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.
The third and last in Musicals In Mufti’s Jule Styne series is 1961/62 Subways Are For Sleeping. Handicapped by initially negative reviews and the MTA’s unwillingness to post ads, producer David Merrick famously secured and printed laudatory quotes from ordinary people with the same names as New York critics. Though the stunt was discovered, publicity helped box office. Lyricist Adolph Green’s wife, Phyllis Newman, won the Tony Award that year for Best Supporting Actress. It’s easy to imagine her comic abilities in the role of kooky Martha Vail. I find it curious Subways hasn’t been revived before now. It has charm and more than a few worthy songs.
Eric William Morris and Alyse Alan Louis
Young magazine journalist Angie McKay (Alyse Alan Lewis) pitches an article to her editor Myra (Beth Glover) about an underground populous who dress like businessmen but are, in fact, homeless and without employment. The men gather daily at Grand Central Station where nominal leader, Tom Bailey (Eric William Morris), dispenses information on places to safely sleep and short term jobs. Bailey gets these tips from doormen and superintendents to whom he altruistically delivers coffee. Somehow the homeless eat and keep their suits clean, narrowly escaping vagrancy laws. They seem a fairly accepting lot – no drama here. Survival methodology is part cleverness, part fairytale.
David Josefsberg and Gina Milo
Angie and Tom naturally fall in love. Meanwhile, once wealthy underground denizen, Charlie (David Josefsberg), and sweet, dumb blonde, ex-pageant contestant Martha Vail (Gina Milo) – who spends almost the entire show in a towel (just shrug it off) – also become a couple. Angie gets a conscience, Charlie acquires ambition. It all works out in a way that helps street people as far as imagination reaches.
Alyse Alan Louis (Angie) has a lovely voice, but performs with so little expression we literally observe nothing but a smile at the end. Surely the character feels something else over the course of the story.
In contrast, Eric William Morris (Tom) is appealingly animated throughout. Immediately credible, we feel more sympathetic towards his character than the leading lady, not, I think what the show’s authors intended. Morris has a fine voice and moves with spirit.
Karl Joseph Co, Beth Glover, Kilty Reidy, David Engel, Kathryn McCreary, Gerry McIntrye, Alyse Alan Louis, Eric William Morris
Gina Milo plays Martha as if the part were written for her. She’s an excellent comedienne replete with southern accent, habitually flirty demeanor, smarter-than-she-seems innocence, and below-the-surface tenderness.
David Josefberg is adorable as the uber-sincere, completely smitten Charlie. His number “I Just Can’t Wait” (to see you with clothes on) is a comic highlight. An actor of multi-faceted talent.
The assembled cast is vivacious. Direction by Stuart Ross is zippy and evocative despite the minimalism of Mufti. Lacey Erb’s Projection Design splendidly substitutes for scenery. Many photos are so specific, they appear to have been shot for the piece.
Also featuring: David Engel, Kilty Reidy, Karl Josef Co, Gerry McIntyre, Beth Glover, Kathryn McCreary, Beth Glover
Photos by Ben Strothmann
Opening: Top row (left to right): Beth Glover, Kilty Reidy, Karl Joseph Co, Gerry McIntrye, David Engel, Kathryn McCreary. Seated (left to right): Eric William Morris, Alyse Alan Louis, Gina Milo, David Josefsberg
The York Theatre Company presents Musicals in Mufti Subways Are For Sleeping Book and Lyrics-Betty Comden and Adolph Green Suggested by the book by Edmund G. Love Music – Jule Styne Directed by Stuart Ross Music Direction/Piano-David Hancock Turner; George Farmer- Bass The York Theatre 619 Lexington Ave. in St. Peter’s Church Through March 4, 2018 NEXT: The Musical of Musicals -The Musical April 9, 2018
York Theatre’s 108th Musicals in Mufti, Hallelujah Baby!, was an attempt by its four liberal authors to put salve on race torn America. It won the Best Musical Tony Award in 1968 and made a star of young Leslie Uggams. In 2004, feeling its take on the black experience had been too soft, book writer Arthur Laurents endeavored to rectify this for a revival with changes in script and additional lyrics by Adolph Green’s daughter, Amanda Green. The story remains sketchy, but has perhaps removed its rose colored glasses.
Georgina (Stephanie Umoh) shepherds us through one African American woman’s history from 1910 to 1960 (with epilogue). Neither she nor other characters age outwardly (she’s 25), but all must deal with societal change affecting thoughts, feelings, and behavior.
Stephanie Umoh and Tally Sessions
Mamma was a slave. (Vivian Reed with attitude, spot-on timing and splendid vocals.) She accepts her role as a cleaning lady, even putting on exaggerated accent and obeisance to please those for whom she works. Rules are clear, expectations minimal. Her daughter neither “cringes nor shuffles” sufficiently. Georgina is a proud rebel. She wants her “own morning,” bed, man…Sweetheart Clem (a sincere Jarran Muse), puts weekly money towards a house whose price rises every time they almost have enough. Her life seems mapped.
