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.
Monday night, the National Arts Club hosted Shana Farr and Steve Ross in a unique concert spotlighting Christmas and some of the collaborators’ other best loved things. The unique evening offered original arrangements of familiar holiday songs, wry, unexpected novelty numbers, love, romance, hope, faith, and affectionate nods to Cole Porter, Alan Jay Lerner and Manhattan. It was warm, amusing, uplifting and stylish.
A Viennese-waltz-like “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of The Year” segues, with Ross’s “Oh!” into “Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow” –he’s flirty! And then Farr’s melodically gliding “Sleigh Ride.” Ross tells us “Snow” was written on a hot Los Angeles day. Heat apparently inspires Christmas songs. Irving Berlin is said to have penned “White Christmas” at La Quinta Hotel in Arizona, probably we’re told, in the middle of the night. (He was an insomniac.) “Take this down,” Berlin commanded his secretary. “I’ve just written the best song anyone’s every written.” Accompaniment is both harmonious and fresh.
In the satiric vein, Midwestern-bred Farr performs “Department Stores Mean Christmas to Me.” “…They had to get that frankincense from somewhere!” arrives ingénue-sincere. (David Cameron Anderson/Steve Landau) “I did sit on Santa’s lap outside (J.C.) Penny’s” she admits. And, in duet, Fred Silver’s immortal “The Twelve Days After Christmas”: The third day after Christmas, my Mother caught the croup/I had to use the three French Hens to make some chicken soup/The four calling birds were a big mistake for their language was obscene/The five golden rings were completely fake and they turned my fingers green…
Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “My Favorite Things” wafts light and lilting (Farr) in tandem with John Wallowitch’s uber-droll “Three Penny Things” (Ross). The latter is just what it sounds like, a charming, family-friendly lyric riding Kurt Weill’s foreboding music. Ross’s ersatz chermin interpretation: “…schnitzel mit noodles…ven the dog bites ven the bee sinks…” is tongue-in-cheek perfect.
Citing the centenary of Alan Jay Lerner, Farr offers “On a Clear Day You Can See Forever” as if breathing in tune and Ross sings a tender “The Heather On the Hill” whose melody emerges like an embrace by graceful arms.
More recent material is represented by Larry Kirchner’s “Winter in Manhattan”- Farr imbues its lyric with deep affection, Ross’s soulful, rather elegant “Manhattan Moon” (Richard Crosby/Steve Ross), and “It’s Almost Christmas Eve” (Rosie Casey/Ken Hirsch/Steve Ross/Frederick Chopin), a Norman Rockwell painting of friends, and family evoking gratitude.
The traditional “Three Ships”: I saw three ships come sailing in/On Christmas Day, on Christmas Day;/I saw three ships come sailing in/On Christmas Day in the morning…replete with pianistic chimes and- reverence, is lovely. Farr’s acoustic “Oh Holy Night” carries gravitas further. The artist annually sings in a one-room Missouri church at which her grandparents still worship. Tonight she might just as well be wearing a long white choir robe bathed in shafts of light coming through a stained glass window. A powerful and humble rendition.
Farr’s “My Heart Belongs to Daddy” and “Santa Baby” are less successful for lack of engaging sexual innuendo. Ross’s inevitable Cole Porter numbers though swell, don’t really fit.
To close, we all sing “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” The room is warmer than when we entered, dispositions have softened, spirits have risen. A sophisticated evening presented with talent, class, mutual regard, and genuine feeling for the season.
Photos by Bruce Allan
The National Arts Club – since 1898 Our Mission is to Stimulate, Foster & Promote public interest in the Arts & Educate the American people in the fine arts. 15 Gramercy Park South
Unlike most of his iconic peers, Cole Albert Porter was neither Jewish nor of immigrant heritage. Born to an extremely wealthy Indiana family and raised among the privileged class about which he’d eventually write with rapier wit and veracity, Porter defied his family’s wishes to become a songwriter.
Host David Loud condenses his subject’s history into a three minute preface, from unpopular first effort, See America First, through marriage to older socialite Linda Lee Thomas “…Man with One Million Marries Woman with Two” read the headlines-a love match despite opposite sexual orientation, success, failure, and the crippling, riding accident that would eventually drain him of the will to keep writing. Narrative is parsed between verses of “You’re the Top” (Anything Goes) giving neither the clever lyric nor background story opportunity to land well. (This also occurs with verses of the title song of that show. Further biographical details do emerge later.)
