Piano and Musical Direction … Janette Mason
Bass … Kendell Eddy
Drums … Austin McMann
Singer-comedienne Lea DeLaria brought her jazz and hilarity to the BCA’s Deane Hall for three evenings, kicking off the Huntington’s new cabaret series, “Upstairs at the Calderwood” --- the Old Girl, of all companies, is out to prove to Beantowners that, yes, there is life at an hour when most local theatergoers head home after applauding a curtain call and how wise, good and clever to begin with Ms. DeLaria who makes me laugh heartily as no one else can, onstage or off, and whose every note of scat is a well-hammered nail on the musical line. Twice have I seen Ms. DeLaria perform in Provincetown where she alternated in-your-face monologues with clear, sparkling vocals --- “Chords of steel!” she proclaimed to me, afterwards --- but Boston is not Provincetown and I wondered how this bull(dyke) would fare in our china shop. Happily, Ms. DeLaria is so layered an artist that, like a starfish cut in half, she could regenerate herself into a jolly big sister that the whole family could love, with just enough naughtiness to make her audience squirm with delight (i.e. walking amongst the women, with mistletoe, while singing “Christmas Kisses”) --- in Provincetown, Ms. DeLaria is a comedienne who sings; here, she was a singer who made us laugh which is comforting to know for not only will Boston always be Boston but the political winds are shifting to more hopeful, optimistic ones and Ms. DeLaria, like many a stand-up comic, may find herself passing from Old Comedy to New (a year from now, who would want to be reminded of our outgoing President?). But even a Lea-Lite is better than no Lea, at all, and may Ms. DeLaria always find time for Boston within her busy-busy schedule and, of course, there is always Provincetown in the summer should you want to experience her in full, unleashed merriment.
Ben and Brad throw swell parties---I mean concerts--- and they always invite the best guests. American Classics’ events, in case you haven’t been, are always fun and extremely educational. Even if you think you know everything there is to know about, say George and Ira Gershwin, you’ll learn something new---and hear a song you haven’t heard before. If the Encyclopedia of American Musical Theatre could walk and talk (and sing and play) it would be Benjamin Sears and Bradford Conner.
This past weekend American Classics presented THESE CHARMING PEOPLE, a program of songs and delicious dish about the Gershwin brothers and their collaborations, together and apart. Sears knows his way around a romantic ballad like “Somebody Loves Me” (from the George White Scandals: George collaborating with DeSylva and MacDonald), with Conner dazzling up the intricate jazzy setting...but Sears can clown with the best of ‘em in a silly song like “She Hangs Out in the Alley” (“But oh, what she hangs out!”) about a lady of considerable avoir du pois. (Bet you never heard that one before.) Then both Sears and Conner deliver a natty, lovely “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off.”
Brian deLorenzo got to wow the crowd with “The Girl I Love,” the rare masculine version of the brothers’ gorgeous “The Man I Love” and Valerie Anastasio pertly crooned Kurt Weill and Ira’s cheeky “The Saga of Jenny” from LADY IN THE DARK. Joei Marshall Perry showed off her honey soprano in the brothers’ exquisitely sweet “Someone to Watch Over Me.” And they all cavorted, since it was Veteran’s Day, to the patriotic “Strike Up the Band.”
Their next outing will be in March, when they’ll present CARL SANDBURG AND HIS SONG BAG: Music and songs inspired by Sandburg’s poetry. Then in April they’ll be regaling us with UP CLOSE AND PRESIDENTIAL: A new, whimsical take on Presidential politics with campaign songs and stories from the past, in honor of this election year.
Feuds between composers and their lyricists (like Gilbert & Sullivan’s famous rift) make far juicier copy than a genius who could ---and did---work with everyone. Johnny Mercer wrote songs for 90 motion pictures (for which he received 4 Oscars) and 6 Broadway musicals. For five decades he collaborated with over a hundred composers, including Kern, Ellington, Carmichael, Weill, Warren and Mancini, to name but a few. He even collaborated posthumously with Barry Manilow, who used some old Mercer lyrics for a song he was writing.
Bobbi Carrey has invented the genre of “the historical cabaret.” Her smooth, sultry vocals will pull you in and her historical knowledge of a composer will bowl you over. Carrey and Doug Hammer, one of the best arrangers around, turn “My Mama Done Told Me” into a sassy boogie-woogie. Hammer dazzles, too, with a different arrangement for “Come Rain or Come Shine.” You’ll hear lyrics you’ve never heard before in “Just Too Marvelous.”
? Carrey and Hammer take their time with “Old Black Magic” so that you can savor the lyrics. You’ll be tapping your feet and moving in your seat when Hammer’s band backs them up at Sculler’s on May 2nd.
Reservations (617) 562 4111 or www.scullersjazz.com
You can go to the theater every night of the week, and twice on Saturdays and Sundays, and still not see all the music and theater Boston has to offer. I did just that this past week and here are a few of the highlights.
Often the lines blur between one art form and another. Performance artists, for example, are more grounded in theater than they are in the visual arts. Some theater is more like freewheeling performance art. Some dance is more theatrical than balletic and some cabaret becomes more expansive and dramatic than our image of a singer standing in front of a mic. There are as many styles, it seems, as there are performers.
