An Invitation Worth Accepting—Two More Nights!
Eric Michael Gillett and La Tanya Hall begin their show from among floor tables at Feinstein’s Supper Club. When she takes the stage, he briefly remains. The method, used repeatedly, creates an inclusivity reflected by the songs of Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty. Well matched voices, unlabored harmony, and warm camaraderie create intimacy. We’re no different from you, the performers seem to say; the songs we’ve chosen express feelings you’ll understand. They’re right.
A duet of “Opposite You” (The Glorious Ones) is a primer on elegant phrasing. Gillett and Hall face one another with engaging focus. His rendition of “The Streets of Dublin” (A Man of No Importance) evokes a simple man’s innately poetic observation of the only place he’s ever known. It’s poignant and visual. The vocalist is a master at portraiture, his voice is balm.
Patter, including a smidgen of the authors’ biographies, original context, and occasional anecdote is kept to a minimum. This is all about discovery (for most of the audience) of musical theater songs in a format where each stands on its own. Acts celebrating the work of writers are normally either biographical or of the songs I like genre. Gillett, also a talented director, has chosen instead to create an emotional thru line with selections from disparate sources. If he’d told me his intention, I’d’ve been skeptical, but the man pulls it off. That musical segues are seamless is craft, that the show has emotional cohesion, is theatrical intelligence.
“Ragtime” and the tough but sympathetic “Your Daddy’s Son” from the Tony Award winning Ragtime follow. In the latter, Hall’s lower register slides up to contralto with the confidence of natural jazz singer. One can only imagine what she’d do with the blues. Eyes close, elbows bend, fingers spread. A low sob emerges. It’s superb. Gillett’s shimmering, achingly vulnerable interpretation of “Alone in the Universe” (Seussical) is as touching as they come, though I’d have preferred, a completed solo as the second voice dilutes impact. I can see the effect his gentle gaze and delicate timbre are having on a woman at a front table. I’m alone in the universe/ So alone in the universe/ I’ve found magic but they don’t see it/They all call me a lunatic/ Ok, call me a lunatic/ If I stand on my own, so be it.
Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty are accessible writers. Whether utilizing the Caribbean rhythms and patois of the islands (Once on this Island) or the classical-meets-concertina musical and bawdy lyrical inspiration of 17th Century Italy (The Glorious Ones), the duo’s straight-from-the-hip, often conversational style leaves no doubt in the collective audience mind as to what’s being communicated or why. Hearing their songs in this environment is something of a revelation. Most stand persuasively well on their own. Many should really be heard more often at other venues.
A highlight is the unexpected coupling of “Forever Yours” (Once On This Island) and “In the Bend of My Arm” (Dessa Rose.) Hall’s strong, velvety voice provides prologue with the first song. The second, a duet, offers a complete scene with dramatic arc. Lovers come together, move apart and come together again. It’s dark, musically rich and moving. Though Gillett is a stronger actor, the vocalists are both so fully invested, the center holds. A final silhouette leaves them forehead to forehead as lights dim.
Duets “Shut Up and Dance” (My Favorite Year) and “Close, But No Cigar” (Bedazzled to which the authors sadly never secured the rights) change the room temperature. Performed free of affectation, the songs are charming. Both artists seem to become ingénues. Gillett in particular will undoubtedly be able to embody credible romanticism when he’s eighty. The difference between his version of the powerful anthem “I Was Here” (The Glorious Ones) and that of its effective originator, Mark Kudish is fascinating. Kudish delivered the number like a cry to the heavens, while Gillett offers a prayer: This is my key to the portal/How I can leave something immortal/Something that time cannot make disappear/Something to say ‘I was here’
“Nothing to Lose (But Your Heart)” closes an evening suffused with shades of unabashed emotion. A satisfying entertainment by two accomplished, plummy voices enjoying one another’s company.
Take my hand, I promise something new will start/You have nothing to lose but your heart is really an invitation.
Musical Direction and Piano by Jeff Cubeta is lush and polished. Each accompaniment serves its song; segues feel fluid and organic.
Nothing to Lose But Your Heart
The music and lyrics of Lynn Ahrens & Stephen Flaherty
Eric Michael Gillett & La Tanya Hall
Jeff Cubeta-Music Director/Pianist
Matt Wigton- Bass
Photo in text of story of: (from left to right) lyricist Lynn Ahrens, Eric Michael Gillett, La Tanya Hall and composer Stephen Flaherty by Dan Fortune.