The “pop opera” Crusade, began life in the late 1980’s. Attempting to follow in the footsteps of other successful pop/rock operas such as Jesus Christ Superstar and Evita, which started out as “concept” albums before being staged as musical plays, a demonstration recording was made of the entire show and sent to numerous record companies. While much of the feedback was very positive, and in several cases outright enthusiastic, the uniqueness of the project was ultimately too great a stumbling block. Crusade was then pitched to a wide variety of regional theatres and Broadway producers, but the results were no better.
Unlike many Broadway musicals, which are based on already familiar material, Crusade was completely original and very hard to describe. The surface level story was intended to resemble a fairy-tale, but underneath were layers and layers of subtext, symbolism and allegory designed to make Crusade an enjoyable experience for the casual viewer and a richly rewarding one for anyone who desired to dig a little deeper. It’s the kind of show that you can watch several times and each time come away having discovered something new. Unfortunately, the high volume of material submitted to professional theatre companies generally precludes any deep analysis or lengthy examination of new shows and Crusade seems to have confused some people. (And there were some just outright hated it!) It's funny, looking back on it now, how much criticism there was for the music being heavily "rock" influenced. If I played a song on the piano it was fine but once you added an electric bass and rock drums they acted like they were hearing finernails scraping on a chalkboard. Times do change, don't they?
Another obstacle was the highly visual nature of the piece. The deliberately ambiguous time period and locale combined with a number of “sight gags” and fluid “cinematic” staging techniques are all part of the Crusade live theatre experience, but don’t necessarily translate well on paper. That was definitely a good lesson to learn. The title, although simple and short, also contributed to some confusion as some people assumed that it was a "religious" play of some kind, which it definitely isn't.
The original recording featured an excellent cast but was recorded on an old 4-track cassette recorder. Needless to say the quality wasn't all that great. I don't think I have any way of playing it even if I could find the tape! Still, there's a definite soft spot in my heart for this show and I've always toyed with the idea of digging it up and trying to make a decent recording but who knows if I'll live along enough to get around to that? In the meantime it lives on, in some sense, here on the Internet!
A long time ago in a land far away…
So begins many a fable, and Crusade is no exception. As a strolling minstrel, THE BARD, begins weaving his tale, (“A Long Time Ago”) the stage comes to life with activity, quickly transforming into whatever setting or locale THE BARD describes. The look and feel of the show is quasi-Medieval/Renaissance filtered through a heavy does of storybook romance, with a dash of modern anachronism thrown in for good measure. This is a fairy-tale with an edge!
Soon we are introduced to the world’s richest man, THE FATHER, and his kind-hearted SON who dreams of someday using his wealth for the betterment of all mankind. (“A World Without Pain”). One day his aging FATHER calls him to his deathbed (“Son”) and imparts his final words of wisdom, encouraging his SON to use his new-found power for good. THE SON makes a solemn promise to his dying FATHER, and thus the seeds are planted for what will become his great adventure. But first he must deal with the new pressures and responsibilities of wealth, such as dealing with a slick LAWYER (“Where There’s A Will”) or fending off the crass commercial advances of every OPPORTUNIST who smells a chance to get a piece of his inheritance (“What You Should Do”).
His best friend since childhood, THE GIRL, arrives to console him (“My Dearest Friend”) and THE BARD slyly implies that there might be something more between them, despite the many years of pure platonic friendship. But at the moment THE SON is too busy to think of romance. He is obsessed with his goal of saving the world but uncertain of the best way to accomplish it (“The Plan Of The Century”). Suddenly it comes to him in flash of inspiration (“The Goodwill Crusade”). He will assemble an army of charitable soldiers who will travel throughout the land doing good deeds. Bakers to make bread. Tailors to patch up old clothes. Carpenters to build homes for the homeless. And a never ending flow of cash to anyone who claims a need.
THE GIRL, admires the motivation for his plan, but urges him to be cautious when dealing with people who aren’t quite as noble or pure of heart. (“Take Care”). Suddenly the whole town turns out to send the CRUSADERS off on their mission (“Farewell And Goodbye”) and the local VENDORS see a great opportunity to cash in on the crowd (“A Glittering Start”) that has gathered to bid them adieu. It is a joyous celebration for all but one…THE GIRL who watches THE SON march off, aware perhaps for the first time that her feelings have matured and blossomed into romance (“He Knows”).
