Second Thoughts About Scoring Films

Borrowed Time Is Brad Fiedel’s Autobiographical One-Man Musical

This new one-man show stars Brad Fiedel as a brilliant composer whose career includes dozens of successful film scores. Nevetheless, when Fiedel looks back on what he has accomplished, he can’t help wondering if it was worth it. In some sense, the show Borrowed Time exists because of an early promise that Brad Fiedel made to himself, which was to be faithful to his own vision and to write songs that tell the truth. The fact that Fiedel now believes that he failed to keep that promise is what sent him back to the performing the songs of his past, which he revisits in the show. The multimedia performance takes full advantage of digital technology to bring the cinematic experience of Fiedel’s soundtrack work into the theater, but since he also happens to be a fine singer and pianist, the prerecorded material takes a back seat to the presence of a living, breathing human being at the keyboard of a grand piano.

The results are mixed. The songs have heart and Fiedel delivers them effectively in a style that’s somewhere between Joe Jackson and Billy Joel—not a bad neighborhood for a guy from Long Island. “Stuck On You,” Fiedel’s audition song for Clive Davis, could have been a hit, and so could “What’s Your Bottom Line?” The life story of a film composer has not really been told before, at least not in this format, so there’s interest there. And there’s some real stagecraft to the work—it’s not just a set of songs strung together with anecdotes.

But there’s the problem—it might work better as anecdotes. His decision to speak the whole thing in the present tense, while clearly well intentioned, renders the material less, rather than more vivid. The past tense is well equipped to handle shifts in perspective and the gradually evolving consciousness this show was created to express. The present offers only the mirage of an ever-receding immediacy, and it quickly loses its impact. With such wonderful stories to tell, and coming from the middle of such a fascinating era, this work deserves another chance.

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