The Elders Ensemble, a formidable company of performers – all over 60, 70 and 80 years young – reinvent dance as an emotionally provocative art form, one which embraces the spoken word as well as movement, one which can express the wisdom born from youth and lived through full life experience.
Diane Arvanites-Noya and Tommy Neblett of Prometheus Dance created the extraordinary ensemble three years ago for post-professional dancers and retired (or rather, semi-retired) professionals from other fields who were “delayed” dancers. (One member only began dancing five years ago.) As it turns out, so to speak, the company is comprised entirely of women (although that wasn’t Arvanites-Noya and Neblett’s original idea). The compositions they create for the elder performers are not so different from the fully choreographed pieces you would see for Prometheus’ principal company. The choreography is athletic and demanding, and just as exciting as dance can be.
The first piece on the program at the Central Square Dance Complex, called “All Dressed Up To Go Dreaming,” is a Fellini-esque whirl of characters from a Venetian masquerade. Revellers trip across the stage as if dancing in air, lifted by the umbrellas (Eliza Mallouk) they twirl. One wry celebrant (Joan Green) walks an invisible dog who tugs at his stiff leash. Some characters glide in gondolas (Eleanor Duckworth). Some bring gifts to a ringmaster (Dorothy Elizabeth Tucker), festooning her with cones and canes, then usurping the master’s top hat to become the center of attention themselves. The dance is surreal and delicate and as exuberant as an opera. You may think of dancers as creatures with expressionless faces. Not here. The visages on this stage are playful and expressive. Everything about them dances, including their eyes.
The second piece, “Shadow Prophecy” features a central figure (Marcie Mitler) who faces the fears which torment her – following her, surrounding her, even sheltering her. It’s a powerful exploration of emotional survival. “Troika” is a breathtaking raga for three dancers (Duckworth, Green, and Karen Klein) who engage in a jubilant, frenetic celebration of three integral parts of a whole being. We practically were lifted out of our seats by the sheer energy on stage. The last work, in which each character tells her own story, has become the Ensemble’s signature piece. As Betty Milhendler says in her soliloquy, “There’s a Dance in the Ol’ Dame Yet!”
The dancers parade, kick their heels up (over their heads, I should add!) and conga, lifting their chairs in the air like balloons. It’s funny. It’s fabulous. It’s what we all should be doing with our bodies! And souls.
Carlyle posed that if you “See deeply enough, you see musically” – which is literally where musicals weigh in, expressing emotion in song (and dance). March being cabaret month, you can imagine that there were shows all over town. I caught two this weekend at the “Cabaret Connection” (at the Cambridge Center for Adult Ed) sponsored by BACA (The Boston Assoc. of Cabaret Artists). The first was Iris Tanner’s “Animal Instincts” full of songs about critters – which included the show stopping bunny song from URINETOWN and Joanna’s gorgeous bird serenade from SWEENEY TODD. How often have you seen a musical and wished someone would string together just the hits? That’s what CABARET can do: Song after song can take your breath away, nonstop. It’s a tour de force for a singer like Tanner and a dazzling accompanist like Doug Hammer and a high for the audience.
Tanner included her own hilarious composition about pets being “better than prozac” (from her CD Magnum Opuss) and Babbie Green’s exquisite “At the Pound,” which reduced the audience to tears. That’s what the perfect song does: it tells a whole story as if it were a three-minute novel and your emotions run the gamut. (You’re just running faster than you would at a musical or the movies.) Tanner has lovely, resonant low notes and torchy, sophisticated high notes – and a wry sense of humor to make the Tom Lehrer poison pigeon ditty fly. What would an animal act be without Cole Porter! Tanner included his wise little “Oyster” and, of course, “Birds Do It. Bees Do It” for an encore.
The BACA Performer Showcase Sunday evening presented eleven singers, with Joe Della Penna singing his own compositions as well as the stirring Brady Earnhart love song, “T-shirt in a Tourist Town” AND the strumpet song from GREASE in a blond wig (which in truth, made him look more like Jerry Lee Lewis than Sandra Dee!) Louise Koopman Vanaarsen treated us to a bittersweet love song called “No More Alone” from a 1980s Dutch musical and the smooth Jim Keating gave Barbara Baig’s superlative “With These Hands” a slight country western, almost whispery, melancholy spin. Prudence Humphreys did Nellie Forbush proud with the exuberant “I’m in Love with a Wonderful Guy” from SOUTH PACIFIC. Leslie Holmes showed off her French with Jacques Brel and Piaf and Kevin Luey delivered a heartfelt “Prayer” by the talented South African/now Boston songwriter Zola Schuman.
Ashley Lieberman acted the heck out of Stephen Schwartz’ tongue-in-cheek paean to harried waitresses, called “It’s An Art” and brought the sweetest pathos to the Hal David/Burt Bacharach “What’s It All About, Alfie.” David Diamond dipped into operatic waters for aria which moved him to sing, when he saw his first TOSCA and Madge Kaplan tackled the biggest number from Sondheim’s FOLLIES, bringing home the defiant, joyous show biz anthem, “I’m Still Here.”
