Woman Around Town’s Editor Charlene Giannetti and writers for the website talk with the women and men making news in New York, Washington, D.C., and other cities around the world. Thanks to Ian Herman for his wonderful piano introduction.
York Theatre’s 108th Musicals in Mufti, Hallelujah Baby!, was an attempt by its four liberal authors to put salve on race torn America. It won the Best Musical Tony Award in 1968 and made a star of young Leslie Uggams. In 2004, feeling its take on the black experience had been too soft, book writer Arthur Laurents endeavored to rectify this for a revival with changes in script and additional lyrics by Adolph Green’s daughter, Amanda Green. The story remains sketchy, but has perhaps removed its rose colored glasses.
Georgina (Stephanie Umoh) shepherds us through one African American woman’s history from 1910 to 1960 (with epilogue). Neither she nor other characters age outwardly (she’s 25), but all must deal with societal change affecting thoughts, feelings, and behavior.
Stephanie Umoh and Tally Sessions
Mamma was a slave. (Vivian Reed with attitude, spot-on timing and splendid vocals.) She accepts her role as a cleaning lady, even putting on exaggerated accent and obeisance to please those for whom she works. Rules are clear, expectations minimal. Her daughter neither “cringes nor shuffles” sufficiently. Georgina is a proud rebel. She wants her “own morning,” bed, man…Sweetheart Clem (a sincere Jarran Muse), puts weekly money towards a house whose price rises every time they almost have enough. Her life seems mapped.
Unexpectedly approached by a white man – Harvey (Tally Sessions) who’s putting on a play at the local Bijou Theater, Georgina finds herself ironically cast as exactly the kind of maid she’s refused to be in real life. Still, it’s a role, she’s earning her own money and, for the first time, perceives a way out. When the white theater owner (Michael Thomas Holmes, terrific as a wide variety of distinctively realized characters) objects to a black woman onstage, Harvey quits. Not only is he completely without prejudice, he’s sweet on her.
Tally Sessions, Vivian Reed, Jarran Muse
Through the years, Harvey and Clem move from profession to profession while competing for the feisty, ambitious Georgina – not the most likeable heroine you’ll ever meet. She puts vociferously them both off – Clem because he often doesn’t approve of her choices and never seems to offer enough, and the utterly selfless Harvey because she sees the impossibility of an interracial couple- and really, still loves Clem. Mamma, who tags along with her daughter’s upward mobility, never lets go of her own cynical views.
There’s bigotry/segregation, gambling, bootlegging, performing in feathers, squatting in an abandoned Chinese restaurant, entering theaters by the back door, the WPA – including musical Shakespeare, breadlines, Communism, USO work (still segregated), the first time someone address Georgina as “m’am”, an apartment with a river view, the Civil Rights Movement, performing at The White House…
In a larger sense, the musical is about realizing who your bretheren are and taking responsibility.
Also featuring Randy Donaldson, Bernard Dotson Jennifer Cody (who adds spark) and Latoya Edwards
Stephanie Umoh has a powerful, clear voice. The actress is convincingly frustrated, selfish and aggressive. She seems to add pith to the show that Uggams didn’t possess.
Tally Sessions’ Harvey is believable from the get-go. The actor brings authenticity to every speech, glance, and song. He has fine vocal style and is thoroughly appealing.
Director Gerry McIntyre is adept with both vivacity and gravitas. Choreography is appropriate and fun; emotional moments theatrically credible. Southern accents land.
Photos by Ben Strothmann Opening: Jarran Muse, Vivian Reed, Stephanie Umoh
Musicals in Mufti NEXT: February 10-18 Bar Mitzvah Boy Don Black/Jule Styne February 24-March 4 Subways Are For Sleeping Betty Comden/Adolph Green/ Jule Styne
The York Theatre Company’s Musicals in Mufti presents Hallelujah Baby! Music-Jule Style; Lyrics-Betty Comden, Adolph Green Additional Lyrics-Amanda Green Book- Arthur Laurents Directed by Gerry McIntyre Music Direction/Piano- David Hancock Turner; Bass- Richie Goods Through Sunday February 4, 2018 York Theatre 619 Lexington Avenue at St. Peter’s Church
Jule Styne (Julius Kerwin Stein 1905-1994) was a British American songwriter who contributed to over 1500 published songs (“All of which we’re going to do for you today,” Harvey Granat quips) and 25 Broadway shows. He earned 10 Academy Award nominations, winning one. Styne was a 10 year-old prodigy, a favorite pianist at Chicago mob clubs, played in a band, and acted as vocal coach at Twentieth Century Fox. Sammy Cahn was his first writing partner.