Unexpectedly approached by a white man – Harvey (Tally Sessions) who’s putting on a play at the local Bijou Theater, Georgina finds herself ironically cast as exactly the kind of maid she’s refused to be in real life. Still, it’s a role, she’s earning her own money and, for the first time, perceives a way out. When the white theater owner (Michael Thomas Holmes, terrific as a wide variety of distinctively realized characters) objects to a black woman onstage, Harvey quits. Not only is he completely without prejudice, he’s sweet on her.
Tally Sessions, Vivian Reed, Jarran Muse
Through the years, Harvey and Clem move from profession to profession while competing for the feisty, ambitious Georgina – not the most likeable heroine you’ll ever meet. She puts vociferously them both off – Clem because he often doesn’t approve of her choices and never seems to offer enough, and the utterly selfless Harvey because she sees the impossibility of an interracial couple- and really, still loves Clem. Mamma, who tags along with her daughter’s upward mobility, never lets go of her own cynical views.
There’s bigotry/segregation, gambling, bootlegging, performing in feathers, squatting in an abandoned Chinese restaurant, entering theaters by the back door, the WPA – including musical Shakespeare, breadlines, Communism, USO work (still segregated), the first time someone address Georgina as “m’am”, an apartment with a river view, the Civil Rights Movement, performing at The White House…
In a larger sense, the musical is about realizing who your bretheren are and taking responsibility.
Also featuring Randy Donaldson, Bernard Dotson Jennifer Cody (who adds spark) and Latoya Edwards
Stephanie Umoh has a powerful, clear voice. The actress is convincingly frustrated, selfish and aggressive. She seems to add pith to the show that Uggams didn’t possess.
Tally Sessions’ Harvey is believable from the get-go. The actor brings authenticity to every speech, glance, and song. He has fine vocal style and is thoroughly appealing.
Director Gerry McIntyre is adept with both vivacity and gravitas. Choreography is appropriate and fun; emotional moments theatrically credible. Southern accents land.
Photos by Ben Strothmann Opening: Jarran Muse, Vivian Reed, Stephanie Umoh
Musicals in Mufti NEXT: February 10-18 Bar Mitzvah Boy Don Black/Jule Styne February 24-March 4 Subways Are For Sleeping Betty Comden/Adolph Green/ Jule Styne
The York Theatre Company’s Musicals in Mufti presents Hallelujah Baby! Music-Jule Style; Lyrics-Betty Comden, Adolph Green Additional Lyrics-Amanda Green Book- Arthur Laurents Directed by Gerry McIntyre Music Direction/Piano- David Hancock Turner; Bass- Richie Goods Through Sunday February 4, 2018 York Theatre 619 Lexington Avenue at St. Peter’s Church
Thirty-four years into musical marriage, Jeff Harnar and Alex Rybeck epitomize fertile affinity. Both artists continue to grow while playing off one another with the kind of secret language of long time couples. This is evident even in the revival of a 2000 Firebird Cafe show which emerges timeless. (The original CD is available.)
Sammy Cahn (1913-1933) né Samuel Cohen (no relation) put more words into the mouth of Frank Sinatra than any other lyricist. In addition to hit parade songs, he wrote films and musicals garnering 26 Academy Award nominations, four Oscars, and an Emmy. Listening to Cahn is like spending time with an old friend.
After a brief overture, Harnar begins with the iconic “All the Way” (music-James Van Heusen), his voice full, rich, unwavering. A 1950s arrangement of “Teach Me Tonight” (music-Gene De Paul), riding on finger snaps and bowed bass, gives the vocalist opportunity to duet with Rybeck using startling falsetto of which he’s apparently fond. Teach me- do-do-ten-do-do-do, he sings hopefully while sax loops around phrasing.
A tender “It’s Magic” (Jule Styne) – eyebrows rise on the second word – emerges with music box piano and skating flute. Harnar seems besotted. “I’ll Never Stop Loving You” (music & lyrics Nicolas Brodsky/Sammy Cahn) showcases mindful bass, ardent piano and the vocalist’s sincerity with ballads. Both were written for Doris Day films. Intermittent patter here is light, informative.
Other engaging serenades include “I Fall in Love Too Easily” (music & lyrics Jule Styne/ Sammy Cahn) and “I’ll Always Miss Her When I Think of Her”…and I’ll think of her all the time… (music-James Van Heusen.) The first, with a 3am-mellow-sax intro, finds Harnar reflective. …I fall in love (pause) too terribly hard…he reminds himself with a sigh, perched on what might be a bar stool. Every sentiment is convincing.
