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.
Sunday night, Feinstein’s/54Below hosted a banquet of widely diverse selections from the work of collaborators Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty as honored by CCM otherwise known as the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music. Onstage talent was accomplished, represented oeuvre impressive and entertaining.
Our host tonight, impresario/director/vocalist Scott Coulter, graduated CCM in 1993. He’s stayed in touch and taught Master Classes at his alma mater. In honor of the school’s 25th New York Showcase for agents and casting directors, program head, Dr. Aubrey Berg, asked Coulter if he’d put together an evening celebrating its gifted alumni.
Coulter suggested a salute to Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty, the latter a CCM graduate. The pair were in beaming attendance. He then contacted alumni from the last 24 years drawing on a wealth of artists with Broadway credits. The early show ran like Swiss clockwork. (An entirely different one was presented at 9:30!)
Scott Coulter, Jessica Boevers Bogart
After Coulter’s charmingly besotted story about being roundly affected by the original 1990 production of Once On This Island (a Broadway revival is in development), we open with a vivacious “Journey To the Past” (Anastasia) as sung by Lexie Dorsett-Sharp, Carlyn Connolly, and Coulter. The three polished voices blend splendidly. Harmony is very fine.
“Times Like These” …a girl could use a dog… (Lucky Stiff) is delightfully rendered by Jessica Boevers Bogart who slips into character like a well fitting, zipperless dress. Bogart is sympathetic, delivers low key as effectively as soaring, and possesses comic timing. Kathryn Boswell’s “Under the Bridge,” (Anastasia- imminently opening on Broadway) demonstrates great skill in knowing what to restrain and when to let fly. Watch out Kelli O’Hara.
Kathryn Boswell, Victoria Cook
On stage, Max Chernin presents a stirring, character-credble “The Night That Goldman Spoke” (Ragtime), while from the bar area Lexie Dorsett-Sharp responds as Emma Goldman with round tones and powerful conviction. Both make the number come vibrantly alive. Also from Ragtime, we hear “Raining” as performed by Victoria Cook whose palpable pain, theatrical finesse, and every-woman persona lands a bull’s-eye.
The class of 2017, in New York for its program’s annual showcase, let loose with specially written lyrics for “I Was There” (Glorious Ones), an immensely moving anthem about why artists opt for hardscrabble life in the theater. Youthful hope and deep love of craft shone. Professor Berg spoke briefly, proudly surrounded by shepherded talent. CCM seems a hotbed of burgeoning aptitude.
Max Chernin, Lexie Dorsett-Sharp
Also Featured: Alysha Deslorieux’s big beautiful “Waiting For Life” which starts in character, but careens to simply grand vocal (Once On This Island); Preston Boyd’s uneven “Some Girls” (Once On This Island); Danette Holden’s “Back to Before” (Ragtime) evidencing superb control, pith, and range; John Riddle’s “Streets of Dublin” (A Man of No Importance), which displays his remarkable instrument, but interprets feeling as volume (gorgeous melody); Eric Sciotto’s low key lullaby rendition of “Solla Sollew” (Seussical); Mia Gentile’s “Notice Me Horton” (Seussical) with deft comic timing, but again, growing too big for the lyric.
Justin Patterson’s “Love Who You Love” (A Man of No Importance) is adroitly understated and direct (lovely cello); Sally Ann Tumas’s “Goodbye My Love” (Ragtime) reveals highly trained vocal subtlety; DeMone Seraphin starts “Make Them Hear You”, a tirade about injustice, with his hand in his pocket, killing the mood (lush, undulating piano); Alexa Green’s “Come Down from the Tree” (Once On This Island) is self conscious about sound, losing lyrical meaning.
Shoshana Bean offers an infectiously joyous “Mama Will Provide” (Ragtime); Jason Rieff’s “Human Heart” (Once On This Island) dramatically closes the show with backup by the company: The courage of a dreamer/The innocence of youth/The failures and the foolishness/That lead us to the truth…
I was fortunate enough to be among those in the BMI Musical Theater Workshop with Lynn and Steve and watched them become a team. It seemed like Kismet from the get-go. The multifaceted lyricist and composer have been collaborators for 30 years authoring accessible songs without losing specificity. They write smart, wry, exceptionally moving numbers and are, by the way, lovely people.