Granat sings their first hit, 1944’s “I Walk Alone” in prime, lilting balladeer mode. “They ask me why” he says, and I tell them I’d rather/There are dreams I must gather…he croons, making the song intimate. Success kept coming for the duo. “Good songs historically rise out of bleak times,” Reed comments referring to The Depression and WWII.“Because people have to have a way to express hope…I have a feeling that in the next four years, we might get some nice songs.”
We hear “Time After Time” (from It Happened in Brooklyn) with mid-tempo, jazz colored piano and then sing along with 1945’s “Let It Snow,” written during a Los Angeles heat wave. An inordinate number of the large audience know every word.
Reed shares the story of Doris Mary Ann Kappelhoff’s discovery: Just divorced, the young woman was in Los Angeles crying her eyes out, living in a trailer park with her son, trying unsuccessfully to break into radio. She had borrowed money to take a bus back East when her agent invited her to a party at Jule Styne’s suggesting “free food.” Resistant, she accompanied him. The host had seen her sing at a little club in New York and coaxed Doris to perform. A rendition of “Embraceable You” earned her an audition at Warner Brothers.
Unaware that Jack Warner had rejected the aspirant as being “sexless,” she was hired by Director Michael Curtiz to star in Romance on the High Seas with a score by Cahn and Styne. Doris Day became the biggest star in Hollywood. Granat offers her signature number from the film, “It’s Magic.” All I can say is that if he sang it to you, you’d follow him home.
Cahn and Styne were commissioned to write “Three Coins in the Fountain” as a title song for another film. The studio returned their composition demanding a bridge. “I was determined to write the worst bridge ever conceived,” Cahn told Granat many years later. He wrote: Which one will the fountain bless? /Which one will the fountain bless? The song won 1954’s Academy Award. Granat sings like a storyteller. Come to think of it, he kind of tells stories lyrically, like a vocalist.
From the show Hazel Flagg, written with Bob Hilliard, there’s “How Do You Speak to An Angel?”/I’m completely in the dark/When you know you’ve just met an angel/Is there a proper remark?…Lovely. Out of Bells Are Ringing, written with Betty Comden and Adolph Green, we all sing “Just in Time” and “The Party’s Over.” “You’re lucky if you get one hit song in a show, he’d get four or five,” Reed remarks appreciatively. “Long Before I Knew You” arrives with yearning salved by love.
When Stephen Sondheim was brought onto the team developing Gypsy, he had just written the lyrics for West Side Story and made it clear that this time he wanted to author both music and lyrics. Ethel Merman, however, demanded the bankable Styne. Sondheim would’ve backed out had not his mentor Oscar Hammerstein II recommended he do the musical. “June Havoc (Baby June) always said, she was not my mother,” Reed asserts. “There was a lot of backstage tension and resentment. When Merman was on stage, she played a completely different show.” Both men agree it’s an extraordinary piece. Two numbers from the classic come next.
In the course of this afternoon’s entertainment, Reed himself performs two songs. “The trick is to choose ones nobody knows so they have nothing with which to compare.” His version of “Blame My Absent Minded Heart” (from It’s a Great Feeling) is gentle and cottony with the word “heart” palpably exhaled. “You Love Me” (from West Point Story) is sincere, if less memorable. The writer tells a great story, remembers endless facts and seems to have known everybody worth knowing. He recalls Styne as always cheerful and unusually ready to play at his own terrific dinner parties.
Though Do, Re, Me, (also with Comden & Green) had little staying power, it gave birth to the iconic “Make Someone Happy” which today emerges with music in which you want to walk barefoot. “Ain’t that true?” whispers Granat. We learn that the title role in Funny Girl (written with Bob Hilliard) was offered to and turned down by both Mary Martin and Carol Burnett, who felt Fannie Brice should be played by a Jewish woman. It was, of course by the young Barbra Streisand whose stardom was cemented. The room sings “People.” Granat is low key, but insistent, his hand balling into a fist on needing other children.
At the top of the event, in light of the election, Harvey Grant promised a stress-free hour plus. And so it was. We all left smiling.
Other notable Styne shows include: Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, Sugar (based on the film Some Like it Hot), and Hallelujah Baby!
Granat co-produced four-time Academy Award winning songwriter, Sammy Cahn, on Broadway in Words And Music, which had a successful run and toured throughout the US and abroad.
