Review of Dave Malloy’s ‘Preludes’ Based on Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Struggle with Writer's Block

By James Knight on Mar 08, 2016 05:22 PM EST

They say first impressions are everything. After wowing the world with his “Prelude in C-sharp minor,” Sergei Rachmaninoff set expectations high for his First Symphony. However, things didn’t go quote so well for Rachmaninoff, leading him to a three year long struggle with writer's block. But you know what they say, one man’s writer bock is another man’s hit musical...That is a saying right? Dave Malloy’s musical Preludes goes inside the mind of Rachmaninoff, exploring his three year creative drought and the events that lead to it.

Preludes is described as “a musical fantasia set in the hypnotized mind of Russian composer Sergei Rachmaninoff.” The musical mixes in more modern music and lyrics (provided by Dave Malloy) with classical compositions from Rachmaninoff.

Preludes stars Gabriel Ebert (Matilda the Musical) as Sergei Rachmaninoff with Or Matias serving as both his right and left hand, that is by providing the piano accompaniment for the show as another version Rachmaninoff.

We start our show with Rachmaninoff in a session with Dahl (Eisa Davis) a hypnotherapist. Rach begins describing his day in mind numbing detail (“Your Day”). As his very uninspiring and uneventful day goes on, Rach’s anxiety starts to swell and the energy of the song begins to build until it starts to boil over. The faint sound of a heart beat can be heard in the background, underscoring the stress and emotion expressed in the number.

The rest of the show follows this same path as we explore the events leading up to Rachmaninoff’s three year setback. Rach begins to show the overwhelming amount of stress that the success of his “Prelude in C-sharp minor (Op. 3, No. 2),” has brought upon him (“The Prelude”).

However, it was the critical failure of Rachmaninoff’s First Symphony that pushes him to his breaking point.

The magnificent talent of Gabriel Ebert is really showcased in these pieces. Ebert brings to life the emotion of of the piece with his astounding ability to go from calm to manic in mere seconds.

The more modern elements of Preludes seem to take some influence from artist like The Beatles, Postal Service and Ben Folds. However, it’s Malloy’s ability to shape these elements and blend them perfectly with Rachmaninoff’s work that makes this truly stand out.

Fittingly, the music finds a way of hypnotizing you, drawing you in and revealing that hidden emotion that you had no idea you were hiding. Any artist who has ever felt like they have already peaked can relate to and be inspired by this story of success to struggle.

The show’s hybrid blend of the old and the anachronistic should strike a chord with anyone familiar with Duncan Sheik’s work in Spring Awakening.

While not your typical musical, Preludes definitely has place in the collection of any musical theater/classical music lover as well as a spot on the playlists of those who would never dream of listening to the others.

Preludes stars:

Gabriel Ebert and Or Mathis as Rachmaninoff,
Eisa Davis as Dahl,
Nikki M. James as Natalya,
Joseph Keckler as Chaliapin,
Chris Sarandon as Chekhov, Tchaikovsky Tolstoy, Glazunov, Tsar, Nicholas II, The Master.

The creative team includes:

Dave Malloy - Author
Rachel Chavkin - Director
Mimi Lien - Sets
Paloma Young - Costumes
Bradley King - Lighting
Matt Hubbs - Sound
Or Matias - Music Director
Karyn Meek - Stage Manager

The Original Cast Recording is available now on Ghostlight Records and be purchased now at or everywhere music is sold.

Preludes originally ran that the Lincoln Center Theater from May 23 to August 2 of 2015. For more information on the show please visit

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TagsREVIEW, Dave Malloy, Preludes, Sergei Rachmaninoff, Struggle, Writer's Block