Bringing down the house was left to the dynamic father-daughter act of Gabriella and Phil Kassel. The duo’s sweet harmonies play off the songs, with Dad doing the Leonard Cohen leads and daughter channeling Joni Mitchell on gorgeous signature songs like “Carrie” and “California.” Kassel Sr. nails the dark, sardonic vocal pitch of searing Cohen meditations like “Chelsea Hotel” – and lightens to a soaring tenor to accompany his daughter in the Mitchell songs. She has a dreamy, fluid voice which allows the music to spill out like water bouncing and skipping across stones – and the lyrics to fall effortlessly across the notes. You can hear and appreciate every single word, partly because she makes it look so natural, as if you hadn’t heard the lyric before.
McMillan and keyboard wizard Doug Hammer specialize in turning tunes on their ears. They take the chilling killing song from ASSASSINS, “Everybody’s Got the Right [to his dreams]” and make it into a song of hope. And you haven’t lived ‘til you’ve heard Hammer’s arrangement of the caustic (syncopated!) “Everything’s Coming Up Roses.”
Not to worry. McMillan’s still got that smooth, effortless glide to his voice but now he shows his worldly wise side, maybe even a world weary side. Speaking of ‘smooth’: He dances, he moves like a pop star and he delivers Stephen Schwartz’ clever, sardonic “Dancing Through Life” (“Life is fraughtless when you’re thoughtless; Blows are glancing when you’re dancing”) with oodles of style. Move over, Justin Timberlake. He fit in Little Stevie Wonder and old Stephen Foster and even a Steven named Cat, mixing the ‘60s hit “Baby, baby, It’s a Wild World” with that wildest of barbers, SWEENEY TODD. All this magic was inspired by another Steve, McMillan’s partner of fourteen years. So we’re indebted to that Steve for yet another incomparable McMillan and company show.
She has those delicate, ethereal high notes which quiver with emotion, like Dolly Parton’s breathy coloratura. She writes her own material, as well---in almost every musical style: blues, country & western, romantic ballads, even an anthem for South Africa (where she’s from). She has only one name and it’s Zola!
Zola does it all and she has a new CD, HERE WITH YOU, produced by wunderkind Doug Hammer, whose arrangements (for his kickin’ band) are shimmering. We all know Hammer can ignite a piano but who knew he could make orchestral magic, too.
Zola composes long, languorous songs, like the four and a half minute, appropriately titled “Long Long Time” – which has a lovely duet for Hammer and Trent Austin on trumpet — and snappy, tongue in cheek send-ups like “Cocoa Bean Blues” ( “I get mean if I’m deprived of my cocoa bean.”) with Hammer jazzing it up in stride. Her slow, sexy, bluesy “Worth Your While” has a sassy, sultry trumpet solo for Austin which could heat up the Arctic – and her “In Another Lifetime” will have you thinking of Olivia Newton John’s “I Honestly Love You” – except Zola’s song is sweeter.
Her songs have a startling immediacy like her plaintive, “come hither” [I need to be with you] “Right Now” which features Austin’s silky trumpet and Steve Chaggaris’ whispering beat on drums. She has fun (and gets down) with her funky “Pin Stripe Blues” and pays tribute to both her mother and her homeland with the hypnotic “Mother Africa.”
The standout song (which everyone should be covering) is the bittersweet “Blue Rain,” co-authored with Jon Seiff. They capture the wistful melancholy of an unforgettable lost love with literate rhymes and soft, echoing raindrops supplied by David Landoni on bass. Dreamy vocals, gorgeous orchestrations: Don’t miss them next time Zola and Hammer come to Scullers for a party.
If you missed Patti Lupone at Reagle this past weekend, don’t slit your wrists, there’s a CD of the show, called THE LADY WITH THE TORCH with accompanist Chris Fenwick. Of course, it isn’t the same as being there. She can take a yodel of a vocal leap, mix it with a belt, then smother it in a whisper and spin it into a raspy, bluesy growl. She clowns and cajoles, breaks you up and breaks you down. From a kitschy “Frankie and Johnny” to a tongue in cheek “Who’s Sorry Now” to the plaintive “The Other Woman” she bends the rhythms and stretches the lyrics. She can bring the house down with her out of sync “Everything Happens to Me” (snapping her fingers just a hair behind Fenwick to show just how bad her timing is) and astonish with a heartbreaking standard like “So In Love Am I.” She can even make the l918 Edna St. Vincent Millay verse “Ill Wind” seem like it was written just for her. Lupone, it turns out, does just what Millay famously advised her sisters at the turn of the century: “Forget the epitaph. Take up the song!”
If you remember Hoagy Carmichael, from films like Bogey & Bacall’s TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT, you know that deceptively simple style which looks so easy—and so natural—like the man just happened to sit down at the piano and sing his thoughts out loud. That’s Joe Della Penna. He has that effortless delivery that Bing Crosby had, or Dino. They had you convinced they were just ordinary guys who sang for a living. Della Penna can take a song, jazz it up and make it sound like it oughta sound that way. Mind you, he says that being a real jazzman means he never delivers a song the same way twice. His IT’S A MOST UNUSUAL DAY show at the Cabaret Connection last weekend knocked rhythms about like they were pinballs.
Did I mention he plays like Van Cliburn? His jazz cacophony for the Loesser tune practically lifts you out of your seat and his one-man “orchestral” gospel arrangement almost ignited the piano. His naughty, canny version of Dave Frishberg’s “Do I Miss New York” showcased his sly wit but Brady Earnhart’s “Plain White T-Shirt” let his heart hang right out on his sleeve. DellaPenna does it all…and he doesn’t even break a sweat.