Allison Blackwell, Lewis Ceale
A music director/arranger, Loud knows his stuff where song construction and lyrics are concerned. While pointing out adroit rhymes, high/low allusions (You’re a Bendel bonnet/A Shakespeare’s sonnet/You’re Mickey Mouse), lack of AABA structure “Richard Rodgers would set himself on fire before doing this,” word emphasis, and octave changes is interesting, the amount of time taken up with this academic approach deprives us of entertainment. Does the lay audience need to recognize a major 7th chord? It also means many numbers are aired as brief excerpts, used merely as examples of analyzed points.
On the plus side, the commentator has a fine, dry sense of humor, cites well chosen quotes, playfully brings out Porter’s facility with unabashedly sexual lyrics, and approaches the songwriter’s relationships and tragedy with respectful gravitas.
Five able vocalists offer examples of the writer’s remarkable oeuvre to varying success. Lewis Ceale employs his resonant voice a bit too robustly during “It’s De-Lovely.” “Begin the Beguine” (Jubilee) and “All of You” (Silk Stockings) however, arrive romantically low key, the former unexpectedly ending in high tenor.
Matthew Scott, Nikki Renee Daniels
Allison Blackwell’s “Night and Day” (Gay Divorce) swells so quickly in volume, it diminishes emotional effect. “Find Me a Primitive Man” (Fifty Million Frenchmen) lacks sexual innuendo. “Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye” (Seven Lively Arts) is prettily, tunefully sighed by Nikki Renee Daniels.
Well performed numbers by Matthew Scott include a lovely, heartfelt, “In the Still of the Night” (Rosalie) with light piano and lighter triangle and a particularly rueful “Just One of Those Things.” (Jubilee)
The ever welcome, here under-utilized Rebecca Luker delivers entirely believable renditions of a wrought “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” (Born To Dance) and infectiously swept up “So in Love.” (Kiss Me Kate.) “The Tale of The Oyster” (Fifty Million Frenchmen), sung in that beautiful soprano, gives its tongue-in-cheek satire just the right tone of sophistication and sarcasm.
At one point, we hear a recording of Ethel Merman, a pleasing addition.
All the vocalists have solid instruments and ample credits. Giving them the benefit of the doubt, one might conjecture heavy handed direction by Noah Racey. Additionally, some song interpretations are decidedly odd: After two lines of “Love For Sale” (The New Yorkers) whose sentiments belong to an exhausted, hardened purveyor of sex, a vocalist breaks into “I’m a Gigolo” (Wake Up and Dream) as if a college ingénue proud and excited by the new job.
In another instance, several lines from “Why Can’t You Behave?”, a song fed-up Bianca sings to her philandering husband in Kiss Me Kate, is followed (same singer) with “I’m Always True to You (in My Fashion)” (Kiss Me Kate.) During both, a pregnant vocalist pats her belly addressing her unborn child. Explain this to me.
“Let’s Misbehave” (cut from Paris) is presented with men (one drunk) pawing the women which changes intended lyrical flirt to unpleasant aggression. In response, the women’s “Let’s Not Talk About Love” (Let’s Face It!) is then reduced to disgust not frustrated bemusement. Staging a vivacious “Can Can” (Can Can) in which the company executes choreography from stools in deference to pregnant Nikki Renee Daniels, is very cute.
The finale, “I Happen To Like New York” (The New Yorkers) sung with appealing enthusiasm by Cleale, is an awkward musical choice for audience participation. Few join projected lyrics.
Tonight’s Orchestra: Robert Zubrycki, Sarah Seiver, Dave Noland, Mary Ann McSweeney, and Joe Nero; Paul Masse- Conductor/Piano- are top notch throughout.
Projections of cliché, clip-art images are unstylish and unfortunate. Where are the wonderful archival photographs to which we’re accustomed?
The great Irving Berlin once wrote to Cole Porter “Anything I can do, you can do better,” (a statement opposite to the lyric in his song for Annie Get Your Gun.) Based on surprising audience reaction, many remain unfamiliar with the Porter. I suggest those of you who fit this bill, immediately tap into YouTube and have a good time.
