After 21 shows in 12 days (whew!) to benefit a worthy outreach program, Urban Stages traditionally ends its annual Winter Rhythms Festival with a show called From All of Us to All of You: Seasonal Songs and Disney Too. One might think holiday songs would be presented with Disney numbers centered on love, brotherhood and friendship. Instead, subject matter is unnecessarily all over the map. Piano, unless noted, Daryl Kojak.
Stephen Hanks opens the evening with its Jiminy Cricket title song and a bit of lighthearted, ersatz dance. (Piano Mathew Martin Ward.) Later, he presents a spirited “Have Nagilia.” In a more original vein, Karen Gross delivers Tom Toce’s wry, crossover “Shalom Santa” as the daughter of “a lapsed Catholic and a cultural Jew.” Gross imbues the lyric with vexation and irony, but vocally pushes a bit too hard.
Stephen Hanks, Sandra Bargman, Billie Roe
Stephen Sondheim’s beautiful “I Remember” (Evening Primrose) is ably rendered by Sandra Bargman who wraps herself in melancholic longing, palpably excavating each vision. The vocalist seems to have slipped the word Christmas into her lyric. Billie Roe performs a version of “Poor Unfortunate Souls” with impeccably wicked characterization. Attributable to the witch in Little Mermaid, the song couldn’t be further from anything seasonal. (Piano Mathew Martin Ward.)
Sarah Rice introduces a lovely, lilting medley from Bedknobs and Boomsticks and Snow White quoting songwriter Robert Sherman’s* modus operandi: “to help children be good, productive people and to have hope,” establishing something of a reason for inclusion. Rice’s familiar timbre and skilled soprano do the songs justice. (Piano and effectively echoing backup vocal Matthew Martin Ward.)
Sarah Rice, Joshua Lance Dixon, Gabrielle Stravelli
Charlotte Patton imbues “He’s A Tramp” (Lady and The Tramp) with easy swing and low key flirt. Carly Ozard’s “Perfect Isn’t Easy” (Oliver and Company) displays a big warm voice and contralto bark. Gabrielle Stravelli’s “If I Were a Bell”/ “Jingle Bells” mash-up is a musical stretch, but adroitly rendered by the excellent performer.
Also featuring: Renn Woods’ laudably controlled gospel/R & B (deft piano Michael Raye), Joshua Lance Dixon’s sympathetic “Proud of Your Boy” (Aladdin), Jeff Macauley who still needs to take it down, enthusiastic, Hechter Ubarry, over expressive tenor Blake Zolfo, Marieann Meringolo’s reverent “Do You Hear What I Hear?”, Daryl Kojak’s jazz instrumental of “Silent Night”, Rosemary Loar straddling American Songbook and Jazz, Rob Davis with a classic medley that should’ve ended the evening.
Mary Sue Daniel’s’ “I’m Flying,” from television’s 1960 Peter Pan rather than the Disney version (!?) destroys every bit of soaring exuberance with an inexplicable interpretation oblivious to lyrics or context.
Photos by Maryann Lopinto
*Most classic Disney songs were written by brothers Robert Sherman and Richard Sherman
2017 Urban Stages Winter Rhythms Festival presents
From All of Us to All of You: Seasonal Songs and Disney Too
Producer/Host- Stephen Hanks
Musical Director- Daryl Kojak
December 23, 2017
259 West 30th Street
Most fans know composer/songwriter/pianist Cy Coleman (Seymour Kaufman 1929-2004) as an author of such musical theater successes as Sweet Charity, Barnum, and The Will Rodgers Follies. In fact, the classically trained child prodigy was drawn to popular music, particularly jazz, penning dozens upon dozens of songs recorded by iconic vocalists.
Guest Artistic Director Billy Stritch (piano/vocals) is a natural and fortuitous choice to helm this program. Co-written with the knowledgeable Andy Propst, author of You Fascinate Me So: The Life and Times of Cy Coleman, narrative is warm and illuminating. Not only is Stritch a superb performer/musician/arranger, but he briefly knew Coleman and is able to share his own affectionate and respectful experience of the man. The sum total is top flight entertainment. (Stritch should do this more often.)
“Tin Pan Alley,” written with Coleman’s first collaborator Joseph McCarthy, Jr., is a dancey valentine to the business: …where music with a lyric/has caused a dizzy mirac-le…It’s Jolson singing Mammy/ that put the A in Alabamy…Stritch’s solo does it charming justice. His “I’ll Be Coming Back” (Al Stillman) shows the mercurial musician’s hip, Philip Marlowe side and facility with tonight’s celebrated genre.
