Todd Murray is a leading man. It’s easy to imagine him as Emile de Becque (South Pacific) or Billy Bigalow (Carousel). The artist not only has matinee idol looks, but a bold, clear, resonant voice. He’s palpably expressive, can be cool or sweet, handles swing with finesse and croons as if born to it. When he hurts, we feel it. Murray is honest and he shares.
The premise of this show is his just now?! discovering himself a romantic. “Could’ja?” …fall in love with me? he offers flirty and bright, leaning in to “the most overqualified back-up singers in Manhattan,” Stacy Sullivan and Elizabeth Ward Land. (Bill Carey/Carl Fisher & Ron Zate) “Don’t Blame Me”…for falling in love with you…Murray sings, captivating the room, swinging beneath the ballad. (Dorothy Fields/Jimmy McHugh)
We hear lyrics of love, rejection, longing. Murray’s style and sincerity make “This Guy’s In Love” (Hal David/Burt Bachrach) less of a chestnut. Many selections end on a a twirl of notes, much like Bing Crosby’s signature, ba-ba-boo. Casanova and Don Juan, he wisely notes, are not really romantics. “In music, we have Sinatra, of course, Julio Iglesias, and Elvis.”
“Love Me Tender” (Civil War ballad “Autra Lee”/Ken Darby) and “Can’t Help Falling in Love With You” (George Weiss/Hugo Peretti/Luigi Creatore) emerge vulnerable. Hands at his sides, the performer is persuasive. Arms rise, palms open, he entreats.
“I will give you this, men and women manifest romance in different ways,” leads to friendly disagreement about Cole Porter/Robert Fletcher’s “Don’t Fence Me In.” A friend told Murray the song is about inability to commit. The artist sets a post-coital scene in which “she” launches happy expectations and “he,” languidly smoking as if in a French film, responds with the song. Accompaniment is measured insouciance. You may never hear this the same way again.
Guest Douglas Sills joins Murray for a well harmonized “If I Ruled the World” (Leslie Bricusse/ Cyril Ornadel) which arrives upbeat rather than poignant. Stacy Sullivan duets on Matt Alber’s “The End of The World,” from their brilliant musical theater piece Separate Ways. (Revive it!) Both performers immediately assume intense, alternate identities. A highlight.
Caveats: A dancy “Once Upon a Dream” (Jack Lawrence/Sammy Fain) is so animated and oom-pah it feels cartoonish. (Yes, it’s from Disney’s Sleeping Beauty.) The fast, complicated arrangement of “That’s All” (Alan Brandt/ Bob Haymes) seems in opposition to a relaxed vocal.
“When Autumn Comes” (Frank Wildhorn/Jack Murphy) floats on melancholy resignation. “Time” (Barry Kleinbort/Joseph Thalken) is credibly bittersweet. During instrumental parenthesis, Murray seems adrift in reflection.
“Some Enchanted Evening” (South Pacific) and “I Have Dreamed” (The King and I) rise aching and vulnerable without sacrificing power, just the way these iconic songs should be performed. Both are pristine. (Richard Rodgers/Oscar Hammerstein II)
“The thing is, when it comes to romance, it’s talked about as something fleeting. I like to stay there. To me, romance is hope.” Well put. A lovely evening.
Photos Courtesy of The Beach Cafe
Todd Murray: Don’t Blame Me…for falling in love with you
Yasukiko Fukuoka- MD/Piano
Back-Up vocalists Stacy Sullivan and Elizabeth Ward Land
Guest vocalists- Douglas Sills and Stacy Sullivan
The Beach Café
70th Street & Second Avenue
November 8, 2019