Photos by Richard Termine Opening: Matthew Scott, Rebecca Luker, Nikki Renee Daniels, Allison Blackwell, Lewis Ceale
Lyrics & Lyricists presents Let’s Misbehave: The Sensational Songs of Cole Porter David Loud-Artistic Director/Writer/Host 92nd Street Y 92nd Street & Lexington Ave. February 11, 2017 NEXT: Baby, Dream Your Dream: Dorothy Fields and the Women of the American Songbook – March 18-20
Simon Green and David Shrubsole made their New York debut at 59E59 Theaters in 2008 with the Noel Coward show A Changing World. I attended-twice. Here, I thought, were performers who “got” Coward, both his tender sentimentality and acerbic wit. Green’s British accent, actor’s phrasing, perception, and intelligence buoyed an unforced theatrical tenor. Shrubsole’s role as creative Sancho Panza was a perfect fit.
Eight years later, with one appearance here between, the respectively accomplished duo come together again to give us a more personal glimpse of Sir Noel. Copious research is evident in selections of Coward’s letters (to and from), poems, diaries, and songs. The latter also mines material from Cole Porter, Ivor Novello, George Gershwin, and Irving Berlin which the program conjectures were inspired by Coward. Jeremy Nicholas’s “Place Settings” could actually be mistaken for Coward, influencing Porter and Novello is highly plausible. I wonder at the inclusion of Gershwin and Berlin on this list, however.
Additionally, with mixed results, the show includes Shrubsole’s setting of verse by Coward, Porter and Maya Angelou. A sophisticated The Little Old Bar at the Ritz (Porter’s verse) arrives smart and melodic, but Angelou’s Human Family seems to be in the wrong show, and Coward’s Honeymoon 1905 drones on almost monotone. Too many settings sound alike.
Readings and monologues are often quite wonderful. I Knew You Without Enchantment is a virtuoso turn. Green can toss off phrases like “My darlings” as if they were second nature. Correspondence between Podge and Stodge (Coward and his mother, Violet) rings wry and warmly true.
The show features eclectic songs such as : “Something Very Strange is Happening to Me,” “Don’t Turn Away From Love” (with an effective soupcon more emphasis on don’t) and “I Saw No Shadow” (Shrubsole paints melodic pictures) as well as the iconic “I Travel Alone”, “London Pride”, and “Sail Away.” These last three are melancholy, dignified, wistful, resigned, while a rendition of “I Went To a Marvelous Party” is unexpectedly rushed, chopped by interjected text, and unfunny. This is not the Green I remember.
At home both on a big stage and in an intimate cabaret environment, Green looks slowly around the room drawing us in. The artist, like Coward, is elegant. There are genuinely touching and lighthearted moments. Shrubsole’s accompaniment and background music (to spoken verse) is respectively sensitive and spot on. In this show, however, he’s is more successful with other composer’s melodies.
I admire these artists, but am disappointed with their latest effort.
Photos by Heidi Bohenkamp
Simon Green Life is for Living-Conversations with Noel Coward Musical Director/Pianist/composing contributor-David Shrubsole Research- Jason Morell 59E59 Theaters 59 East 59th Street Through January 1, 2016
Barry Day O.B.E., the Artistic Director of The Noel Coward Foundation and editor of this musical, calls it a “love song to London – a sort of post-war sequel to This Happy Breed in which Londoners pick up the pieces of their lives and cheerfully put them back together, as if nothing had happened.” The piece is an uncomplicated love story reflecting traditional values, pluck, and optimism. While some songs are pleasant though unmemorable, the musical also features iconic numbers Coward later used elsewhere including “Sail Away,” “Chase Me Charlie,” “I Like America,” and “London Pride.”
Marci Reid, Ian Mcdonald
We open and close in the Covent Garden market with vendors hawking their wares in song. Capper (Ian Mcdonald in a yeoman-like job) and Barmey Flo (Marci Reid who’s fine here, but seems anything but barmey) greet Pinkie (Katrina Michaels), whose view on the beautiful weather indicates Spring is in the air. It’s the young woman’s day off. When well dressed Julian (a credible Conor M. Hamlin with a nice voice) buys roses “a lot of them” to celebrate his first week of marriage, Pinkie grows starry-eyed. As if on cue, Harry (Johnny Wilson) appears. The sailor wastes no time. “Who are you, cause you’re very pretty and I’ve got 24 hours leave.”
