Marin Mazzie and Jason Danieley, husband and wife, appeared at Feinstein’s/54 Below on Memorial Day evening, and will again each evening through June 1, celebrating (slightly in advance) their 20th anniversary. Mazzie has won the Outer Critics Circle Award and been nominated for the Tony, Olivier and Drama Desk Awards; sort of the Susan Lucci of musical theater – everyone is certain that she is deserving, but no one is sure about the timing. Danieley is a lauded (and decorated) Broadway tenor noted by, among others, Harold Prince for his acting and Ben Brantley for his voice. The pair met in an off-Broadway production of Trojan Women: A Love Story in 1996. Although each is a stellar performer individually, when they perform together it is a lovely thing to hear and to see. Cabaret and Broadway typically rely on slightly different musical skills. Cabaret, taking songs out of context, calls for musicality and emotion to deliver the goods. Theater requires channeling the character; musicality is subordinate. Mazzie and Danieley deliver both without strain. These are polished professionals who can be counted on to include something special with each performance.
The anniversary theme had Mazzie and Danieley performing songs from their performance careers – so the numbers themselves did not adhere to any organizing principle other than casting success. They opened with a duet medley from their Trojan Women production – significant to their marriage but less so musically. Nonetheless it was an effective welcome to a warmly supportive full house.
Mazzie followed this with a heartfelt “Hello Young Lovers” (Rogers & Hammerstein) from her recent portrayal of Anna Leonowens (The King and I) conveying a musical and emotional range that made one wish to have seen the entire performance. Danieley followed this with two numbers from South Pacific (again, Rogers & Hammerstein), “Younger than Springtime” (in a traditional but very effective rendition) and “You Have to be Carefully Taught.” Both performers project a warm and confident sound with the subtlety to overlay an appropriate emotional impact and the intelligence and experience to know the weight of the lyrics.
A few numbers down the road, Mazzie and Danieley performed the obligatory Sondheim medley – without which musical theater lovers cannot digest a meal (and the food was indeed appetizing). The medley was wonderful in all respects not the least of which is the brilliance of the lyrics and music. But Mazzie and Danieley did justice to both as actors and singers. The medley included a lovely rendition of “Happiness” (Passion), “Good Thing Going” and “Not a Day Goes By” (Merrily We Roll Along), an especially moving “Too Many Mornings” (Follies), and “Move On” (Sunday in the Park with George). They, and the audience, enjoyed particularly the varied and lush arrangements delivered by sidemen Joseph Thalken as music director, Peter Donovan on brass and Rich Rosensweig on percussion.
Emotional songs from the less well known The Visit and Curtains (both Kander & Ebb) and Fiorello (Bock & Harnick) brought back fond memories. Danieley had discussed the writing of “I Miss the Music” (Curtains) with John Kander who had, by that time, lost his long-time creative partner, Fred Ebb. Kander commented that he had in mind, when writing, not his own loss of Ebb but of how Mazzie and Danieley would address their mutual loss; the song was essentially written for them.
Mazzie shattered the somewhat nostalgic calm by discussing her diagnosis of ovarian cancer and subsequent remission, noting how her own thoughts were echoed by the lyrics of Kander and Ebb in “And The World Goes Round” from the show of the same name. A loving rendition of “Back to Before” from Ragtime (Aherns & Flaherty) got a well deserved electric response from the audience.
Mazzie and Danieley graciously thanked the staff of Feinstein’s/54 Below, especially the “mixologist” who had created a cocktail for the anniversary event – in a fair approximation of teal – the color now adopted to signify the battle against ovarian cancer, and the lighting guru who managed to bathe the room in a similarly exotic hue to lend atmosphere to the final number “Opposite You” (Aherns & Flaherty). A warm encore of “Our Love is Here to Stay” (Gershwin & Gershwin) closed the evening to a standing ovation. The audience could not have been more appreciative or enthusiastic with the evening, and they showed sound judgment.
Feinstein’s/54 Below offers a welcoming atmosphere, a gracious and efficient staff, a stylish performance space with a raised stage and nicely even amplification. Mazzie and Danieley are performing at Feinstein’s/54 Below (254 West 54th Street) from May 29 to June 1, 2017.
Photos by Fred R. Cohen
92Y’s estimable Lyrics & Lyricists series ended its current season with a bang as the excellent Ted Chapin, President & Chief Creative Officer of Rodgers & Hammerstein, presented an evening illuminating Richard Rodgers and his work after the death of iconic collaborator Oscar Hammerstein II.
Not just a celebration, the show gave us a glimpse into the artist’s behavior, philosophy and process. This was imaginatively accomplished with a combination of excerpts from filmed interviews with the composer, his family, and associates, narrative by our knowledgeable host, and actor Larry Pine playing the honoree, utilizing Rodger’s own words. Chapin’s light touch and selectivity are always a pleasure. Pine is terrific, not just reading, but embodying the celebrant. Pleasing arrangements by Joseph Thalken, Charming Stage Direction/Choreography by Lorin Latarro, and evocative Projections by Matthew Haber, create a well crafted show.
