Frank Loesser: Lyricist– Thoroughly Engaging

Going out with a bang, Lyrics and Lyricist’s final show of the season offered David Loud’s presentation of “not lesser Loesser, but less well known Loesser.” In addition to favorites from the artist’s familiar Guys and Dolls, The Most Happy Fella, and How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, plus a nod to Where’s Charlie? and Greenwillow  (Loesser’s entire musical theater oeuvre), we hear a cornucopia of well chosen songs written for film before Broadway’s Where’s Charley? (1948.)

Who better to lead us through an evening bursting with iconoclastic information, anecdote, and his own theatrical recitation (not to mention top notch entertainment) than Loud, whose sincere, apparently hereditary enthusiasm, rivals overall knowledge. “Once In Love with Amy” (Where’s Charley?) was the best loved song of our host’s mother and is performed tonight in her honor. To his father, the nasal tonality and spirit of “Adelaide’s Lament” determined whether an entire production of his favorite musical, Guys and Dolls, was successful. The song is not performed tonight in honor of Loud’s father.

David Loud

“In my opinion, we could play the scene change of Guys and Dolls tonight and it would be twice as good as anything on Broadway right now-don’t get me started…” our host decrees.

“Tallahassee” (Variety Girl) as breezily performed by Lewis Cleale and James Snyder, sets tonight’s directorial tone. Luis Perez gives us a vaudeville take on material. Cute gestures and footwork frame every number. Both could be taken down a notch/used more selectively as the thin line to ham is easily crossed. Cleale crosses it in an otherwise jaunty “The Lady’s in Love with You” (Burton Lane-music from Some Like It Hot– not THAT Some Like It Hot).  All in all, however, the company seems to be infectiously enjoying themselves rather than camping it up.

Lane also collaborated on tonight’s beautifully arranged opening “I Hear Music” (Dancing on a Dime). The songwriter never knew his lyricist also composed. “He must’ve been very surprised when Guys and Dolls opened,” our host quips. We’re reminded that in those days, “…you didn’t take home a recording. Composers and lyricists wrote in the same room. Lane had to play tunes over and over…” Loud’s arrangements for this show are never less than adroit and often completely unexpected.

Samantha Massell sings “I Don’t Want to Walk Without You, Baby” with long, honeyed notes and molasses tempo. I believe every word until she adds an unwarranted, big ending. Later, “My Heart is So Full of You” (The Most Happy Fella) and “I Wish I Didn’t Love You So” (Music Jule Styne-The Perils of Pauline) show balladic sensitivity.

Lewis Cleale and James Snyder

James Snyder’s “Let’s Get Lost” (Jimmy McHugh-music-Happy Go Lucky) is a bit too unfocused as casual, hand-in-pocket seduction. Audience eye contact or even fixing on an invisible companion would’ve made this more successful. Duets with Cleale are winning, however, and the duet “Big D” (The Most Happy Fella) with Massell is            yee-haw terrific. (Director Perez excels here)

The rarely heard “Bloop, Bleep” (sounds of a dripping faucet) is brought to fetching life by pajama-wearing Farah Alvin restlessly lying on the piano. Timing is impeccable. Apparently The Los Angeles Plumbers Association made Loesser an honorary member because of this song. Alvin showcases her acting chops with a sympathetic  “Ooh, My Feet” (the unlikely opening of The Most Happy Fella) and her jazz acumen with this evening’s cool, bass-centric treatment of “If I Were a Bell” (Guys and Dolls)

As evidenced by “I’ll Know” (Guys and Dolls), Laura Darrell sings ballads with feeling, but veritably shines with ingénue comedy. Her renditions of “Snug As a Bug in A Rug” (Matty Malneck-music-The Gracie Allen Murder Case, I kid you not) and  “I Get the Neck of The Chicken” (Jimmy McHugh-music- 7 Days Leave) are utterly charming. : I get the neck of the chicken/I get the rumble seat ride/I get the leaky umbrella/Everyone shoves me aside…

Lewis Cleale has a confident, resonant voice which often acts as smoothing ballast, during group numbers. The performer relates to onstage partners with character credibility handing physical, as well as vocal expression with artistry. “Guys and Dolls” with Snyder elicits shades of a Damon Runyon accent.