Katrina Michaels, Johnny Wilson
Despite his being cheeky, Pinkie perceives the stranger is sweet and honest (as do we in appreciation of Wilson’s naturalistic acting) and takes him home to meet the folks before spending the day. Dad Charlie (Tom Gamblin who makes a warm, believable parent) and mom Fanny (Deb Cardona) understand “There’s Something About a Sailor”…nobody’s able to define…The duo sing well together, the number is deftly directed. (Later, we see Fanny, an ex-actress, perform a flirty “Chase Me Charlie,” one of the music hall songs in her repertoire. Cardona is charming.)
Also in the family are brother Alfie (Josh Bardier whose rubber face and long legs remind one of Jules Munchin) and sister Doreen (Kaitlyn Frotton, a graceful dancer, good actress and, I suspect from what little we heard, a fine singer).
Kaitlyn Frotton, Tom Gamblin, Den Cardona, Josh Bardier
Pinkie and Harry begin at Buckingham Palace. “Three Theatrical Dames”: Tom Gamblin, Ian Mcdonald, Marcia Reid (note two bearded men and one woman) are just leaving. This song can be very funny. It misses the mark here.
The couple then encounter Julian (in his military uniform – there to be decorated by the Queen) and his new wife, Linda (Oakley Boycott who appears upper class and sings with warmth). Julian recognizes Pinkie from the flower stand. Feeling happy and open, the well healed newlyweds invite the youngsters to a posh party that night. Pinkie can’t wait, but Harry is sure they’ll be out of place. An argument ensues. They part.
Oakley Boycott, Conor M. Hamill
Act II is a bit overstuffed with songs, but entertaining. You can guess the rest of the story. The lovers reunite and go to the party, Pinkie glorying in one of her mom’s old costumes. They pledge to one another. Finale.
Katrina Michaels makes a fine Pinkie, bright, cute (not cutsie) and self-reliant. The actress manages just the right tenor in this clearly period piece.
Tonight’s find is Johnny Wilson (Harry). The attractive Wilson is thoroughly engaging. He moves and sings with skill and an earnest ardor that carries the story ingenuously forward.
Director/Choreographer Mindy Cooper uses the theater well, aisles and balcony inclusive, creates attractive tableaus (clearly a signature), and affects a light, stylized (wink, wink) touch befitting the piece. Her characters could be more unique, but the show is not harmed.
Tristan Raines does an excellent job with period costumes that suit each character and excels at an eventual fancy dress party.
Photos by Michael Portantiere
Opening: Conor M. Hamill, Oakley Boycott, Johnny Wilson, Katrina Michaels
Musicals Tonight presents The World Premiere of Hoi Polloi Libretto, Music, & Lyrics by Noel Coward Edited by Barry Day O.B.E. Directed and Choreographed by Mindy Cooper Music Director/Vocal Arranger David B. Bishop Through November 13, 2016 Musicals Tonight! NEXT: Louisiana Purchase-music and lyrics by Irving Berlin; book by Morrie Ryskind February 28-March 12 2017
If you’ve been hiding under a rock, the beloved 1942 Christmas film Holiday Inn starred Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire as successful song and dance men both in love with Lila, the girl in their act. Preferring a simpler life, Bing/Jim has purchased an Inn where he plans to live with Lila who’s accepted his marriage proposal. At the last minute she decides she’s in love with Fred/Ted and her career. Jim leaves for Midvale, Connecticut alone.
He refurbishes the picturesque place, but unable to support it decides to offer dinner theater as frequently as he needs to keep it going – on holidays. Thus, Holiday Inn. In a mix-up of identities, aspiring performer Linda shows up in Connecticut looking for a job. Here’s where “White Christmas” first comes in as a newly penned song Jim sings to the pretty stranger. By New Year’s Eve, the show’s up and they’re smitten.
