The Art of Pleasure ends with a section simply called “Peace.” The centerpiece is an unpublished song by Michael John LaChiusa entitled “Heaven,” which I first heard on Mary Testa’s album, Have Faith. When I was programming NYFOS’s 30th anniversary gala, all the songs had to have a “30” connection—for example, something I first played 30 years ago, or something that premiered 30 years ago, or something written in 1930. We also got a few songs by Sondheim, born in 1930. To vary the approach, I asked Mary to sing a song she felt would be a classic in 30 years. She sent me three possibilities. I listened to all of them and made a beeline for “Heaven.”
I met Michael John at the very beginning of his career, when his music tended to be all dots and dashes, written in a pointillist, conversational, Morse Code style. His musical theater scores have warmed up a great deal since those early days, while gaining in complexity and compositional depth. “Heaven” is from a revue called Hotel L’Amour. The songs in it, I believe, were either cut from past musicals or destined for projects that LaChiusa abandoned. Whatever its provenance, it never fails to move me. It’s been fascinating to go from Mary Testa’s salt-of-the-earth belt to Zoie Reams’ cultured mezzo-soprano. “Heaven” happily embraces both kinds of singing, stopping time and giving us all hope.