Everyone seems to have done a musical now, but Xena’s Bitter Suite was one of the first and, in terms of both story and music, still possibly the best. Joseph LoDuca’s music caters less to the series’ usual musical sensibilities, shifting instead into lavish big-screen-musical territory. There’s something almost Disney-esque about The Bitter Suite, but we’re talking old-school Disney – Pete’s Dragon and Bedknobs And Broomsticks Disney musical style, not this newfangled Every Male Lead Suddenly Sings Elton John Songs In Peabo Bryson’s Voice business that seems to pervade the lion’s share – pun pitifully intended – of Disney’s modern output.
Even more gloriously, it’s refreshing to see that three of the story’s key players do their own singing. Renee O’Connor was dubbed by Susan Wood for her musical scenes, and Hudson Leick (Callisto) got to lip-synch to Michelle NiCastro’s vocals for her character. (NiCastro, incidentally, is a veteran of some of those newfangled Disney musicals. Small world, eh?) But Lucy Lawless, Ted “Joxer” Raimi and the late, great Kevin “Ares” Smith sang for themselves, thank you very much, and between my constant admiration for his performance as the god of war and the fact that he may be the best vocalist of the bunch, I’ve got to hand Kevin Smith some mad props here. From the slinky, seductive tones of “Melt Into Me” to his snide remark “ding dong, the bitch is dead!”, Smith comes out very much the unheralded star of this show. On TV, he also looked most at ease in this episode. Kevin, we lost you far, far too soon.
The CD as a whole is a collection of the musical numbers and highlights from the score (including the wildly percussive cues for the brutal opening sequences), with just enough dialogue to preserve something of the flow of the story. If there’s a single low point, it’s the slightly overwrought “Hearts Are Hurting”, a song divided into two parts during which Xena and Gabrielle work out a major conflict that had built up between the two characters since the beginning of the third season (of which the less said, the better, frankly). The vocals from both Susan Wood and Lucy Lawless are a bit strained, and the music stops just short of being risible – it’s actually the show’s theme song, slowed down a lot and with lyrics. Really the low point of both the CD and the episode – and it should’ve been, could’ve been the high point.
That aside, The Bitter Suite is outstanding, and the CD tells the story nicely – since it’s a musical, it’s almost the episode in audio form, and not much is left out except for some non-musical dialogue (the CD has roughly the same running time as the episode, in fact). Good stuff.
- The Sweat Hut / Slapped Out Of It / Xena’s In Town (4:42)
- Horrible Drag / On The Edge / Song Of The Fool (5:09)
- What’s Still Unwritten… (Song Of Illusia) / Little Ditties / Into The Chandra / Joxer The Mighty / Prepping Gabby (5:17)
- War And Peace / Gab Is Stabbed (5:52)
- Melt Into Me / Let Go (2:28)
- Dead? / Hearts Are Hurting (Part 1) (2:35)
- The Deliverer (4:07)
- Hate Is The Star (Song Of The Torment) / Hearts Are Hurting (Part 2) (5:42)
- The Way Out / The Love Of Your Love / Passing Through (7:10)
Released by: Varese Sarabande
Release date: 1998
Total running time: 42:55