The Crusade begins on a positive note (“So Far So Good”) but soon hits the first bump in the road. The chief financial advisor, THE BANKER, warns THE SON that at the pace they’re spending money the Crusade will soon be broke if they don’t figure out some way to supplement his inheritance. This turns the Crusade into a giant fund-raising road show and Middle Ages media event which succeeds beyond their wildest expectations (“Little Did They Know”).
However, the silver and gold filling their charity wagons is soon overshadowed by a cloud of greed as THE BANKER begins hatch his own plan to manipulate the funds for his own personal profit. As the First Act concludes (“…Back Home”) the hometown of the Crusade is starting to reap some of the benefits of their notoriety. In fact, the whole world appears to be caught up in a Crusade frenzy. Only THE GIRL stays level-headed as everyone else seems to have forgotten the purpose of their journey and scrambles to find a way to make a buck off their fame.
The Second Act begins with THE GIRL and THE SON corresponding with each other in a letter writing sequence (“Every Day”) which demonstrates even more their growing fondness for each other, despite the many miles that now physically separate them. Their relationship may be blooming but the Crusade is starting to wilt. The Crusaders are tired of dealing with the onslaught of fakers and con artists who come to fleece the Crusade in every town they pass through and THE BANKER starts to stir up dissension in the ranks. THE SON confronts this uprising with a stern warning that they should all remember the higher goals that once motivated them (“Every One Of Us”).
Some of the Crusaders start to worry that the gravy train may soon run out (“What Will Happen To Us?”) if some kind of action isn’t taken soon to protect their own graft and embezzlement. Meanwhile, THE SON makes a reaffirmation of the pledge made to his dying FATHER (“It’s Just A Matter Of Time”).
But things just keep going from bad to worse. The Crusade, now secretly run by THE BANKER, is just a front for the Crusaders own profit. The quality level of the goods and services they provide drops to a virtually worthless level (“All That Glitters”), and only a token gesture of financial aid remains, primarily for the good public relations it generates. Things finally come to a boil when THE BANKER tries to persuade THE SON that these cutbacks are really for the good of the poor who are happier not having to deal with the burden of prosperity (“Every Day’s A Holiday” [For The Unemployed]).
THE SON can’t control his rage at this final audacity and lashes out at THE BANKER (“Out Of Control”) who is not intimidated by his threats. THE SON is forced to face the fact that he has lost control of the Crusade. His personal fortune is gone and the fund raising efforts of THE BANKER are keeping the project alive. It is truly (“The Beginning Of The End”) for the Crusade.
When disgruntled VILLAGERS attack the charity wagons a riot breaks out that wreaks havoc on both the village and the Crusade. As THE SON wanders through the wreckage he ponders the question (“Where Did I Go Wrong?”). THE BARD steps in to boost his spirits (“Never Give Up”) but it is the arrival of THE GIRL (“I Couldn’t Stay Away”) that ultimately brings him back to life.
Their joyous reunion is suddenly interrupted by a strange caravan of exotic travelers, one of whom is a KING searching for a match for his daughter, THE PRINCESS. He has heard tales of the great Crusade and is willing to offer an enormous dowry to THE SON if he will take THE PRINCESS as his bride (“The Story Of The King”).
Torn apart by the decision he must make THE SON realizes that he has reached a (“Turning Point”) in his life. He has finally come to realize how much in love he is with THE GIRL, but his commitment to his father’s wishes forces him to do anything that may help keep the Crusade alive, even at the price of his own happiness.
A raucous (“Wedding Dance”) ensues as a preparation for the approaching ceremony. The wild partying leaves the Crusaders dizzy and hung over. (“In The Morning”) they wake to discover that everything has been stolen during the night and that the KING and his followers were really a band of gypsy thieves.
THE SON realizes that the Crusade is (“Finished”) and believes that he has failed completely in his task until THE GIRL returns and reminds him that no one who shows compassion for his fellow man is ever truly a failure, even if one person can’t save the world all alone. And while he has lost his empire he has gained the freedom of his heart. Together, THE SON and THE GIRL decide to carry on the dream any way that they can, happy just to be making the struggle together (“As Long As I Am With You”).