The 9th show in Stephen Hanks estimable New York Cabaret’s Greatest Hits series celebrates Laurie Krauz and Daryl Kojak’s 25 years of musical collaboration. “We’ve been working together since the world wide web went public,” she quips. It’s also a where-have-I-been-all-these-years revelation. Formidably talented, the duo, (with Sean Conly on bass and Gene Lewin, drums), represent a fortuitous coming together the universe doesn’t often facilitate.
Laurie Krauz channels her music from somewhere to which most of us will never have access. It courses through her body like electricity, shaped by palpable, tingling control; like a mesmerizing snake dance. By her side, Daryl Kojak taps into that same frequency, antennae up, responding.
A unique rendition of “Never Neverland” (Betty Comden/ Adolph Green/Jule Styne) emerges as gentle jazz with no loss of sentimental intention. In my experience, jazz interpretations of ballads mostly sacrifice meaning. Here, the duo manages to maintain this with grace. Piano sweeps of stardust, a bowed bass and circling brushes float a vocal which, deferring to the song’s purity, delivers barely an extra syllable.
Oscar Hammerstein II/Richard Rodgers’s iconic “Some Enchanted Evening” can here also be classified as jazz, yet emotionally communicates without getting sidetracked. Kojak’s piano keys sound like wind chimes. A drum is patted. It’s a black and white 40s film with curtains blown against an open French door. Dark, serious, evocative. Open-throated (open-hearted) singing is paired with tiptoeing accompaniment. The number exists like a snuffed candle, leaving whirls of smoke.
Even the chestnut “I Will Wait For You” (Norman Gimbel/English Lyric Michel Legrand) is given iconoclastic treatment. An exuberantly windy arrangement with sensuous, rhythmic drums feels like sirocco. Krauz sails up to oooing contralto and down to alto. I find myself dovening (rocking back and forth.)
The tandem “A House is Not a Home” (Burt Bachrach/Hal David) and “Since You Stayed Here” (Peter Larson/Josh Rubins), begins thoughtfully. Piano caresses. Krauz reaches deeply. I can feel her chest constrict, then fill with a sigh as she seems to recall. The second song, from the musical Brownstone, is an apt continuance…You’d never recognize the room/The pictures all have different frames now/All the chairs are rearranged now…it’s enacted without a flicker of artificiality. Bass acts as ballast.
“Send Me a Man,” (also YouTube Alberta Hunter’s 1935 recording) is saucy, playful Krauz in full Mae West mode. Symbiosis is never more apparent. Kojak plays a superb piano solo to which Krauz, hanging over the keyboard, reacts as if they’re having sex. “Oh yeah!.. that’s nice…YES!” No kidding. Not a word or moan is extraneous. This is a helluva thing to watch/hear. The vocalist moves as if compelled. Kojak breaks into burlesque honky-tonk, precise, but insinuating. FUN!
Several predominantly scat tunes show off Krauz’s skill and individuality with this kind of musicality. The best is Kokak’s own composition. “Ducksoup” which sounds a bit like a cool, Pink Panther theme. Krauz peppers and punctuates, progressing to an uncanny, mute-horn-like wah-wah. Closing her eyes, she bends, gestures, and squeezes out the vocal. We see a smoky back room, tilted fedoras, finessed hip movement. “Everybody sing!” And curiously we do-come in on a scat line, higgledy-piggeldy but grinning. Start/stops are like winks.
A warm, funny woman, Krauz tells us about her “first gig,” being paid a quarter by her father not to sing (she endlessly extemporized songs on family car trips) and shares her personal take on a Monica Lewinsky sighting back in the day that would have made a fine Saturday Night Live skit. My single caveat of this performance is that patter, though mostly entertaining, goes on too long.
“When you work closely with someone for 25 years, you become really good friends…” introduces a muscular version of “Here’s To Life” (Phyllis Molinary/Artie Butler) which is viscerally textured by experience and sincerity. The packed room erupts.
Photos by Maryann Lopinto
The Metropolitan Room May 14, 2016 Venue Calendar Next in the monthly series, New York Cabaret’s Greatest Hits Barbara Porteus- June 13, 7 p.m.
For its 90th revival, Musicals Tonight! chose 1953’s WonderfulTown, originally starring Edie Adams and Rosalind Russell. The Tony Award winning show was based on its librettists (Joseph Fields and Jerome Chodorov) 1940 play, My Sister Eileen, which, in turn, derived from Ruth McKenney’s New Yorker stories and book.