Don’t miss his next show at the Cambridge Center for Adult Ed on Thursday November 30th: It’s called SING ALONG WITH JOE! Not only do you have the chance to hear him, you get to join him! Call 617-547-6789 for details.
It’s not the number of breaths we take that count, so the saying goes. It’s the moments which take our breath away. Jazz and cabaret aficionados know that one performance alone can contain a surfeit of thrills. Lucky us. Boston has a number of first class singers and musicians who can deliver showstopper after showstopper. Where musicals usually have one or two big moments per show, a cabaret act or jazz performance can have as many as there are songs. The best performers find ---and communicate---a whole world in one song. Then they do it again with the next one.
You can satisfy both your cabaret and jazz appetites in two weeks, first with wunderkind Will McMillan at Scullers on June 7th for WILL LOVES STEVE (songs by lots of Stevens: from Sondheim to Schwartz); Then with the sultry voice of jazz diva, Janine deSouza, and her JAZZ TRAVELERS at the Boston Public Library Cabaret Series, Brighton Branch, on June 8th (Sophisticated renditions of incomparable songs from “Blue Skies” to “Black Coffee.”) It seems like McMillan and deSouza are all over town. When she isn’t doing Kinder Music, deSouza writes the scores for Kid Stock musicals. When McMillan isn’t producing the “Cabaret Connection” in Harvard Square, he’s collaborating with other singers like Bobbi Carrey.
Carrey and McMillan (with Doug Hammer on piano) mean business when it comes to cabaret. IN GOOD COMPANY (at Scullers last week) is their clever take on the greedy world out there, with songs about “How to Succeed…” without losing your moral compass. Their passionate paean to business: big-, show- and monkey-, ranges from Kander and Ebb (“Money, Money”) to Disney (“Whistle While You Work”). Every song packs a punch. Their two voices blend into a delicious harmony, sometimes changing lead, sometimes being each other’s backup singer (with snazzy choreography a la The Four Tops). When that gorgeously balanced sound mixes with Doug Hammer’s dazzling finger work (raining down notes in “Pennies from Heaven” or chasing the music in a frenzied “Carousel”), it’s magic.
When Melinda Stanford holds a concert, like her recent benefit for the Brookline Food Pantry, it’s a joyous celebration of love and life. She writes her own material, elegant songs like “How Do I Love Thee” (setting the famous Browning poem to music) that draw you into her consciousness. Her voice is like a gentle stream, skipping over stones, lapping at the shore…or a vocal caress. Most of her compositions are thoughtful and meditative, except when she’s having fun. Then her voice soars with cascades of singing laughter. But one thing is consistent, every song is an embrace.
If you’re a RAT PACK fan, then you should have been at Carol O’Shaughnessy’s bold and brassy RING-A-DING-DING concert at the Library Cabaret Series. Her renditions of Sinatra and Dean Martin favorites had the crowd rocking---and her demeanor is so infectious, you can’t help yourself. If you’re at an O’Shaughnessy event, you’re grinning from ear to ear.
Linda D’Amour, too, loves that RAT PACK. Her tribute to Sammy Davis, Jr. (with the Tom LaMark Trio at Club Café last weekend) showed off her impressive vocal range: She can belt. She can purr like Ertha Kitt one minute, then dig down to the Delta for a growly number like “Birth of the Blues”…or she can whisper the sweetest notes you ever heard, so softly that they brush gently by your ear. If that chameleon voice were not enough, D’Amour is plenty funny, to boot, which you don’t expect from this glamorous blonde in the slinky, sequined chiffon dress. She pulls the urgency out of “What Kind of Fool Am I” and gets down for a Vegas take on a standard like “Somethin’s Gotta Give.” She’s got it all: style, substance and the smooth, silky Tom LaMark Trio. Who could ask for anything more?
If you love cabaret, you already know about the embarrassment of riches we have in Boston. If you don’t know anything about it, try the clubs or the “Cabaret Connection” at the Cambridge Center for Adult Ed or try the Library gigs (those are free!) Then you’ll have some breathtaking moments of your own to remember.
The face of cabaret has changed. It used to be shrouded in mystery ---in out-of-the-way, smoke filled cafes where performers crooned until the wee hours and patrons drank their scotch and sodas in the dark. Now that the smoke has disappeared, more often than not, the booze has, too. Venues like the “cabaret connection” at the Cambridge Center for Adult Education (in Harvard Square) offer a “theatrical” evening of cabaret. The shows may have a theme; some have a script, and often there’s little difference between “cabaret” and a “theater” evening like Elaine Strich’s one-woman, Tony winning performance in which she held forth (and told a few tales out of school) and sang her signature songs.
Pamela Enders’ sparkling evening of torch songs last weekend combined her favorite music with touching memories, in a theatrical cabaret offering. Sweet stories of courtship were punctuated with witty remembrances and hilarious lyrics like the come-on from Sweet Charity, “Hey, Big Spender” (with one-man band Joe Della Penna on both keyboard and foot-pounding “organic” percussion) and Andy Razaf’s cheeky “Handy Man”—with Enders channeling Peggy Lee and Mae West to regale us with what he can do for her front lawn.