Megan Sikora and Corbin Bleu
Meanwhile Lila leaves Ted for a millionaire. Bereft without a partner the moment Hollywood calls, he turns up wildly drunk at the inn on December 31, grabs Linda and dances up a storm. She rescues his inebriated infirmity and makes them look good (unfortunately not well executed here.) The crowd thinks they’re a new team He passes out.
In the morning, Ted remembers her feel in his arms and the look of her legs but can’t otherwise recognize the girl. Offering his celebrity to bring in an audience, he plays several holidays in search of the unknown woman determined to make her his new partner. (A missed comic opportunity is not including the scene where Ted weaves among couples checking out women’s legs much to everyone’s puzzled offense.) Jim can see familiar writing on the wall and takes steps to prevent their meeting…which comically fail. Miscommunication causes a rift but all comes out swell in the end.
Lora Lee Gaynor and Bryce Pinkham
Of the wry, sophisticated, entertaining story, we retain nothing wry or sophisticated. (This includes orchestrations by Larry Blank which sound like summer stock.) Jim Hardy (Bryce Pinkham), Ted Hanover (Corbin Bleu), and Lila Dixon (Megan Sikora) are playing Flatbush when we meet them. So much for the decision to walk away from a highly successful career. She accepts his ring postponing marriage a mere 6 weeks, (uh huh), later showing up at “the farm” to break it off adding another song.
Linda Mason (Lora Lee Gaynor) is a schoolteacher (a former actress of course, though conveniently with zero ambition) whose family used to own the house/inn. Mamie and her children (who were black), Jim’s sole kitchen help and company, have disappeared, undoubtedly for political reasons. Instead we have “fix-it man” Louise (Megan Lawrence dressed like Rosie the Riveter) who takes steps to help her, here, completely hapless boss and plays matchmaker. (Jim has been reconceived as so awkward he seems obtuse.) Also added is a child (Morgan Gao) who works for the local bank?! delivering bills and mortgage notices with admonition. Virtually all his appearances feel out of place.
Corbin Bleu, Lora Lee Gaynor, Bryce Pinkham
Holiday Inn is always televised at the end of the year as its centerpiece is Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas.” Likely in order to prolong touring possibilities, whereas almost all the numbers in the ebullient original took place at the Inn, here we spend time watching glitzy Ted and Lila perform elsewhere. Several production numbers involve a company of theater kids who appear out of nowhere at just the right moment in the Garland/Rooney Let’s Put On a Show mode. We’ve jettisoned intimacy and diminished the love story.
There are 21 songs squished into this facsimile, most brief, many – some obviously – not from the original. It’s like sitting at a restaurant table elbow to elbow with other diners. Few are comfortable. The book is sketchy and often blatantly derivative inserting an occasional wink, wink line from another film. It serves merely to carry us from song to song.
Bryce Pinkham. Megan Lawrence, and The Company
Having said this, I’m trying to imagine how I’d feel about the show if I was unfamiliar with the film. I think I’d find it overstuffed, fragmentary, and homogenized, though parenthetically entertaining. The company is bright, enthusiastic, and good hoofers, especially Mr. Bleu. Overall, voices are excellent. It’s a pleasure to see Bryce Pinkham on stage again, though one wishes him a better vehicle next time. And I look forward to further roles by new-to-me Megan Lawrence who has spirit and brass.
As one of the book writers, Director Gordon Greenberg carried through his vision with continuity. Choreography by Denis Jones is fun. A scene using holiday garlands as jump ropes works splendidly. Anna Louizos’ Set Design is well conceived but looks as if corners were cut in execution.
Costume Designer Alejo Vietti does a yeoman-like job, but excels at millinery. Not only does Bing Crosby’s hat show up later on (no sign of the pipe), but fanciful Easter bonnets are unquestionably the show’s visual highlight.
Also featuring Lee Wilkof as the act’s agent Danny, who doesn’t make enough of his ba-dump-dump lines.
Photos by Joan Marcus Opening: Corbin Bleu, Lora Lee Gaynor, Bryce Pinkham
Roundabout Theatre Company presents The New Irving Berlin Musical Holiday Inn Music & Lyrics by Irving Berlin Book by Gordon Greenberg & Chad Hodge Directed by Gordon Greenberg Choreography by Denis Jones Studio 54 254 West 54th Street Through January 1. 2017
Sunday afternoon I took a mini-vacation with Eric Comstock and Barbara Fasano- well, me and the rest of the audience at Birdland. Like genial tour guides, the couple lead us out of the oven, into the country, and onto the shore; away from traffic, the news, and personal troubles…Three songs in, with “Gone Fishin” (Nick Kenny/ Charles Kenny), it’s all in a rearview mirror. Cows need milkin’ in the barn/ But you just don’t give a – darn. Too true.