Savannah Frazier as Eileen
This lively production features the talents of Director Evan Pappas, whose keen eye for character turns and aesthetic arrangements even when his cast just poses, serve to entertain and enhance, and Choreographer Antoinette DiPietropolo, whose work is buoyant. It also features an unusual cavalcade of good actors having fun with smaller roles.
Pretty, innocent, man-magnet Eileen (Savannah Frazier) and her smart, cynical, older sister Ruth (Elizabeth Broadhurst) have come to New York City from small town Ohio in search of fame and fortune, or at least lives where everyone doesn’t know everyone else’s business. Eileen dreams of becoming an actress, Ruth of earning her way as writer.
Savannah Frazier as Eileen, Elizabeth Broadhurst as Ruth, Javid J. Weins as Wreck, Jillian Gottlieb as Helen
The girls make a beeline for Greenwich Village where everyone knows artists live cheaply. Exhausted, they’re ambushed by a landlord named Appopolous (Perry Lambert, with deft accent and comic timing) who knows rubes when he sees them. He talks them into a tiny basement apartment with a window on the street. Within minutes, an explosion rocks the room- subway construction is going on beneath, but only, they’re assured, from 6am to midnight. (Sound effects are terrific.) Why, oh why, oh why, oh –why did I ever leave Ohio?…they sing.
When a stranger strolls in assuming the apartment is still inhabited by a prostitute, their neighbor, “Wreck” aka Ed Loomis (David J. Wiens) comes to the rescue. An ex-college football hero, the young man is sweet and simple. His girl, Helen (Jillian Gottlieb) timidly hides their relationship from her judgmental mother, Mrs. Wade (Leslie Alexander), at one point going so far as to board Wreck in the girls’ kitchen overnight.
Wonderful casting pairs the substantial Weins and tiny Gottlieb to best advantage. Moving her aside by absently lifting and repositioning her is directorial candy. Weins handles “Pass the Football” with dumb, wistful skill. Gottlieb manifests a perfect mouse-voice and kind of apt, fluttery presence.
James Donegan as Bob; Paul Binotto as Speedy and Perry Lambert as Appopolous
While Eileen strikes out at multiple auditions, she attracts both wholesome Walgreen’s manager, Frank (Ian Lowe) who gives her free lunches and heat-seeking, sleazeball newspaper reporter Chick (Leland Burnett), who promises to tell his editor about Ruth. Both are inadvertently invited to dinner the same night. Lowe is credibly low key and likeable in a role that might otherwise disappear. Burnett is oily from dialogue to body language, adding interest to his character.
Meanwhile, Ruth is summarily rejected until she encounters Bob (James Donegan), an editor on The Mad Hatter magazine (aka The New Yorker) who, recognizing his younger self, reads her dreadful stories. (Enactment of these is alas, a weaker segment.) Bob comes looking for the discouraged Ruth and is also invited to potluck by Eileen. In the well paced “Conversation Piece,” table chat is stilted, ulterior motives clash.
James Donegan is not only an attractive actor with a warm, appealing voice, but sympathetic in a role which is sometimes a placeholder. His reading of Ruth’s stories aloud has just the right restrained, but incredulous tone. I’d be interested in seeing this thespian in a straight play.
James Donegan as Bob, Savannah Frazier as Eileen, Leland Burnett as Chick, Elizabeth Broadhurst as Ruth, Ian Lowe as Frank
Ruth inadvertently gets herself involved with a bunch of South American sailors who love the “Conga.” (Choreography is fun, though opportunity was missed in not snaking down the otherwise well employed theater aisle.) When Eileen tries to help, she gets arrested and ends up captivating the police department who serenade her with “My Darlin’ Eileen.” Joshua Downs portrays the station captain with genial charm, Irish lilt, and a pleasing vocal.
Eileen also lands on the front page of a newspaper which secures her employment as an entertainer by Club Vortex owner, Speedy Valente (Paul Binotto, an amusing, come-to-life cartoon.) “Ballet at The Village Vortex” offers infectious choreography. Needless to say, everyone is paired up and employed by the end.
Savannah Frazier as Eileen, Elizabeth Broadhurst as Ruth
It’s the journey that counts. Take it. The musical itself is a romp and there are so many unexpectedly nifty moments, I found myself smiling almost throughout the whole piece.
I imagine Eileen a bit more naïve than depicted, but Savannah Frazier has a simply lovely voice and settling in, enchants more than just the men on stage. Asking the police to fetch and carry for her, Frazier morphs into the girl who blithely takes this for granted.