Enders is such an elegant performer, with a sophisticated, soft honey sound, that you’re taken aback---and thoroughly amused—when she lets her hair down in a slightly naughty song like the Kander & Ebb teaser, “Arthur in the Afternoon” from And the World Goes Round. You would expect her French, and her Parisian vibrato, to be impeccable in Edith Piaf’s “La Vie en Rose”---and it is!
Enders can break your heart with a love song to her late Labrador retriever and she gets way down, out of her normal range, for the funeral lament from Porgy and Bess. She puts a feminist spin on the Johnny Mercer standard, “Goody, Goody” and delivers a delicious parody, called “Hot Flash,” of the Martha Reeves and the Vandellas’ top-40 hit, “Heat Wave.”
She opens her show with a classic Morton Gould/ Dorothy Fields number, “There Must Be Somethin’ Better Than Love” and now we know. The only thing better than love is Enders singing about it.
If you remember the beginnings of the miraculous medium called television, chances are you’ll recall those variety shows (not to mention the celebrity roasts) where the RAT PACK would hold court, reducing each other to smithereens with hilarious banter and raucous ribbings. We cracked up when they did, even if we didn’t get the joke—such was the power of laughter…and innocence. If you ever caught Dino, Sammy or Frank on the Joey Bishop or the Jack Parr Show, you felt like you knew them. They seemed down to earth and full of fun. Those were the days (when we were more easily deluded). When they weren’t breaking each other up, they could sing the heck out of a song. And they really don’t write songs like that any more.
Here comes Carol O’Shaughnessy to remind us of the good old days with her salute to the RAT PACK called RING-A-DING-DING. As my mom used to say, “Hubba Hubba Ding Ding” and that was high praise indeed. Can this chanteuse sing! Gorgeous lyrics just melt in her mouth. You can’t help but think of Judy or Ella or Dinah. O’Shaughnessy is hip and contemporary but she can tap right into that lush era—with the considerable help of the TOM LAMARK ORCHESTRA. LaMark’s savvy arrangements whisk you away to visions of Nelson Riddle’s elegant stylings or the sassy brass of Skitch Henderson.
O’Shaughnessy masters that plaintive sound that unexpectedly can break your heart in a song like “One For My Baby” ---or that subtle note bending in her jazzy rendition of “That Old Black Magic” (in a sensational island-tango-fandango arrangement by LaMark). When she sings about heartache and tears in “Return to Me,” you feel it---and you’ll have chills running up and down your spine when she delivers her version of “Innamorata.”
She can be sexy. She can wrap you up in a song. She doesn’t rush the lyrics so you can relish every delicious phrase. You can hear the soft shoe in her “Chicago” and the celebration in her rousing “Birth of the Blues.” If this weren’t enough, she’s putting a spin on the traditional cabaret performance by signing up playwright Jack Neary to write her a script for a new musical based on the RING A DING show (for this coming spring). But next Friday the 13th you’ll have the chance to join O’Shaughnessy for a swinging dance party in honor of her CD. What luck!
For tix and info call Moseley’s on the Charles @ 781-326-3075
Sir Edward Elgar (of “Pomp and Circumstance” fame) said his idea about music and life is “that there is music in the air, music all around us; the world is full of it, and you simply take as much as you require.” These days we require a lot to lift us out of the despair born of war. We got a much welcome surfeit ---of music and joy---at Scullers Jazz Club this past week. IN GOOD COMPANY reunited Bobbi Carrey and Will McMillan (with Doug Hammer on piano) in a rollicking show about business: big, small, good, bad and show.
Carrey and McMillan are a lovely match, both musically and theatrically. Their cabaret performances always sparkle and surprise, together or by themselves, he with delicious song choices and ingenious “theme” shows and she with clever interpretations and dishy historical background. Together they’re even more delightful than the sum of their parts.
Part of the electricity comes from their topsy-turvy, inspired harmony: He’s often singing the high notes and she’s doing the harmony. She sounds a little like Judy Collins and he’s got the vocal sweetness of an Irish tenor. The balance is what makes it work---that and some dynamite arrangements by Doug Hammer (“Pennies From Heaven; Carousel; It’s a Lovely Day”). They weave unlikely songs together, like Frank Loesser’s “How to Succeed in Business” with Sondheim’s “Everybody Says Don’t” and they find inspiration in unlikely places. Their Disney montage is hilarious, complete with choreography!
In short, IN GOOD COMPANY is funny and poignant but these folks are serious about the company they keep. They’re not afraid to take on the giants of industry and take them to task, musically, that is. What Michael Moore has done for documentary film, these folks do for cabaret. Who says you can’t have a good time while you’re doing good. Not me. As Sondheim says, they sure are good at “Putting It Together.” When they get it together again, make it your business to be there.
Mass Theatrica opened its summer concert season with BROADWAY --- PARISIAN STYLE!, an evening of songs celebrating the City of Light as seen by tunesmiths from the Great White Way. Fine hairs could be split over the musical selections: two of the shows are British imports, the film GIGI eventually did make its way to the Broadway stage but AN AMERICAN IN PARIS did not (though the latter film did draw from Gershwin stage shows) and, aside from “C’est Magnifique” and “The Last Time I Saw Paris”, none of the songs are particularly French- or Paris-oriented (Mr. Porter’s “I Love Paris” was dropped due to its singer recovering from laryngitis). Should Mass Theatrica reprise its concert and dig a little deeper, there are such gems as “Camille, Collette, Fifi” from SEVENTH HEAVEN, “Ah, Paree!” from FOLLIES and “Take My Hand, Paree” from the film GAY PAREE --- and a few Chevalier and Piaf impersonations wouldn’t hurt.