These two love the season in which they had their first date and married. I’m susceptible, Fasano sings, I shouldn’t be allowed out at night…she swivels to face Comstock, with anyone like you…longlined notes arc and sigh. (“Incurably Romantic”-James Van Heusen) Hide your heart from sight/Lock your dreams at night/It could happen to you…Comstock affectionately responds to the rhythm of a measured cha-cha. (“It Could Happen to You”-Sammy Cahn/Johnny Burke.) They play off each other with the illusive ease of a practiced trapeze act.
An unusual pairing of Vivian Ellis’s “Wind in the Willows” and Sting’s “Fields of Gold” create a story as do “Witchcraft” (Carolyn Leigh/Cy Coleman) and “How Little We Know” (Phil Springer.) During the latter, Fasano steps gently side to side. In her hands, this is not just a love song, it’s a life lesson. Sean Smith’s bass acts as backbone, piano notes are clear, singular, yet symbiotic.
“The Shining Sea” arrives with such delicacy, it’s as if we’re watching footprints in the sand gradually disappear. When a seagull lyrically tips its wings, so, sad and pensive, does Fasano. Comstock strokes the keys. Smith leans out as if gaining perspective, then curls around his instrument like a backwards C. (Johnny Mandel/ Peggy Lee’s title song for The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming)
Fasano’s rendition of Irving Berlin’s “Blue Skies” is one of my favorite Comstock arrangements. Classical piano accompaniment and bowed bass support languid phrases as they melodically hitch rides on a summer breeze. Control is impeccable.
Comstock shares the male point of view of Francesca Blumenthal’s fine “The Lies of Handsome Men” through the author’s less performed “Fireflies:” They shine and shimmer, lead you on/But the light grows dimmer comes the dawn…’A lovely song eloquently rendered. The performer remains urbane, but reflective, cottony tone allows us to hear hurt beneath sophistication. This is a nuanced singer, an untrained natural. His “Come By Sunday” (Murray Grand) arrives spirited and sassy- can you call a man sassy? Part spoken throwaways, part sung, delivery is seriously hip- which can’t be taught.
Jim Lowe’s wry “The Hamptons” There’s an awful lot of here here/But never for the square here… is sultry, flirty, flip.
We’ve experienced the best part of being away without waiting in an airport line or getting stuck in traffic. Eric Comstock and Barbara Fasano exude mutual respect and warmth: a pat on the hip here, a pursed- lips-kiss across the piano there, the shared piano bench. “It’s not as if we’re competitive about breath control,” she quips having counted off the last note of Billy Strayhorn’s sashaying “You’re The One” on her fingers at the end of a duet. Our audience leaves refreshed, awash in infectious good spirits.
Opening photo Jeff Fasano
Second photo by Gianni Valenti
Queens born Ethel Merman (1908-1984) sang publicly from the age of nine. Completing school, determined to forge a show business career, she performed nights after full time work as a stenographer. Merman was discovered in a club, offered a contract by Paramount, and made a series of short, cookie-cutter-plotted films.
Her breakout theatrical role in “Girl Crazy” put the incipient icon at the forefront of musical theater transition from operetta to jazz-based scores. The orchestra pit of George and Ira Gershwin’s show held Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey and Gene Krupa. One review said “She can hold a note longer than The Chase Manhattan Bank.” Merman starred in 14 Broadway successes.
We learn all this during Ted Sperling’s introduction to an evening of Merman numbers almost none of which represent the spirit of the artist. When the host informs us the company will not try to impersonate the celebrant, but rather share the joy of her singing, we assume that means not imitating her vocal style.