Elizabeth Broadhurst (Ruth) does a yeoman-like job, but never quite gets Ruth’s caustic fatalism. Helpless moments with the sailors are effective as are earnest speeches about her writing and concern for her sister.
Also featuring: Brekken Baker, Abby Hart, Allyson Tolbert, Piera Calabro
Photos by Michael Portantiere
Opening: Eric Shorey (also an engaging tour guide at the show’s top), Neville Braithwaite, Ryan Rhue, Dallas Padoven, Elizabeth Broadhurst as Ruth, Isaac Matthews
Musicals Tonight! presents
Libretto- Joseph Fields/Jerome Chodorov
Lyrics- Betty Comden and Adolph Green
Directed by Evan Pappas
Choreographed by Antoinette DiPietropolo
Music Director/Vocal Arranger-James Stenborg
The Lion Theatre
410 West 42 Street
Through April 17, 2016 Come back in October for next season’s first production Funny Face by George and Ira Gershwin
This 1960 musical which astonishingly ran a year, featured then popular Nancy Walker and Phil Silvers. Damon Runyonish without the swell songs and nifty book of 1950’s Guys and Dolls, the show must’ve been a vehicle for its stars. To my mind, it contains one timeless ballad- “Make Someone Happy,” two somewhat amusing girl group songs- “All You Need is A Quarter” and the quirky “What’s New at the Zoo,” one successful, tongue-in-cheek number “It’s Legitimate,” and one comic (musical) soliloquy “The Late, Late Show.” Otherwise material is tuneless and verbose. The game company does manage to deliver some entertainment, however.
Whitney Meyer, Beth DeMichele, Anna Bucci; Daniel Marcus
Briefly, Hubie Cram (the Nathan Lane-ish Patrick John Moran) is a losing dreamer and small time con man looking for the big score. His loving wife, Kay, (Laura Daniel) wants him to take a job in her father’s dry cleaning business, but, patience wearing thin, sticks by him nonetheless. Hubie fixes on the idea of cornering the jukebox market and enlists former gangster comrades, Fitzo (Daniel Marcus), Brains (Roger Rifkin) and Skin (Michael Scott.) His intentions are legitimate, theirs reflexively shady. At the same time, he discovers singing waitress Tilda (Beth DeMichele) and starts recording her.
Beth DeMichele and Patrick John Moran; Tyler Milliron and Beth DeMichele
The jukebox business is a failure, but Tilda’s a success. When she falls in love at first sight with music industry competitor, John Henry Wheeler (Tyler Milliron), the hoodlums are sure their golden goose will leave and plan on violent measures. Before this can happen, everyone is pulled into a Washington DC court for strong-arming practices. It’s Hubie’s first experience in the spotlight and, despite threat of incarceration, he loves it. (Moran’s face is a pitch perfect reflection.) Needless to say, everything turns out fine.
Patrick John Moran and Laura Daniel
Patrick John Moran (Hubie) deserves better material. There’s a sweetness about his ineptitude and frustration. The actor has good comic timing and delivers solid vocals. Were direction lighter, he’d surely be funnier as well.
Laura Daniel is credibly working class, long suffering and devoted. Adding some specific physicality to her character would help define Kay.
The best voice on the stage belongs to Beth DeMichele (Tilda), who is also an appealingly natural actress. If Tyler Milliron would take his resonant vocals down a notch, the two would mesh nicely.
Of the gangsters, Daniel Marcus’ Fitzo stands out. His accent is grand. Marcus moves heavier than he is, reacting with habitual speed and attitude that illuminates the crook.
Director/Choreographer Donald Brenner’s high spots are two terrific girl group numbers with very cool synchronized movement. He should do a fifties show.
Photos by Michael Portantiere Opening: Laura Daniel and Patrick John Moran Whitney Meyer, Beth DeMichele, Anna Bucci; Daniel Marcus Beth DeMichele and Patrick John Moran; Tyler Milliron and Beth DeMichele Patrick John Moran and Laura Daniel
Musicals Tonight! presents Do Re Mi
Libretto- Garson Kanin; Music- Jule Style; Lyrics-Betty Comden and Adolph Green
This Production Directed and Choreographed by Donald Brenner
Music Director/Vocal Arranger- David B. Bishop
The Lion Theatre
410 West 42nd Street
Through April 3, 2016
Tickets at Telecharge or The Lion Theatre Box Office
NEXT April 5-17 : Wonderful Town