The two decade friendship of talented vocalist/actresses Sally Wilfert and Rebecca Luker is apparent on every track of this warm compilation put together, we’re told, singing, cooking, kayaking, and laughing. It’s billed as a celebration of women “in all of our messy wonderfulness.” Instead of drawing on the wealth of recognizable material each has performed, except for the medley “Shows We Could Have Starred in Together,” songs are eclectic. The album is also peppered with brief, melodically untethered poems, put to music by Music Director Joseph Thalken.
Sally Wilfert has appeared in Broadway’s Assassins, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, and David, toured the country in the first national tour of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, and acted in a roster of Off Broadway productions. She’s currently working on the world premiere of the musical ROW.
Rebecca Luker graced the boards starring, in part, in Fun Home, Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella, Mary Poppins, and The Music Man. Off Broadway and film credits are many. Both women have been regulars on concert and cabaret stages. Luker and her crystalline soprano were alas lost to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis December 2020. She’ll be missed.
“You Are My Best Friend” (Will Aronson/Kyoung-Ae Kang from My Scary Girl) is bouncy, uplifting. “People say girls’ friendship is fickle like water, but…” Really, what do they know? Harmony is grand, chemistry palpable. In “Lovely Lies” (Jeff Blumenkrantz/Beth Blatt), Luker’s character (make no mistake, she plays to character) sings to her mom with a lilting accent from below the Mason-Dixon Line. “It’s time for a southern belle to talk straight.” Her appealing vibrato buoys the feisty confrontation.
A duet of Stephen Sondheim’s “Everybody Says Don’t” begins slow and considered with none of the accustomed rat-a-tat-tat pontification, then swells as Luker and Wilfret egg each other on. The arrangement gains swagger until we picture them running, jumping, climbing trees, perhaps scaling a Keep Out sign and rolling down a hill. Exhilarating.
“Shows We Could Have Starred in Together” offers a gamut of melodic emotion, each morphing to the next. “The Wrong Note Rag” (Leonard Bernstein/Betty Comden and Adolph Green) is a showcase for vocal kinship. “Marry the Man Today” (Frank Loesser) becomes advice between BFFs. “Nowadays” (John Kander/Fred Ebb) and “Every Day a Little Death (Stephen Sondheim) peek into women’s lives. “If Mama Was Married” (Jule Styne /Stephen Sondheim) has them playing sisters. Stephen Schwartz’ “For Good” finds the women frenemies.
Both flourished early in dance class as described in Marvin Hamlisch/ Edward Kleban’s “At the Ballet.” Cole Porter’s “Friendship,” and Jerry Herman’s “Bosom Buddies,” replete with vaudevillian fizz, are an obvious fit. A surprising excerpt from “The Flower Duet” (Leo Delibes – 1883’s Lakme) leaves us on the classical side with admiration for range and control.
The two voice arrangement of “Isn’t This Better?” (John Kander/Fred Ebb) conjures a woman addressing herself in a mirror with the image talking back. The blondes have it. Wilfert’s tandem “Millwork” (James Taylor) and “I Could’ve Been a Sailor” (Peter Allen) creates an emotional arc making every lyric credible. “I could have been a sailor/And sailed the seven seas…Well, I settled for safe harbors of my heart.” There are choices. An unexpectedly big ending realizes dreams.
Luker’s “Not Funny” (Michael Heitzman/Ilene Reid) is clever. “I’ve looked near and far for something droll and jovial in the soprano repertoire” sings an actress longing for laughs. She’s played all the classic musical theater soprano roles, still something’s missing. “I’ll never find a funny song I fear/Because it’s just so goddamn hard to find a laugh up here!” Wry and sympathetic, the song ends on a high note worthy of young Barbara Cook.
The CD ends with a dual performance of Patty Griffith’s “Be Careful” and Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “Dear Theodosia.” “All the girls in the Paris night/
All the girls in the pale moonlight/…Be careful how you bend me/Be careful where you send me/Careful how you end me/Be careful with me…” they tell the world in the first. “If we lay a strong enough foundation/We’ll pass it on to you, we’ll give the world to you/And you’ll blow us all away…” they sing in the second. It’s compassionate and encouraging.