Instead, slowed and weighted musical arrangements with dissonant instrumental solos by otherwise good musicians and two a capella choral numbers that can’t be further from the singer’s essence, make the presentation seem longer than its almost 2 ½ hours. A sing-along with lyrics projected is assigned to a complex a song and quickly loses the audience. Direction dictates that naturally animated numbers are performed almost stock still. (Several artists’ tendencies to put their hands in pockets doesn’t help.) Hard working vocalists seem tethered.
Having said that, Sperling does deliver a sense of Merman’s trajectory, her becoming a sassy broad who could hold her own with the guys, professional idiosyncrasies, and personal challenges. We’re privy to a couple of priceless film clips, some nifty anecdotes, and there are entertaining musical exceptions.
Ted Sperling, Lindsay Mendez
Lindsay Mendez, perhaps the closest reflection of La Merman not only in lung power, but in energy, pluck, and unaffected presentation, offers such as “You’re a Builder-Upper” (Ira Gershwin/EY Yip Harburg/Harold Arlen from Life Begins at 8:40)- crisply articulated and sparkling with exemplary player-piano like accompaniment and “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” (Stephen Sondheim/Jule Styne from Gypsy, a musical that was turned down by Irving Berlin) wherein some octave changes are very Merman-like, but performance is ultimately her own.
Natasha Yvette Williams gives us “Eadie Was a Lady” with spot-on instincts when to sing or speak a lyric, big eyes, rolling hips, and a bit of an appealing growl. (BG De Sylva/Nacio Herb Brown/Richard A Whiting from Take A Chance!) Cole Porter’s “Blow, Gabriel Blow” (from Anything Goes), on the other hand, is curiously bereft of exuberance until 2/3 of the way in. Undoubtedly not her fault. Williams preaches with zest and aptitude looking in audience faces.
Natasha Yvette Williams
Julia Murney’s rendition of Cole Porter’s “Down in The Depths On the Ninetieth Floor” is too big and depicts misplaced sexuality. (from Red, Hot, and Blue for which contested billing was decided by printing Merman and Jimmy Durante’s names graphically crossed.) Though the vocalist has a good instrument with fine control, she overacts. “Small World,” however, accompanied only by Kevin Kuhn’s guitar, is lilting and sincere. (Stephen Sondheim/Jule Styne from Gypsy)
The excellent Charke Thorell sings a jazz-age tinted “Anything Goes” (Cole Porter from the musical of the same name) with some easy scat and a breezy, cutely directed “You’re the Top” (Cole Porter from Anything Goes) with Emily Skinner. His interpretation of “Do I Love You?” following Sperling’s description of tragedies in Merman’s life, is handicapped by clear instruction to appear inconsolable. Vocal is pristine. (Cole Porter from DuBarry Was a Lady)
Clarke Thorell, Emily Skinner
Emily Skinner’s “Some People” is pithy and clarion without over-reaching. (Stephen Sondheim/ Jule Styne from Gypsy) Her version of “A Lady Needs a Change” (Dorothy Fields/Arthur Schwartz from Stars in Your Eyes) is aply wry. The rarely performed “World Take Me Back” has just the right tone. (Jerry Herman, written for Merman in Hello Dolly, cut from the original Carol Channing version when Merman at first turned the show down.) Skinner makes lyrics authentic.
Perhaps the highlight of the evening “You Say the Nicest Things” is jauntily performed by Williams and Thoreau AS Merman and Jimmy Durante for whom the song was written. Both vocal and movement are charming. Thorell excels. (Dick Manning/Carroll Carroll- special material)
An experiment in which two “double duets” – “You’re Just in Love” (Irving Berlin from Call Me Madam) and “An Old Fashioned Wedding” (Berlin from Annie Get Your Gun) are sung first, separately, and then simultaneously, surprisingly works as novel discovery. Both songs are sung in counterpoint, yet have such similar construction, lyrics sync. Skinner and Williams perform the first, Mendez and Thorell, the second-this delightfully expressive.
92Y Lyrics & Lyricists presents Everything’s Coming Up Ethel-The Ethel Merman Songbook Ted Sperling- Artistic Director/Stage Director/Writer/Host Jeffrey Klitz-Music Director/Piano Lainie Sakakura-Associate Director/Choreographer Theresa L. Kaufman Concert Hall 92 Y at 92nd and Lexington Avenue NEXT UP:I Have Confidence-Rodgers After Hammerstein– May 21-23