Tom Erlewine

Director of Content, Pop Music

All Music Guide

Love Online, Brian Gari's second collection of songs, is a musical about well, it's not great surprise that it's about a couple that finds love online. He claims in his liner notes that these 15 are culled from over 45 songs that he wrote for this project, and if that's true, the record benefits from the concentrated focus, since there are no slow spots on the record (although portions of the narrative may benefit from more songs, since there are a couple of places where it all moves a little quickly). Gari's narrative is fairly simple and clean Keith, a skeptic about the internet, logs on and falls in love with Sarah; the two have a connection, but she's married, and the rest of the musical concerns the development of their relationship. This is a simple story, but it gives Gari a lot of room to draw character sketches not just of the two main characters, but of Bill, Keith's mildly obnoxious pal, or such incidental characters as "Old Man Cobb." The characterizations are delivered through songs that are tailored specifically to the musical, such as the nearly slapstick "I Know What Happened," but there are several songs that are general enough thematically to stand on their own, and these happen to illustrate Gari at his strongest. "The Nicest Person I've Never Met" is a really fine ballad, intended to be a duet but working just perfectly sung solely by Gari, "You Must Have A Past" rushes by with an urgency with and the light bossa nova flair of "Sarah & Liza" in slyly infectious. Other moments on the record work just as well, and Gari, along with his co-producer/arranger/instrumentalist Jeff Olmsted on this record, give the music a sophisticated homemade feel that enhances the intimacy of the story instead of working against Gari's musical aspirations. This production also fits Gari's idiosyncratic blend of classic showtunes, '70s singer/songwriters, '60s pop and early '80s soft rock, giving it an appealing sheen. In that sense, this isn't entirely different from Gari's other work, yet Love Online is one of his best works, boasting not only a moving (yet witty) narrative, but several of his finest songs to date.

Reviewed on April 16, 1999 by David Roberts for Theatre Reviews Limited

Brian Gari's "Love Online" is a digitalized version of a tangible on-line relationship (fictionalized, of course) just waiting to be produced on stage. Self-produced (with Jeff Olmsted) for Gari's Tenacity Productions, "Love Online" was recorded at Tenacity Studios in New York City from December 1995 through August 1997 and mastered by Paul Gold at Digi-Rom, Inc.

The result is a very clean, very clear recording of fifteen of Brian Gari's songs inspired by his online experiences. In the fictionalized account, Keith's friend Bill introduces Keith to the internet and online chat rooms where Keith meets Sarah in a chat room and, over time, the two fall madly online in love, eventually meet, and ultimately have to deal with Sarah's crumbling marriage which she seems unable to free herself from. Although the scenario might sound familiar (which is part of the show's strength) Brian Gari pushes his listeners beyond the familiar into a territory which the online afficionado will find close to the heart and the soul.

The opening track "Love Online" is pure hard and driving pop. "Open worlds you never knew," sings Keith's friend Bill, "Internet and love can intertwine. You could even fall in love online. "Keith's initial rejection of Bill's idea quickly fades and we hear Keith admitting, "I think I might stay online all night. "Free time goes quickly in this story line. Only fifteen hours free. As in all the songs, Brian Gari does all the vocals, including the other characters. To make the solos more interesting, and more accessible, Gari's voice is sometimes doubled or appropriately modified.

After meeting online for a while, Keith and Sarah can say to one another, "I can wait forever to see your face. Cause you're the nicest person I've never met I've never even seen." And "You've made this difficult world seem so serene." These sweet and tender lyrics are Brian Gari at his best, accurately reflecting the patience of those who meet online. This second track, "The Nicest Person I've Never Met" is one of the CD's best and exemplifies just how powerful these songs would be if presented in a fully staged production.

Sarah and Keith's online relationship develops into a "phone relationship" where they ask one another, "How did you know I'd look in your eyes and find myself caught and holding a prize that I have tried to hold my whole life through?"

Tracks 4 through 15 capsulize the relationship between Keith and Sarah and include the whole range of feelings and experiences which began with Keith's friend turning Keith on to online chat, including: Keith's anger at meeting and finding that Sarah is still married (anger which clearly comes through in the beat); Bill and Keith discussing what happened on the first date; the use of a different name when connecting online (the anonymity of internet and the pluses and minuses of that anonymity); Sarah and Keith's first Christmas together; Sarah's wanting to leave her marriage ("The Child in you is very much alive."); the sensual beat/sexual beat in the song "Where Does It Come From;" Keith's conservation with Mr. Cobb, a man who knew Sarah's father (train sound effects and all); Sarah's coming to Keith in pain sharing with him her life with her abusive husband (really nice arrangement here of "Solid Gold." One of the best!); living in a dead relationship and the pain that causes; what happens when Keith and Sarah stop seeing one another (nice doubling of Gari's voice with nice echoing as Keith asks "Am I easy for you to ignore?"); Sarah calling Keith and his urging her to get in touch with her feelings; Keith offering final support for Sarah, leaving the final decision about leaving her husband up to her.