Farah Alvin, Laura Darrell, Samantha Massell

A masterfully woven together “Two Sleepy People” (Hoagy Carmichael-music- Thanks for The Memory) and “No Two People” (Hans Christian Andersen) pairs Cleale with Massel and  Darrell with Snyder. Direction is affectionate and sweet.

In the realm of where-the-heck-did-Loud-find-this?! we watch a film clip of Ethel Merman singing “Why Do They Call a Private a Private?” (vis a vis Loesser’s time in the army), then follow the bouncing ball in collective song: …But, Why Do They Call a Private a Private/When each night is a public event?/The Pennsylvania Station/That crossroads of the nation/Has nothing on a regular army tent…

Frank Henry Loesser (1910-1969) was born to German immigrant parents who felt “English was only fit for buying vegetables.” He was expelled from both high school and college and, against his parents’ wishes, pursued work in Tin Pan Alley. “The greatest rebellion was his use of the English language.” Loud points out the artist’s extraordinary use of sounds as lyrics, vernacular, and witty rhymes as well as defying tradition in the placement of musical theater songs. After writing for the hit parade and Hollywood, Loesser concentrated on Broadway.

Guys and Dolls, in Loud’s opinion, “one of the most perfectly structured shows ever,” would, he tells us, have won the Pulitzer Prize had librettist Abe Burrows not testified before the HUAC. (Perhaps regretting its omission, the committee gave the prize to Loesser and Burrow’s show, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.) In an effort to find just the right character players, Big Julie was hired straight out of prison.

“The Most Happy Fella” took 5 years for Loesser to complete. It was, Loud says, an effort to make his work legitimate in the eyes of “high tone” parents. (His mother unfortunately saw it as a ‘gaudy bauble.’) Our host describes the show’s development as if he’d been in the company. Its author denied the piece was, as many think, an opera.

Farah Alvin, Laura Darrell, Samantha Massell, Lewis Cleale, James Snyder

Loesser’s wife, a former singer, co-produced the show. She knew instinctively that       Jo Sullivan would be just right for the role of Rosabella, but read Loesser’s tastes too well. He fell in love with Sullivan, divorced her, and married his new star. “He sent me love notes all the time,” she said, “sometimes from the room next door.” The company knew they were performing something special but timing is all and down the street My Fair Lady opened garnering the predominance of Tony Awards.

Loud tells us about Loesser’s sending a note to the cast after Greenwillow opened that read “Oops. Sorry” and of his difficulty with Rudy Vallee in ‘How to Succeed. A rousing performance of “Brotherhood of Man” from that show again reflects excellent work by Perez. The lyricist/composer paced, doodled, and smoked while he wrote. Smoking, alas, killed him at age 59. When asked why he didn’t write more shows, Frank Loesser responded  “I don’t write slowly, it’s just that I throw out fast.”

David Loud should be asked back every year. He never fails to present something exceptional and often deserves a standing ovation. Like tonight.

John Erickson’s Projection Design was ill thought out. Except for posters, we’d’ve been better off with colored lights.

Photos by Richard Termine
Opening: Laura Darrell, Lewis Cleale, Samantha Massell, James Snyder, Farah Alvin

92Y Lyrics & Lyricists presents
Frank Loesser: Lyricist
David Loud- Artistic Director/Writer/Arranger/Host
Luis Perez- Director/Choreographer
Featuring Farah Alvin, Lewis Cleale, Laura Darrell, Samantha Massell, James Snyder
Paul Masse- Conductor/Piano
June 2, 2018
92Y    Lexington Avenue at 92nd Street
Venue Calendar

About Alix Cohen (640 Articles)
Alix Cohen is the recipient of eight New York Press Club Awards for work published on this venue. Her writing history began with poetry, segued into lyrics and took a commercial detour while holding executive positions in product development, merchandising, and design. A cultural sponge, she now turns her diverse personal and professional background to authoring pieces about culture/the arts with particular interest in artists/performers and entrepreneurs. Theater, music, art/design are lifelong areas of study and passion. She is a voting member of Drama Desk and Drama League. Alix’s professional experience in women’s fashion fuels writing in that area. Besides Woman Around Town, the journalist writes for Cabaret Scenes, Broadway World, and Theater Pizzazz. Additional pieces have been published by The New York Post, The National Observer’s Playground Magazine, Pasadena Magazine, Times Square Chronicles, and ifashionnetwork. She lives in Manhattan. Of course.