“If music be the food of love, play on…Enough! No more. ‘Tis not so sweet now as it was before…” begins Len Cariou, speaking above the appealing strains of Mark Janas’s piano accompaniment. (Twelfth Night) Beat. The actor turns from interior oration to his audience:
“Love I Hear,” makes you sigh a lot,/Also, love, I hear, makes you weak…he sings. (Stephen Sondheim- A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum). This, in a nutshell is the clever concept for Broadway & The Bard, a succession of Shakespearean soliloquies and well chosen Broadway show songs furthering spoken sentiments.
Cariou, a Canadian, honed Shakespeare chops at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival and The Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis. He made his New York dramatic debut in 1969 as Henry V. Six months later, the actor’s New York musical theater debut followed with Applause (Lee Adams/ Charles Strouse.) The performer later originated memorable Broadway leads in A Little Night Music and Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (Stephen Sondheim.) In fact, his most eminent years were spent moving back and forth between these two very different art forms.
A highpoint of this evening is simply listening to Cariou put each of the Bard’s contributions in context. He’s a natural and enthusiastic storyteller.
“Cry ‘God for Harry, England, and Saint George!’” Cariou exclaims as Henry V. What is it that we’re living for?/Applause, Applause./Nothing I know/brings on the glow/like sweet applause…he sings with a twinkle in his eye. Oddly, and this crops up in several numbers, every few lines sound as if they come from a rendition with different intention. Also, while a wink is apt, mugging is unnecessary. The lyric makes its point.
“How can you say to me I am a king?” he demands as Richard II. “If I Ruled the World ev’ry day would be the first day of spring/Every heart would have a new song to sing…(Leslie Bricusse/Cyril Ornadel- Pickwick). The song arrives low key and sincere. Unfortunately, and here again, there’s a pattern, engaging performance is marred by a denouement of volume wherein Cariou pushes his vocal to places it won’t comfortably go.
The “I will not love!” speech from Love’s Labour’s Lost is tenderly illuminated by “Her Face” (Michael Stewart/Bob Merrill- Carnival) while its coda, “Down With Love” (E.Y Harburg/Harold Arlen-Hooray For What?) is too fast, straining delivery. Petruchio’s pronouncements from The Taming of the Shrew are enhanced by “How To Handle a Woman” (Lerner & Loewe-Camelot), but playing both an old man and the questioner, looking up and down, takes away from nuanced reflection.
There are well acted speeches like the savored “All the world’s a stage. And all the men and women merely players…” (As You Like It) and those that appear all surface such as “…and what’s he then that says I play the villain” (Othello). “How Long Has This Been Going On?” (George & Ira Gershwin-Funny Face) is charming while one of the only poorly chosen numbers, a song from Stephen Sondheim’s The Frogs, would even be difficult for someone with wider range/younger lungs. The production seesaws.
Lately, I’ve seen a great many veteran performers on stage. Those who are successful adjust to altered capabilities presenting shows that spotlight current top form. Mr. Cariou might consider this.
Mark Janas’s Musical Direction also needs to take Cariou’s limitations into account. His Arrangements and Accompaniment, are, otherwise splendid. That which plays beneath soliloquies feels just right. Song attitudes suit each context. Playing is deft.
Barry Kleinbort’s excellent contribution to the shape of this piece is almost visible. As Director, he sets his player in positions around the minimally set stage with obvious forethought. If only a more consistent performance could be achieved.
Josh Iocavelli’s Set Design is pitch perfect. We see backstage coils of rope, unused lights, a bust of the bard and a shelf with hats, crowns, the framed image of a thespian, a skull, a chest plate…Just enough.
Photos by Carol Rosegg
Broadway and The Bard
Performed by Len Cariou
Conceived by Len Cariou, Barry Kleinbort, Mark Janus
Music Direction/Piano- Mark Janus
Directed by Barry Kleinbort
The Lion Theatre
410 West 42nd Street
Through March 6, 2016