraline.” Samples of Merritt’s songs can be heard on the MCC Theater website.