Larry Pine as Richard Rodgers
“There is no valid reason for hiding honest emotion.” Richard Rodgers
Chapin divides Richard Rodgers life into three chapters: collaboration with Lorenz Hart in the 1920s and 1930s, collaboration with Oscar Hammerstein II through World War II, and a robust afterward reflected in tonight’s show. “If I am successful,” Pine declares as Rodgers, “I know full well it’s because some of the talents of Oscar and Larry (Hart) have rubbed off on me.”
Rodgers lyric writing began with the updated 1962 remake of the film State Fair starring Ann Margaret, Pat Boone and Bobby Darren- not exactly performers to whom one might turn for a Rodgers and Hammerstein interpretation, and continued in tandem with composing through his last musical, 1979’s I Remember Mama.
We hear songs from and stories about No Strings, the film of The Sound of Music , Do I Hear a Waltz? (lyrics-Stephen Sondheim), Androcles and the Lion, Two by Two (lyrics Martin Charnin), Rex (lyrics Sheldon Harnick) and I Remember Mama (lyrics Martin Charnin) as performed by four talented vocalists, each of whom had best moments.
Karen Ziemba, too long away from the Broadway stage, captivated with a rendition of “Loads of Love” (No Strings) which offered characterization, grace and infectious brightness. Every major theater turned the show down because it crossed a color line with its interracial relationship. It landed on 54th Street.
“I know I give the appearance of not being sentimental, but this isn’t true. I believe people have an emotional need for melody just as they need food.” Richard Rodgers
Subdued until her performance of “Someone Woke Up,” Leona’s joyful discovery of Venice from Do I Hear a Waltz?, Betsy Wolfe irresistibly tries to take in everything at once. A perfect ingenue, she moves with ease and innocence. Contralto is confident and appealing, soaring without stress. Rodgers felt that trying to emulate the sound of a place or culture was a mistake and stuck to his own musical ideas wherever and whenever a musical was located.
Betsy Wolfe; Ben Crawford
A buoyant “What Do We Do? We Fly!” from the same show is performed by the company. Ostensibly crammed into tiered airline seats, they gesture and complain with graphic frustration.
Ben Crawford’s vocals, though technically lovely, seem self conscious until he inhabits Noah in “Ninety Again” from Two by Two. Singing to and flirting with his astonished wife, Esther, cavorting all over the stage like a gleeful 17 year-old, ending with a buck-and-wing and push-ups, Crawford’s throat opens to reveal resonance and sincerity. The Broadway show’s esteemed star, Danny Kaye, tore a ligament, returned in a wheelchair, and became ungovernable, ad-libbing and pinching the ladies.
The song is followed by “An Old Man” performed by Ziemba as Esther. The hug that he gives you is hardly a hug…Accompanied only by piano, the actress brims with weathered affection. It’s truly touching.
Chapin tells us a sweet story shared by lyricist Sheldon Harnick who was nervous working with the forbidding Rodgers at a time in his life when the composer needed lyric structure on which to build. Harnick was fearful of being graded and found wanting, yet Rodgers appeared visibly relieved when his new collaborator expressed enthusiasm at the setting of an early tune.
Crawford and Wolfe offer “Away From You” (Rex), a song played for Andrew Lloyd Weber by his father who considered it one of the best melodies of the 20th century. (Rodgers was Lloyd Weber’s idol.) Both performers are engaging, strings add winning texture.
“Strangers” (Androcles and the Lion) is begun by T. Oliver Reid whose gentle, cottony delivery floats the lyrics. He and Betsy Wolfe, who joins the expressive duet, aptly end up back to back on a stool. Reid’s vibrato-filled “I Do Not Know a Day I Didn’t Love You” (Two by Two) sounds like operetta. His precise tenor seems swept away by emotion.
We close with the company’s “Sing Me a Song” (Rex), a waltz by an artist one can arguably call America’s waltz king. It’s an oom-pah-pah arrangement, at one point even vocally simulating a calliope. Everyone’s smiling.
Richard Rodgers was by all reports an outwardly gruff man- something writer Sherman Yellen recognized as symptomatic of his generation, and an alcoholic, yet wrote some of the most timeless, romantic melodies in the annals of American music (not to mention unexpected lyrics.) His work is immortal. Ted Chapin has more than done Rodgers justice with this eloquent evening.
Joseph Thalken (piano), Karen Ziemba, T.Oliver Reid, Ben Crawford, Betsy Wolfe
Theater novices are often teased by veterans into looking for the key to the curtain. “I’ve been in the theater more than half a century…all my life I’ve been looking for that key and I’m still looking.” Richard Rodgers
Photos by Richard Termine
Opening: Joseph Thalken (piano), Ben Crawford, Betsy Wolfe, T.Oliver Reid, Karen Ziemba
92Y Lyrics & Lyricists presents
I Have Confidence: Rodgers After Hammerstein
Ted Chapin-Artistic Director/Writer/Host
Joseph Thalken-Music Director/Arrangements/ Orchestrations
Based on a concept by Bill Rudman of “On the Aisle”
92Y at Lexington Avenue and 92nd Street
Next Season’s Lyrics & Lyricists begins with Get Happy: Harold Arlen’s Early Years