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  • Stephin Merritt, Magnetic Fields Documentary "Strange Powers" Now on DVD

    Strange Powers, the documentary that offers an intimate portrait of Stephin Merritt and The Magnetic Fields, is now available on DVD. Special features include previously unreleased deleted scenes of the band in the studio, on tour, and backstage; official music videos; the official film trailer; and a commentary track with Merritt and band member Claudia Gonson. The New York Daily News gives the film four stars, calling Merritt "one of the greatest American songwriters to emerge in the last two decades."

  • Stephin Merritt, Magnetic Fields Documentary, "Strange Powers," Opens in Theaters

    The new documentary feature Strange Powers: Stephin Merritt and The Magnetic Fields, receives its North American theatrical release at the Film Forum in New York City tonight; the band and the filmmakers will attend. A new Magnetic Fields exhibition opens at Other Music in Manhattan as well. In the coming months, the film will open theaters in Toronto and in cities across the US, including Los Angeles, Austin, San Francisco, Minneapolis, Dallas, and Seattle.

About this Album

“The Orphan of Zhao may signal the start of an important partnership for the musical theater.” —New York Times

Stephin Merritt’s Showtunes features a selection of songs he composed for three plays directed by acclaimed Chinese theater director Chen Shi-Zheng, The Orphan of Zhao, Peach Blossom Fan, and My Life As a Fairy Tale. The 26 songs include members of the original casts and ensembles. (A special digital-only release of the entire scores of the three shows was made available for purchase at all major digital retailers.)

Chen Shi-Zheng first collaborated with Merritt on the 13th-century black comedy The Orphan of Zhao, at the 2003 Lincoln Center Festival. The traditional Chinese opera was directed by Chen in two different interpretations for the Festival: a Chinese language version and a modernized English language version, the latter featuring Merritt’s music, which was described by the New York Times as “country and eastern.”

The Orphan of Zhao score supplements the legendary narrative of the Zhao family massacre and retribution. Using instruments like the Chinese jinghu, a two-string fiddle, a pipa, a lute, and an autoharp, it fuses musical elements from the Chinese and Western cultures. “Stephin has written songs that draw on disparate traditions yet remain recognizably his,” says Chen. “I admire his ability to assimilate a lot of American popular music, and to find his own voice in it.”

In 2004, Merritt and Chen joined forces again with the debut of a western-adapted Chinese Opera, Peach Blossom Fan at the Roy and Edna Disney/CalArts Theater (REDCAT) in Los Angeles. The 17th-century opera is famous in China, but is virtually unknown in the United States. The story is based on a poet and courtesan’s tragic love in the last days of the corrupt Ming dynasty. With a small orchestra of a marimba, yangqin, double bass, and steel drums, and a lyric operatic cast, Merritt’s score emphasizes the comedy and culture of the production. The Los Angeles Times said “Merritt’s facile and often funny rhymes and breezy Broadway melodic style have an easy, natural flow that Chen then makes complex through his use of florid operatic movements.”


The duo most recently collaborated on the 2005 Lincoln Center Festival production of My Life As a Fairy Tale, based on the life and stories of the famous Danish writer Hans Christian Andersen. The play was conceived and directed by Chen, with Merritt writing the music and designing the sound for the production.


The score is played by an unconventional quartet of bassoon, accordion, Stroh violin, and trilling electric pipa, with Merritt’s music creating, as the New York Times says, “the hypnotic quality of bedtime storytelling.” The play uses Merritt’s songs, sung by a cast that included Fiona Shaw and Blair Brown, to tell the story of Andersen’s tormented life, growing up a poor, ugly outcast. The Village Voice called the My Life As a Fairy Tale songs, “strophic and jauntily rhymed … the most interesting part of the occasion.”

In 1999, the Magnetic Fields’ three-CD collection 69 Love Songs established Stephin Merritt as one of this generation’s most talented songwriters. i, the band’s critically acclaimed seventh album was released in 2004. Between Magnetic Fields releases, Merritt has released albums with his other bands, Future Bible Heroes, Gothic Archies and the 6ths, as well as soundtracks to the films Eban and Charlie and Pieces of April.

Credits

MUSICIANS
Ernest Adzentoivich, bass (18)
Jenny Bacon, vocals (1)
LD Beghtol, vocals (11)
Zachary Behrens, marimba (2, 6, 7, 9, 11, 13, 16, 17, 21, 23, 25)
Fran Bennett, vocals (2, 22)
Blair Brown, vocals (16, 19, 25)
Rob Campbell, vocals (15)
Lillian Chen, yangqin (2, 6, 7, 9, 11, 13, 16, 17, 21, 23, 25)
Jon DeRosa, vocals (11, 14, 17)
Chris Dionaldo, vocals (9, 17)
Brittany Dunn, vocals (9, 17)
Molly Frieri, vocals (9, 17)
Charles Giordano, accordion (3, 5, 8, 10, 12, 15, 18, 20, 24)
Claudia Gonson, vocals (9, 11, 17)
Brian Hall, vocals (9, 17)
Anne Harris, vocals (11)
Kelly Hrehovcik, vocals (9, 17)
Ivan Johnson, bass (2, 6, 7, 9, 11, 13, 16, 17, 21, 23, 25)
David Patrick Kelly, vocals (4, 7)
Dudley Klute, vocals, (18)
Larry Krone, vocals (11)
Benjamin Lerman, vocals (11)
Michael Liscio, vocals (9, 17)
Mia Maestro, vocals (5, 10, 16)
Sydney Maresca, vocals (11)
Cory McAbee, autoharp (1, 4, 12, 14, 19, 22)
Kendall Jane Meade, vocals (11)
David Murgittroyd, vocals (9, 17)
Carla Murray, vocals (11)
Jon Natchez, vocals (11)
Jenna Pasqua, vocals (9, 17)
Richard Pepenella, vocals (9, 17)
Douglas Quint, bassoon (3, 5, 8, 10, 12, 15, 18, 20, 24)
Mary Lou Rosato, vocals (5, 8, 16, 19, 25)
Daniel Savell, steel drums, bass drum (2, 6, 7, 9, 11, 13, 16, 17, 21, 23, 25)
Rob Scherzer, vocals (9, 17)
Fiona Shaw, vocals (3, 5, 21)
Shirley Simms, vocals (7, 14, 17, 22)
Matthew Steiner, vocals (6, 24)
Pinky Weitzman, Stroh violin (3, 5, 8, 10, 12, 15, 18, 20, 24)
Rachel Witmer, vocals (9, 17)
Min Xiao-Fen, pipa (1, 4, 12, 14, 19, 22), electric pipa (3, 5, 8, 10, 12, 15, 18, 20, 24)
William Yeomans, vocals (20)
Michael Yesenosky, choral director (2, 6, 7, 9, 11, 13, 16, 17, 21, 23, 25)
Stephen Yesenosky, vocals (9, 17)
Qian Yi, vocals (3, 13, 21)
Wei Guo Yong, jinghu (1, 4, 12, 14, 19, 22)

PRODUCTION CREDITS
Musical Director: Kimberly Grigsby
Recording Engineers: Scott Lehrer at Sear Sound, Charles Newman, Van Portsche, Tom Rogers at Mother West, Mick Mahan, Ray McNamara, Andy Hay
Mixed by Charles Newman at Mother West
Mastering: Robert C. Ludwig at Gateway Mastering Studios, Portland, ME

All songs by Stephin Merritt

Design by Evan Gaffney
Cover photo by Marcelo Krasilcic
Costume: Jamie Guan
Costume Stylist: Jing He

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