The concert was uneven: some singers were nervous, visually and vocally; others attempted interpretation; one singer, Michael Kreutz, was superb. Mr. Kreutz --- short, balding, and gently rotund --- became a roguish uncle for “C’est Magnifique” and returned to take the stage dramatically for “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables”. While some showed budding personalities, Mr. Kreutz offered characterizations; while others wandered about as if being pursued, Mr. Kreutz made no unwanted gesture or facial expression and was the only one to make eye contact with the audience. In short, Mr. Kreutz gave a master class in musical theatre --- would that the others had remained in the hall to watch and learn from him.
What was fascinating about BROADWAY --- PARISIAN STYLE!, apart from Mr. Kreutz, was hearing the younger singers grow stronger in the Lloyd-Webber and Boublil & Schönberg excerpts: this is the music of their generation and they were as much at home here in sustained, soaring notes and introspective lyrics as they were out of their depth at supplying pizzazz for the Gershwin-Porter numbers. I cannot entirely fault them --- my own generation which grew up on Rodgers & Hammerstein was out of sync with the Herbert-Romberg-Friml schmaltz of our grandparents’ era --- on the other hand, the revival of Baroque Opera in the 1980s was due to its musicians going back to the original orchestrations and its singers being trained in the correct period style; to listen to a correctly-sung Baroque performance is to hear everything fall into place with perfect sense, from plot to convention. If such aural miracles can happen with music several centuries old, I do not see why today’s musical theatre singers cannot dig with the same enthusiasm and fidelity into standards composed but a few generations ago.
Chris and Diana use the songs to tell the history of Miss Merman's career from 1930 to 1970. Merman's first hit song was "I Got Rhythm" from Gershwin's "Girl Crazy" where she had a small part and her last stage appearance was as Dolly Levi singing Jerry Herman's hit numbers. They incorporate the songs and comic lines quoted by the famous singer. Ron does dialogue with the audience and not only plays the piano but gets to sing with Diana in "Friendship", "You're The Top" and "You're Just in Love". However the show belongs to the multitalented Diana Blanda who wowed the crowd with her incredible vocal range in the ballads and her strong belting voice in the upbeat numbers. She performs the show in at least 4 different sequined gowns and a costume for "Rose's Turn" an 11 minute song from "Gypsy" and dances up a storm in this song and many others all night long. My favorite numbers were the ballads where you can hear the beauty of her soprano voice. These included "Lost in His Arms", "Before The Parade" (which turns into a dynamic upbeat song that stops the show as does "Blow Gabriel Blow") "Falling in Love is Wonderful" and "No Business Like Show Business" which closes the show. A word of praise to 22 year old Buddy who plays a mean set of drums all night long, too. So for a top notch evening of musical fun be sure to catch this show at the Granite Theatre.
By Beverly Creasey
His delicious paean to pessimism includes the riotous Ray Jessel ditty, “Life Sucks and Then You Die” and the sensational, drop dead ribaldry of “Let’s Talk Dirty to the Animals” (by Michael O’Donoghue)…which O’Neil later on morphs into “Let’s Talk Dirty to the Republicans!” I haven’t had so much fun since I saw Noel Coward holding forth years and years ago. O’Neil is irascible. He’s irreverent. He’s irresistible. I hope he never goes back to being “nice.”
Ida Zecco directs the devilishly clever evening of “anecdotes and novelty songs” with a deft hand at comedy. O’Neil is aided and abetted by the fabulous Jim Rice---who should get a special award for keeping a straight face while O’Neil is convulsing the rest of us. NOT THAT YOU ASKED turns out to be the best show of the season so far, cabaret or comedy, theater or soapbox.
Just when your abdomen is cramping from all the hysterical laughter, O’Neil bends his notes in that despair-ridden, disdainfully German way for Jessel’s “to die for” “That Old Kurt Weill Song. No one has ever delivered wickeder Weltschmertz. And noone does tongue in cheek better than O’Neil’s raucous “Pour Me a Man.”
If all this merriment were not enough, O’Neil shifts gears and shakes us to the bone with his heart breaking “I Don’t Remember Christmas,” Maltby/Shire’s devastatingly sad response to a breakup. Just when we’re reeling from his Oscar worthy finale (“And I don’t remember you!”) to the song, he’s back into first gear. We haven’t recovered but he has. He’s moved into the next number (Sondheim’s “I Could Drive a Person Crazy”) while we’re still looking for a hankie.
So, as O’Neil sang and Sondheim wrote, “Now You Know.” When you hear that NOT THAT YOU ASKED is being performed again, just ask one thing: Where!