This is a worthy tribute.
Music Director/Pianist Ryan Shirar, Jacob Yates-Cello, Blake Allen-Viola- Yates and Allen CMM grads. Richard Oberacker, whose musical Bandstand is previewing on Broadway, sat in as pianist for one number.
Photos by Steve Friedman Opening: Stephen Flaherty & Lynn Ahrens
If you liked Steve Martin/Edie Brickell’s Bright Star, you’ll love this evening, which boasts a great many numbers performed in and cut from that show. (You even get to sing along to “Sun is Gonna Shine.”) It was the role of a lifetime for the talented Carmen Cusack. Though already a veteran, with much of her stage time garnered in London, the performer’s actual life experience was close enough to the character of Alice Murphy she couldn’t initially sing certain lyrics without crying. The southern accent and inflection are quite real, subjugated elsewhere it seems, with focus.
Taking the path of least resistance on her initial outing, Cusack offers selections from musicals in which she’s appeared including Phantom of the Opera, Les Misérables, Ragtime,Parade, and Wicked. This last, featuring a duet with guest Katie Rose Clark, Glinda to her Elphaba, arrived a tear-stained, love fest reunion. (Clark is an engaging actress/singer) Like most of the rest of the evening, each and every one of these choices is an 11:00 o’clock number, showcasing that soaring voice and remarkable control.
James Shelton’s 1950 “Lilac Wine”…Sweet and heady/Like my love… emerges a welcome exception. Elongated, cottony notes sail just above the lightest, shimmering cymbal (Dean Sharenow) and thrum, thrum bass (Alex Eckhardt.) Also in this vein is the traditional “Wayfaring Stranger” enhanced by Martha McDonnell’s extraordinary fiddle and Joe Jung’s fine guitar.
Cusack is deeply invested. Music courses through her lithe body compelling movement – arms rise and descend, palms open or fist, eyes close- savoring; her head snaps back, the right leg pumps or stamps…nothing occurs without palpable stimulus. Massaging of notes, slip/slide octave changes, gospel roots and the yodel style she particularly utilized in Bright Star are signatures. “Stop” (Sam Brown/Gregg Sutton/Bruce Brody), apparently “a huge hit in the UK,” is serious R & B. The artist gets her teeth into it with cool ferocity.
As herself, Cusack is loosey goosey on stage, right down to what I can only call backyard clothes, seeming lack of make-up and untamed hair- incomprehensible in a theater professional. She alas shares few stories about her experience. I say alas, because those we do hear- like that of her Phantom of the Opera audition and warm personal background on two of her own compositions, is charming. The better of the latter, “Middle Lane,” is a pensive and prettily told short story about boon companions in London. Cusack accompanies herself on acoustic guitar.
The evening ends with Phil Hanesroth’s “Story”: All of these lines across my face/Tell you the story of who I am…But these stories don’t mean anything/When you’ve got no one to tell them to/It’s true… I was made for you…Verses are quiet reflections, choruses, funky, foot-tappin’ and BIG. “This is for you honey,” she calls out to her husband across the room. Everyone leaves smiling.
The band is crackerjack.
Photos by Maryann Lopinto
Carmen Cusack at Feinstein’s 54Below Anthony De Angeles- MD/Piano Dean Sharenow- Drums, Joe Jung-Guitar, Alex Eckhardt- Bass, Martha McDonnell-Fiddle August 14 and 16- Call for WAIT LIST
“…you’re all here because I have to talk…I’m having an issue with women…” Immediately up front and personal, Norbert Leo Butz has no problem dispensing with the fourth wall. His rambunctious demeanor and casual attire (apparently H&M) seem to make him one of ‘us,’ albeit with the kinetic energy of a pinball machine and a wellspring of heady talent. Familiar only with the artist’s formidable body of work on Broadway, I was unprepared for the musical tsunami that ensued.