It's all here and all ready for some producer to pick up and put in front of a live theatre audience. I wish Mr. Gari had included in the recording the between-song text he provides in the CD liner. This could be done as a reflective monologue or a brief dialogue or just some narration and would have been a nice connective line through the tracks.

The potential for Brian Gari's "Love Online" is a limitless as the internet itself and I would hope he can find someone interested in this project soon. Meantime, give this CD a definite try. It is enjoyable just as it is.

It's Love, From Screen to Song to Stage By Matthew Mirapaul
copyright 1998 The New York Times on the Web

Brian Gari's first song to be immortalized momentarily, anyway was "Bright Spectrum of Colors." Written when he was just 14 years old, the tune was soon recorded for a 1969 album by the Unusual We.

Now, thanks to America Online, Gari is passionately involved in his own "unusual we," a relationship he has immortalized in a 15-song CD that he intends to develop into an off-Broadway musical.

"Love Online," released late last year, is a digital Valentine to the woman he calls Sarah, whom Gari met when she responded to a singles ad he posted to America Online in September 1995.

In a lush romantic-pop style reminiscent of the Beach Boys and Jimmy Webb, Gari chronicles their history, although some details have been altered or embellished for the fictionalized retelling.

The album also confirms that Internet interactions have grown into a not-so- unusual part of our culture, so much so that they can function as the basis of a traditional form of entertainment.

Because the couple become acquainted online and cultivate their relationship there, about half the songs pertain to cyberspace dating, including "I Know What Happened," in which Gari's fictional counterpart, Keith, is quizzed by a friend on his initial face-to-face encounter with Sarah.

The pal inquires, did she turn out to be a he? No, but there was still a secret to be revealed. In real life, Gari and Sarah traded electronic messages before shifting their exchanges to the telephone. After a few weeks of intense conversation, Sarah disclosed that she was married, although a divorce was in the works.

Gari, who turns 46 next week, was undaunted. A composer, producer and musician who lives on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, he is the grandson of Eddie Cantor, the vaudeville singer and comedian. The persistence required in show business runs in his blood.

Since he was 12, Gari has usually written at least one song per month. Inspired by Sarah, he quickly drafted "The Nicest Person I've Never Met." He then recorded a demo tape of the sweet-themed tune and popped it in the mail. He still treasures the enthusiastic answering-machine message it elicited.

"It was a very intelligent response to my music," Gari recalled in a telephone interview last week, "and that's the type of person that interests me."

Sarah, replying via e-mail to a reporter's questions on the condition of anonymity, said: "Brian wanted me to understand the impact I had on him without ever having met him, and he felt that he does so best through his songwriting. I was very touched. But I still didn't buy his true feelings. It wasn't until after a few of his next songs that I truly believed how deeply he cared for me. Some brought me to tears."

A month after meeting online, the pair agreed to rendezvous in a nightclub where Gari was the opening act.

"I'm terrorized by performing anyway; I'm just a nervous wreck," Gari said. "And I was going to introduce the song 'The Nicest Person I've Never Met' live, in front of the audience and in front of her. And I didn't know what she looked like. So I'm looking all around the room trying to figure out which one is she. It turns out she had showed up late and missed it."

Eventually, Sarah did arrive, wearing red, as promised. Gari handed her a rose. They fell in love. "From that point on, it was a roller coaster," he said. With Sarah's situation complicated by children, the divorce did not occur. Their relationship has followed an on-again, off-again course ever since.

"We seem to be driven back to each other every time," Gari explained. "I'm hopelessly hooked. I'm just madly in love with this girl. At the moment, we're quasi-on. We're still talking to each other online, but we're not talking to each other on the phone or in person."

Although they have not seen each other since the holidays, they may reunite this week.

Serving as the Beatrice to his Dante, Sarah has spurred Gari to compose more than 50 songs. "They keep pouring out of me," he said. "Every single song is about her and me or her or her family or whatever. I started realizing there was a connecting story and maybe a musical was writing itself. I just had to record this stuff."

His inamorata's love of the guitar also motivated Gari to write more for that instrument, like the bossa nova number "Sarah & Liza," about one woman with two online identities.

