A Musical Benefit for Northlands Rescue Mission in Grand Forks, Michigan, an emergency shelter empowering homeless men and women to rebuild their lives; providing essential items, housing, support for clients, and food for community members.
The urbane Jeff Harnar presents us with selections by Cole Porter. Sitting cozily on a stool, low-key and smiling in dapper pastels, the artist’s “De-Lovely” (Red, Hot and Blue) arrives as candid conversation – with a dash or two of Durante. His reaction to the mentioned “baby” is priceless. Then, when the child grows up “He’s six foot three/He’s so good looking/He looks like me…” Harnar effervescently rises to his tiptoes. “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” (Born to Dance) is slow and savored, floating on a gorgeous arrangement by Alex Rybeck. Feelings are finely wrought. The song ends with a tenor lift as if levitating.
“Swell Party” emerges as a duet medley with Rybeck, beginning and seamlessly interwoven (a Rybeck signature) with “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?,” Friendship,” Cherry Pies Oughta Be You,” “You’re the Top,” and “Let’s Be Buddies” playfully delivered by the symbiotic collaborators. This is brio. (Terrific relationship with the camera=the audience.)
Young Maria Wirries offers “I Got Love” (Garry Geld/Peter Udell) with a big, somewhat stressed vocal; shifting shoulders, bouncing, too many gestures. She sings with power and control but all at the same level. The Gershwins’ “I’ve Got a Crush on You” fares better. Wirries is sweet and expressive, vibrato appealing. During this song, however, the artist looks down throughout. Loss of eye contact makes a big difference to communication. “Don’t Rain on My Parade” (Jule Styne/Bob Merrill) is a vocal showcase at the sacrifice of credible emotion. Talent has yet to be honed.
An understated Ari Axelrod begins with the apt pairing of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “These Are a Few of My Favorite Things” and “What a Wonderful World” (George David Weiss/Bob Theile). Why is this man not smiling? Next is a song from Jerry Herman’s first musical, Milk and Honey, in whose revival Axelrod was featured. The artist plays us a recording of Herman’s opening night wishes. Seriousness serves his galvanizing version of “I Will Follow You.” Axelrod’s third choice, Stephen Sondheim’s “Being Alive” (Company) effectively renders a character in pain. It’s a plea. The performer is too conscious of looking at the camera, however, sometimes a beat behind the move.
At this point Host Cody Gerszewski sings “Take Me to the World” (Stephen Sondheim –Evening Primrose) beneath a vivid slideshow of images from the worthy Mission. Vocal is invested, palpably tender.
Karen Akers, boldly allowing us to see more vulnerability these last years, opens with Jerry Lieber/Mike Stoller’s “Begin Again”: “When my teeth are at rest in a glass by my bed/and my hair lies somewhere in a drawer…then the world doesn’t seem like a very nice place… But I put in my teeth, and I slap on my hair and a strange thing occurs when I do…” The artist morphs before our eyes from defeated to determined without taking an easy, arch way into lyrics. It’s a scene in one with a hint of Weimar Cabaret. “Let me assure you my teeth are my own and my hair is close to its original color…(but, like the character) I’m open to anything, anyone…”
A terrific “Take Me As I Am” (Alex Rybeck/Barbara Fried) is bone deep. She’s bruised and proud. When the performer’s palm extends, we almost see her shimmer with hope. Akers closes with repertoire favorite “La vie en rose” (Edith Piaf/Louiguy/David). “At first Piaf wouldn’t sing it. She didn’t think she was glamorous enough. She didn’t need glamour, she was real.” Fully in her element, the artist appears to be a tall beating heart. It’s like religious testimony. Rybeck’s music embraces.
The persuasive Karen Mason performs three distinctly original arrangements by Chicago’s Brian Lasser, a profound influence on her music. John Lennon/Paul McCartney’s “Here Comes the Sun” gives way to Martin Charnin/Charles Strouse’s “Tomorrow” (Annie) The combination is timely, vocal earnest and dynamic. A big ending unfurls. “I’ve Grown Accustomed to His Face” (Alan Jay Lerner/Frederick Lowe – My Fair Lady) deftly portrays complicated affection. Mason makes it personal.
Lasser’s own “Better Days” is poignant, brave, beautiful. “It seems that all is lost and hope has gone astray/ Keep your dreams at any cost, love will find its way…When the fear has passed, h’and (she largely exhales) love is here at last.” Sentiment resonates. This is an actress.
Note to vocalists, The Rybeck/Freed and Lasser songs are worthy additions to any show.
Live From Broadway!
From The Triad Theater, New York City
Host Cody Gerszewski, who grew up in Grand Forks, Michigan and is now a New York-based Musical Theater performer.
Musical Director/Piano- Alex Rybeck
Sound and Light- JP Perreaux
Videographer- Jonathan Furshpan
Live From Broadway Tickets – Until May 31