Butz has three daughters, three sisters, a wife and ex-wife, mothers-in-law, 17 nieces – in fact, immeasurable estrogen in his life. “Even the dog is a woman.” They all kept telling him he didn’t get it. When a savvy friend suggested he look at archetypes, “common denominators based on preliterate myths,” Butz started to research Greek goddesses. Girls, Girls, Girls, apparently a revival, reframes iconic myths in millennial vernacular, each paired with an unexpected musical number. What may sound academic is, in fact, a mesmerizing storm of storytelling and song.
…Her name is Yoshimi/She’s a black belt in karate/Working for the city/She has to discipline her body…(“Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, Part I”-The Flaming Lips) represents Athena, Goddess of War. Yes, that eclectic. Butz, in constant, kinetic movement, bounces, jerks up his knee, and practically uproots the microphone stand, one seemingly spastic arm gesturing.
Queen Hera, goddess of marriage and family comes next. Expecting her husband to be productive, kind and faithful, she instead got Zeus “who couldn’t keep his lightening bolt in his pants.” The tale is reflected by Loretta Lynn’s “Mrs. Leroy Brown” about a man who said he wanted babies but instead philanders…Hey Leroy Brown, how do you like my big old pink limo/I just drawed all your money outta the bank today/Honey, you don’t have no mo’…his vengeful spouse declares. It’s a hard-charging, rockabilly hoedown. Butz stamps, screams, growls, and shoves it to the errant Zeus.
Aphrodite, goddess of love and sex had a weakness for military men. “Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town” (Kenny Rogers) contains the fervent plea of a wounded veteran. A thumbs-in-the-pocket two-step, the song is poignant. Butz tends to tighten his jaw when performing painful emotions. A verse with only drum accompaniment feels ravaged. He’s invested.
Sinead O’Connor’s “In This Heart” signifies the wail of Demeter for daughter Persephone pulled into the Underworld. With MD/Pianist Michel Moritz Jr. in vocal harmony, Butz imbues the story with dramatic heft between wrenching verses. Melody is sweet, but torn from the gut. “Tecumseh Valley” (Townes Van Zandt) follows with Butz’s soulful, acoustic guitar and slow, emphatic drums swelling to a “rage against the dying of the light.” (Dylan Thomas)
We hear The Furies ‘depicted’ by Shawn Colvin …She didn’t believe in transcendence/And it’s time for a few small repairs, she said/Sunny came home with a vengeance …as Butz’s throat opens and closes, ratcheting bright and dark. (“Sunny Comes Home.”) and the Muses embodied by aching regret with a David Grey lyric from “Kathleen” including the only instance you’re likely to hear …Toora Loora Toora Loo-Rye Aye…in a rock arrangement so gangbuster bruising it appears as if the artist might spontaneously combust.
“Stacey’s Mom” (Fountain of Wayne) personifies “a quintessential myth.” Butz takes off into the audience to get someone up and dancing. (This one’s a hoot.) Richard Thompson’s “Galway to Graceland” (the Crone) arrives measured, halting, straight from the hip, backed by a guitar solo one can only call resonant sympathy. Butz’s face crumples.
Comparing an aspect of himself to each of these women, the performer comes to the conclusion womanhood is not easy. “Wig in a Box” (Stephen Trask), a trailer park blues…suddenly I’m Miss Beehive 1963…delivered with bite, spit and gumption segues into cacophony, perhaps manifestation of internal turmoil.
I don’t think I’ve ever called out all so many numbers in a show, but each of these contributes to this skillfully structured and written evening. A couple are weapons-grade LOUD, replete with harsh, flashing lights and vocal detonation that to me, slightly diminishes effect, but as a whole, the smart, enthralling piece grabs and holds from the get-go.
Norbert Leo Butz has a stylistic range of which one was hardly aware. He can inhabit sorrow from a convincing emotional core, charm with wit, or let loose manifesting elemental wildness that feels palpably unconditional.