Gari's lyrics are more plain-spoken than Cole Porter's, although his efforts in this area have improved markedly since he scribbled "Your blue eyes, your blonde hair, lips a shade of red, made me turn my head" for "Bright Spectrum of Colors" many years ago.

But he also shows a genuine flair for crafting natural-sounding melody lines that hold fresh surprises, and his judicious use of studio wizardry to enrich his tunes' harmonies makes the most of a voice he concedes is limited in its range.

Still, the songs would benefit from a stage production with trained voices. At present, Gari is focused on promoting the CD, which he has just re-pressed to meet demand, but he is seeking a collaborator for the musical's book.

Hollywood is already at work on a similar idea. For the upcoming film "You've Got Mail," Tom Hanks, Meg Ryan and the director Nora Ephron will try to recreate the magic of their hit "Sleepless in Seattle" through an updated remake of "The Shop Around the Corner." In that 1940 charmer, James Stewart and Margaret Sullivan play bickering co-workers, unaware that they are also devoted pen pals. Hanks and Ryan, of course, will exchange e-mail instead. Gari has sent his songs to the filmmakers for soundtrack consideration, but has yet to receive a response.

If Gari succeeds in developing a theatrical version of "Love Online," it will not be the first time he has mounted a show based on his life. "Late Nite Comic," which opened on Broadway in 1987, documented his first significant relationship.

"I always write about what I know," he confessed. "Unfortunately, in this case [with Sarah], I got myself involved in a very precarious situation."

It remains so, in life and on disc. The "Love Online" CD concludes with "Stand Up for Our Love," in which Gari's dramatic character pleads for Sarah to leave her husband for him.

Gari continues to write songs, perhaps awaiting the opportunity to compose a jubilant conclusion. Does he want the off-Broadway show to have a happy ending? Suddenly, the hopeless romantic becomes a clear-eyed realist.

"It's a hard question to answer," he said. "This show has to end somehow. It has to leave my own experiences. I mean, this could go on for years more, this relationship with its ups and downs. So, in real life, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes. But I'm also worried about creating an ending that is too sugar-sweet. Should it be like that? Real life is a bit more complicated."

"It's an ongoing situation. It's quite romantic, I must say. And it's all from being online."

NICE COMMENTS FROM FANS ONLINE , February 1, 1999 ...a very entertaining pop musical This musical is an original--before the movie "You've Got Mail!" and far more creative.

I recently acquired your album LOVE ONLINE. It is a brilliant work in the field of the musical. Are you working on any new material currently? Is there any chance I could get a copy of the outtakes from Love Online? Is there a stage adaptation or any live performances in the works? Thank you for your time and music...Felix

Sarah's Christmas is being relayed in a programme of Christmas Music on Sunday 27th - It'll be in good company too. Best wishes for the coming season. Regards...David Lewis

I was in NYC the week before Christmas and was shopping at my favorite Karaoke store, Colony Records. Anyway, as I was walking out of the karaoke section, I saw your CD...asked the guy that worked there about it, and he said it was I bought it. I just wanted to let you know that I'm about 1/2 way through the CD right now (listening as I type) ..and I really enjoy it so far. I've been online for a loonnnng time and have fallen in "love online" once or, I wanted to drop you a line and let you know that your work is appreciated!!! Take care...Tina :)

I would first like to introduce myself... I work for the Grand Rapid's Broadway Theatre Guild in Grand Rapids, Michigan. I have just recently discovered your work Love Online, and after some minor research discovered Late Nite Comic, A Hard Time to be Single, Songs From Future Musicals, and Face to Face. We here at Stage Door love to decorate our store with pictures of our favorite stars, singers, composers, and directors, and since me and my coworker Nate Flory have discovered you we have become fans. Feel free to send a picture directly to our store. I look forward to hearing from you. Cordially Yours, Kristyn A. Lowing/Stage Door

Just wanted to tell you that I just bought your CD "Love Online'. The music and lyrics are beautiful and very romantic. Your sensitivity and love of romance really shows through. You are a very talented guy! Charlene

Got Love Online yesterday. It's haunting me u know. I absolutely love it! It has made me very sad though. It speaks a bit too close to home. Sarah's Christmas is one of my favorites. Mary

A music fan from Portland, Oregon , March 14, 1999... Nice! The soft, hushed tones of "Sarah & Liza" and the imagery of "Old Man Cobb" are very appealing--my favorites. This talented composer-lyricist leaves quite an impression.

A music fan from Seattle, WA, September 9, 1998...I highly recommend LOVE ONLINE! The music beautifully captures the emotional roller coaster of this modern-day love story. Brian Gari is brilliant and sensitive.

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