Evan Mazunik: piano/conductor
Mark Carlsen: bass
John Baboian: guitar and mandolin
Jim Gwin: drums and percussion
Ludo Mariën: accordian
Over at the Cutler Majestic Theatre, Tony Sandler pulls Maurice Chevalier out of a hat simply by wearing one: when he dons the trademark boater at a rakish angle and twinkles at his audience Mr. Sandler becomes the legendary Frenchman who epitomized the Parisian boulevardier before, during and after two world wars, who sang about women named Valentine, Mimi and Louise and who is best remembered in this country for his film role in GIGI where he thanked Heaven for leetle girls. Hat off, Mr. Sandler is the handsome former half of the well-known Sandler & Young duo from yesteryear (Mr. Sandler sang in French; Mr. Young, in English, remember?) and an evening of Mr. Sandler alone would be delightful in itself for he has his own dash and debonairness and still possesses a firm, virile voice. Hat on, the Belgian-born Mr. Sandler not only resembles Mr. Chevalier but sings like him by making his own accent just a bit more florid and pouring on the charm like cream and CHEVALIER: MAURICE & ME is his heartfelt tribute to a fellow entertainer whom he obviously admires. Alternating songs with biographical monologue, Mr. Sandler sketches in Mr. Chevalier’s life from childhood poverty to becoming the toast of two continents to being labeled a Nazi sympathizer for entertaining French P.O.W.s in Germany to surviving to a ripe old age with his stage persona intact and unaltered. Mr. Sandler’s portrayal is wart-free --- the Chevalier in Edward Behr’s dull but fact-filled biography THE GOOD FRENCHMAN is a cold, miserly man --- but Mr. Sandler has chosen to celebrate rather than expose and what a pleasure it is to listen in and feel worldly and sophisticated, yourself, even if you’re not dressed to the nines. An entire program of songs and patter cut from the same cloth, however, does point up how one-note a performer Mr. Chevalier was --- a few blemishes and a duet or two with a protean actor or actress would add some spice to this bland, wholesome dish.
Mr. Sandler is beautifully accompanied by a sextet that includes the world-renowned accordionist Ludo Mariën and it offers two of the most evocative curtain raisers you could ever hope to hear: Act One begins with the accordion’s sad, sweet strains; the other instruments join in, one by one, until a swirling waltz is drawing you back into the past. The waltz returns at the start of Act Two but is soon overpowered by ominous drums as the Nazis march into Paris --- for all its simplicity, it speaks volumes of one culture crushing another and shows how an overture, when imaginatively used, can be a drama in itself, even when the curtain is down.
Frank Sinatra … Gary Anthony
Sammy Davis, Jr. … Doug Starks
Joey Bishop … Sandy Hackett
Dean Martin … Andy DiMino
Marilyn Monroe … Stacey Nicole
“A Tribute to Frank, Sammy, Joey & Dean”, a long-running Las Vegas revue celebrating four members of the legendary Rat Pack, came to the Stoneham Theatre for six performances. The evening was double-nostalgia with imitators of Messrs. Sinatra, Davis, Bishop and Martin singing standards and clowning around but also for its vanished Playboy culture where any Joe in a tux could swing and score, and its audience --- most of them, Golden Oldies, themselves --- relished each tune, each risqué joke and the swaggering camaraderie; this was one show where husbands brought their wives rather than vice versa.
And the impersonations? Gary Anthony, Doug Starts, Sandy Hackett (son of Buddy) and Andy DiMino, along with Stacey Nicole as a breathless Marilyn Monroe, captured enough of the mannerisms and singing styles to achieve an illusion of the Real Thing (their own looks merged with and separated from their subjects’, throughout). Some plumbing of the Pack’s souls would have led to richer (and darker) characterizations but when nostalgia overtakes the past, an audience will not put up with much tampering. Thus, the tribute was familiar and reassuring with Mr. Sinatra as the Chairman of the Board, Mr. Martin the tipsy Lothario, Mr. Davis the one-eyed dynamo, Mr. Bishop the sourpuss and Ms. Monroe the dumb-blonde bombshell (“Hello, boys!” she called to the orchestra; “Hello, boys!” they echoed back).
The Rat Pack has been trotted out in various media formats, lately, which, I assume, is due to a returning conservatism --- well, at least today’s children can now discover a treasure trove of great songs, though after viewing a DVD of the original members rabidly upstaging each other in concert, I can only wonder what would have happened if they DIDN’T like each other.
Theatre Works second show of their 22nd season is the operetta, "Amahl and the Night Visitors". The 3 Kings on their way to Bethlehem stop to rest at the home of Amahl, a crippled boy, and his mother. Though they are very poor, they offer the kings, hospitality, shelter and entertainment from their shepherd friends. Late that night, Amahl's mother is caught trying to steal some gold from one of the Kings but when she explains that it is for her starving child, she is forgiven. Amahl offers his crutch as a special gift to the baby Jesus and is miraculously cured of his lameness. Director Connie Anderson gives this holiday tale the warmth and humor needed to carry it off and the expert musical direction by Dale Munschy fills the theatre with the 18 well chosen cast members voices.