The band is textural, tight and vigorous.
This show was evidently recorded by Broadway Records. I imagine it’s dynamic on CD, but if you can, get yourself to the venue – fully prepared to have your socks knocked off.
Photos by Maryann Lopinto
Norbert Leo Butz: Girls, Girls, Girls
MD/Arrangements/Piano- Michael J. Moritz Jr.
James Leahey-Guitar, Billy LaGuardia-Guitar, Adam DeAscentis-Bass, Khaled Tabbara-Drums Feinsteins/54Below
254 West 54th Street August 8 and 10 at 7 p.m.
The show’s title refers, of course, to the ladies having been conjoined at the hip as twins Violet and Daisy Hilton in Broadway’s Sideshow, a state which this evening exploits. Separate careers include Ripley’s appearance in Next to Normal, which garnered her a Tony Award, and Skinner’s most recent starring role in Big Fish. The club is packed for this return engagement – on a Tuesday night- at 9:30. In fact, our table is shared by two devoted women fans here on vacation from Sweden who have tickets for consecutive shows and own all three duet CDs.
Clearly written and directed by its performers, the piece could be tighter and funnier. Gushing about one another goes on too long, pseudo jealousy jokes are mugged. There’s no question these women are talented singers, however. Performance and range are similar making duets balanced. Both project with power and confidence.
An anthem-like “I Will Never Leave You” (Bill Russell/Henry Krieger- Sideshow) is aborted several bars in when the ladies realize they’re “on the wrong side,” i.e. not in the accustomed configuration formerly shared eight shows a week. The four song Friendship Medley that follows has Ripley and Skinner executing dance steps locked at the hip. Awkwardness makes this fun, even recalling the terrific choreography of Sideshow.
“Best Friends” (theme from The Courtship of Eddie’s Father) and “She Needs Me” (both Harry Nilsson) seem as if they can’t work in tandem, but do. Randy Landau’s bass takes very cool rhythmic lead, Jeff Potter’s brushes are smooth and sandy. Vocals veer to pop. Another highlight, “Tonight You Belong To Me” (Billy Rose/Lee David), emerges partly in harmonized a capella buoyed by lilting bass. Back to back and side by side the seated ladies sway until joined by John Fischer, whereupon the three play kazoos.
Skinner imbues “I Don’t Need a Roof” (Andrew Lippa from Big Fish) with history and heart. One can palpably feel the pain of facing her husband’s mortality. Her rendition of “When It Ends” (Michael John La Chuisa) is sheer noir; biting and royally pissed off. Though understated, the artist is an actress at all times. We buy her sentiments.
On the other hand, Ripley’s excerpt from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Memory,” ostensibly proving she should have gotten the role of Grizabella in the upcoming revival of Cats, evidences no history, no despair. This was unfortunately also the case in the vocalist’s rendition of “As If We Never Said Goodbye” (Andrew Lloyd Webber/Christopher Hampton/ Don Black-Sunset Boulevard) which, though it ricocheted off the walls, additionally lacked desperation.
Alice Ripley, Emily Skinner (back-Randy Landau)
The usually delightful “Bosom Buddies” (Jerry Herman from Mame) also lands with a thunk. Every emotion is telegraphed rather than wryly indicated with deadpan brio that should serve the wicked froth.
Shaina Taub’s “Reminder Song” is interesting and effective: Three cheers for agony /A toast to the pain/ Hats off to everything that leaves a scar /For reminding me who my friends are… The artists seem serious and grateful. Carly Simon’s rarely heard “Two Little Sisters”: Two little sisters gazing at the sea,/Imagining what their futures will be….is a sweet way to close.
This is an extremely mixed bag that would benefit by a director.
Photos by Maryann Lopinto Opening: Emily Skinner, Alice Ripley
Alice Ripley and Emily Skinner: Unattached John Fischer-piano, Randy Landau-bass, Jeff Potter-drums Feinstein’s/54 Below 254 West 54th Street Through July 25, 2016 Venue Calendar