La Tanya Hall
Also written with McCarthy, “Why Try to Change Me Now?” is rendered by La Tanya Hall with a satiny voice skating just above circling brushes. Hall intermittently looks at the audience as if she’s in an intimate club and can see faces. This is immensely engaging. Later, her interpretation of “Sweet Talk” (Floyd Huddleston) manages to be pissed off without sounding abrasive. The vocalist has a husky purr she uses to fine effect.
In addition to McCarthy, we hear songs for which Coleman partnered with such as Carolyn Leigh (a fruitful, but tempestuous collaboration during which some songs were legendary for the spontaneity and speed with which they were created), Dorothy Fields, Peggy Lee, Floyd Huddleston, Buddy Greco, and Marilyn and Alan Bergman.
In his Y debut, Nicolas King presents “I Walk a Little Faster” (Carolyn Leigh) with appealing phrasing that includes a minute pause after “walk” a little faster, one between keep and bumping into walls…and a little laugh at nothing but disaster…as if he can’t control his behavior.
King, like Hall, looks at faces. In some ways, we’ve watched him grow up onstage (since age 11). Probably a reincarnated member of The Rat Pack, it’s good to see the artist channel his decisive flair into more restrained delivery. Even during the dense, bracing “You Wanna Bet” (Dorothy Fields), he moves around the stage vocally swinging without overt flamboyance.
The jaunty “Doodling Song” is performed, with inviting vocal arrangement, by Stritch, King, and Gabrielle Stravelli. Stritch first heard the captivating number on The Dick Van Dyke Show. Another group selection featuring Debby Boone, Gabrielle Stravelli, and Hall, “Bouncing Back For More,” was bumped from successive Broadway musicals only to have its first public outing on a television special with Lucille Ball and Shirley MacLaine. The snappy trio is enhanced by cute, synchronized movement. (Both Carolyn Leigh)
Stravelli showcases quiet intensity and expert control with “Rules Of the Road:” So these are the ropes,/The tricks of the trade,/The rules of the road…She’s grave, resigned, bummed out and refined. (Carolyn Leigh) During “Sweet Talk” (Floyd Huddleston), the artist’s focus makes it seem as if thoughts are coming to her for the first time.
She and Hall also present an inviting duet of “Cheatin’” (Marilyn and Alan Bergman), part of a Song Cycle called “Portraits of Jazz.” Stritch tells us this is “a tribute to the nightclub scene when Coleman was coming up.” The wry lyric finds Hall as “his” mistress singing to “his” wife: I always thought that when he wasn’t with me, he must’ve been home with you. Apparently the musician has been two timing both of them. He works out every morning/Two shows a night/Plus that son of a bitch/ Is cheating on us…The ladies bond in betrayal and incredulity. Both vocalists enact the scenario with effective spirit.
Billy Stritch and Debby Boone
Debby Boone shines with “Here I Go Again” (Tommy Wolf) which sails by like a delicate milkweed pod on a light breeze, the unknown, “Pink Taffeta Sample Size Ten” (Dorothy Fields-cut from Sweet Charity) in which she inhabits girlish awe with porcelain clarity, and “I’m Gonna Laugh You Right Out of My Life” (Joseph McCarthy, Jr. for a musicalization of The Heartbreak Kid) which is delivered with melancholy bitterness.
An unexpected vocal turn by bassist Jay Leonhart gives us the amusing “The Laarge Daark Aardvaark Song” –misspelling intentional- (Alan Sherman of “Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh” fame.) Anyone who’s heard Leonhart scat won’t be surprised he’s a master of cool understatement.
Billy Stritch’s pristine version of “It Amazes Me” (Carolyn Leigh), the show’s denouement, is slow and savored; surprised, grateful, abashed, and rather moving.
Stage Direction by Scott Faris suits both material and performers to a T.
Somewhere Mr. Coleman is beaming.
Performance Photos by Richard Termine
Opening: Billy Stritch, Debby Boone, Nicolas King, Gabrielle Stravelli, La Tanya Hall
92Y Lyrics & Lyricists presents
Witchcraft- The Jazz Magic of Cy Coleman
Billy Stritch Artistic Director
Andy Propst- Co-Writer
Scott Faris- Stage Director
Featuring Debby Boone, La Tanya Hall, Nicolas King, Gabrielle Stravelli
Jay Leonhart-Bass, Rick Montalbano-Drums
92Y Lexington Avenue
NEXT: Everything’s Coming Up Ethel-The Ethel Merman Songbook April 16-18