The multitude of costumes are by Sharon Charette while the wonderful set is by Mark Anderson. (He directs the second half of the evening called "Holiday Showcase".) Dale not only musically directs the show but also plays keyboards for it. The mother is excellently played by Diane Pincince. Her gorgeous soprano voice soars out over the audience whether she is scolding Amahl or rejoicing at his miraculous recovery. 13 year old Matthew Moran played Amahl at this performance, giving a touching portrayal. His boy soprano voice sells his many numbers and he handles the mischievious and tender parts very well for a boy his age. (Daniel Ariel plays the role on alternate nights. Both boys study voice with Celeste Labonte whom I directed as Sister Sophia in "Sound of Music" in 1994.) The three kings have glorious voices and are well sung and played by Rene Pincince (Diane's real life husband) who is the hard of hearing king who gets many laughs as Kaspar, David Littlehale is Melchior and Jack Moran is Bathazar. The kings page is played by Kevin Endicott who gets to struggle with the mother and Amahl during the gold stealing scene. The chorus members who played the dancing shepherds are Brittany Curran, Becky and Emily Cuellar while the singing ones are Roger and Marie Gregoire, Shelly Whittle, Janet Cournoyer, Barbara Monfils, Guy Guilbault, Joe Casey, Veronica Ariel and Colleen Endicott. (Joe, Veronica and Colleen also sang in the second half of the evening with Diane and Rene Pincince, Louise Tetrault and Emily Luthor.) So for alternative to "Christmas Carol", be sure to catch "Amahl & the Night Visitors" and "Holiday Showcase" at Theatre Works to help usher in the joy of the Christmas season.
music by George Frideric Handel
libretto by John Gay, Alexander Pope and John Hughes
based on a story from Ovid's "Metamorphosis"
Richard A. A. Larrage, Artistic Director and Conductor
Semi-staging by Stephen Marc Beaudoin
Galatea ... Brenna J. Wells
Acis ... Lawrence Jones
Damon ... Jason McStoots
Polyphemus ... Brian Church
Diana Brewer; La 'Tarsha Long; Heidi Kenschaft Vass (sopranos)
C. Heather Holland; Stacie Pirozzi (mezzo-sopranos)
Peter Bellomo; Craig Lemming (tenors)
Gabriel Alfieri; Paulo Carminati (baritones)
Violin ... Nicole Casinghino; Emily Letourneau
Viola ... Elisabeth Westner; Matt Lewis
Cello ... Celia Wilson
Oboe ... Bryan Jones; Cathy Meyer
Recorder ... Daniel Meyers; Cathy Meyer
Harpsichord ... Leslie Kwan
The Vox Consort, now in its second season, recently performed Handel's charming Baroque opera ACIS AND GALATEA for two performances in two different churches. Those who attended were treated to two hours of lovely period singing by Boston-based artists who are often passed over by other companies; established singers being steadily cast in their places --- to remedy this, the Consort prefers to use local talent, especially those with diverse backgrounds, for its ensembles. One might assume that Handel's pastoral love triangle between a shepherd, a nymph and a Cyclops would make for a traditional, stately evening but in a recent interview director Stephen Marc Beaudoin stated, "We're not interested in that whole 'formal concert setting' routine. The last thing Boston needs is another tux-and-black-dress ensemble . [w]e're never going to be that", and he semi-staged ACIS AND GALATEA at a posh party set in contemporary times with the singers in casual dress (far too casual, actually; the performance resembled a rehearsal); thus, Galatea became a trembling socialite and Acis a swinger in a leather jacket, both, conventional enough; fellow shepherd Damon, advising Acis to use caution in love, was recast as his fussy valet; Polyphemus the Cyclops sported an eye patch and stomped about with a backpack full of drugs. Rather than Polyphemus discovering the lovers in embrace and killing Acis in a fit of rage, as written, Damon, now equally jealous of Galatea, led in the Cyclops and pointed out the lovers to him. Ah, well: like youth, a director must (and will) have his fling; my main concern, however, is that Mr. Beaudoin's current ensemble is pedestrian in movement (after all, Baroque singers must be seen as well as heard) and their numerous bits of business cluttered up the sweep and majesty of Handel's music; the soloists were often left stranded with plenty of "down" time and forced to repeatedly smooth down their hair, brush off a shirt cuff, etc. (in character) while awaiting their cues. For me, the most effective moments came whenever the ensemble simply stood still and sang in true Baroque fashion, allowing the drama in the music to take precedence over physical action.
And my ear was constantly beguiled: Brenna J. Wells, a delicate blonde sparrow, and Lawrence Jones, a willowy tenor, became flowing silver (she) and gold (he), separately and together. Their physical slightness is deceiving: Ms. Wells performed her trills with unforced ease and demonstrated a few high notes in Dolby-like volume, and Mr. Jones was transformed into a ringing trumpet for the celebrated "Love sounds th' alarm"; it is to their credit that they sounded as fresh at the end of the evening as they did at the beginning. Jason McStoots must have been a honeycomb in a past life for his voice is sweetness personified and 'tis a pity that his Damon had to turn villainous for he's an adorable performer; Mr. McStoots' first aria lay too low for him, making him sound fuzzy and breathless; his two other moments displayed him at his best. Brian Church, for all his glowering, turned in a gentlemanly-sounding Polyphemus, sung in smooth, warm tones. Despite a few annoying moments --- e.g. yelling "WHOO!" when Acis and Galetea finally kissed --- the Chorus provided a superb frame for Mr. Beaudoin's quartet, especially in their perfectly hushed "Ah, the gentle Acis is no more!" --- nine voices becoming one. The chamber orchestra, conducted by Richard A. A. Larrage, made a crisp, sprightly sound that never called direct attention to its musicians, only inches away from the singers.
If the Consort's future productions continue to be sung as impressively as this ACIS AND GALATEA, it would be a shame to continue larding them with gimmickry just to make Handel and others more accessible for today's audiences --- beautiful singing of beautiful music need never grow tiresome in itself.