Three Sinatra hits written with James Van Heusen bounce in with infectious feel-good attitude. Snapped fingers, cool bass, and teasing flute like a backstroking Disney bird freshen “Come Fly With Me,” here, a tempting invitation. During “Ain’t That a Kick in the Head,” Harnar practically emits bubbles. For “Tender Trap,” he’s a wide-eyed ingénue. Honestly. Adorable. On stage movement and gestures are minimal, easy, appropriate. The performer is at home up there, engaging his audience with warmth and skill.
A World War II medley with Rybeck and Egan joining Harnar’s vocals was, for me, a highlight. The three of them plus whomever should do a show comprised of these and other selections. Though “Saturday Night” …is the loneliest night of the week…(music-Jule Styne) is a bit smiley for its lyrics, the other three selections are pitch-perfect.
A plaintive “I’ll Walk Alone” (music-Jule Styne) would’ve captured the heart of every woman waiting for her fella to come home. “Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen…Means That You’re Grand” (Sholem Secunda/Sammy Cahn & Saul Chaplin) with one of the best vocal arrangements I’ve heard of this, is irresistibly spirited. By “It’s Been a Long, Long Time” (music-Jule Styne), the artist has us in the palm of his hand. “Everybody sing!” he encourages, and we do.
Caveat: One might easily do without “Everybody Has a Right To Be Wrong,” a wordy monologue written for that singing fool, Julie Harris.” (music- James Van Heusen for Skyscraper, a show one critic called “Floor Scraper.”)
We close with a rendition of “Time After Time” (music-Jule Styne) –piano creating figure-eights, that embraces the room (another splendid vocal arrangement) and “My Kind of Town (Chicago Is)” (music-Jimmy Van Heusen) in jubilant razzamatazz mode.
This is a real taste of the wonderful Cahn – fastidiously arranged, written, directed, and performed by adroit musicians all of whom appear to be having as good a time as the audience. The urbane Jeff Harnar is in first rate voice.
Show Photos by Maryann Lopinto
Photo of Sammy Cahn- Wikipedia
Jeff Harnar sings Sammy Cahn All The Way
Barry Kleinbort- Director
Alex Rybeck- Music Director
Jered Egan-Bass & back-up vocals, Mark Phaneuf- Sax/Flute
Jule Styne (Julius Kerwin Stein 1905-1994) was a British American songwriter who contributed to over 1500 published songs (“All of which we’re going to do for you today,” Harvey Granat quips) and 25 Broadway shows. He earned 10 Academy Award nominations, winning one. Styne was a 10 year-old prodigy, a favorite pianist at Chicago mob clubs, played in a band, and acted as vocal coach at Twentieth Century Fox. Sammy Cahn was his first writing partner.
Granat sings their first hit, 1944’s “I Walk Alone” in prime, lilting balladeer mode. “They ask me why” he says, and I tell them I’d rather/There are dreams I must gather…he croons, making the song intimate. Success kept coming for the duo. “Good songs historically rise out of bleak times,” Reed comments referring to The Depression and WWII.“Because people have to have a way to express hope…I have a feeling that in the next four years, we might get some nice songs.”
We hear “Time After Time” (from It Happened in Brooklyn) with mid-tempo, jazz colored piano and then sing along with 1945’s “Let It Snow,” written during a Los Angeles heat wave. An inordinate number of the large audience know every word.
Reed shares the story of Doris Mary Ann Kappelhoff’s discovery: Just divorced, the young woman was in Los Angeles crying her eyes out, living in a trailer park with her son, trying unsuccessfully to break into radio. She had borrowed money to take a bus back East when her agent invited her to a party at Jule Styne’s suggesting “free food.” Resistant, she accompanied him. The host had seen her sing at a little club in New York and coaxed Doris to perform. A rendition of “Embraceable You” earned her an audition at Warner Brothers.
Unaware that Jack Warner had rejected the aspirant as being “sexless,” she was hired by Director Michael Curtiz to star in Romance on the High Seas with a score by Cahn and Styne. Doris Day became the biggest star in Hollywood. Granat offers her signature number from the film, “It’s Magic.” All I can say is that if he sang it to you, you’d follow him home.
Cahn and Styne were commissioned to write “Three Coins in the Fountain” as a title song for another film. The studio returned their composition demanding a bridge. “I was determined to write the worst bridge ever conceived,” Cahn told Granat many years later. He wrote: Which one will the fountain bless? /Which one will the fountain bless? The song won 1954’s Academy Award. Granat sings like a storyteller. Come to think of it, he kind of tells stories lyrically, like a vocalist.
From the show Hazel Flagg, written with Bob Hilliard, there’s “How Do You Speak to An Angel?”/I’m completely in the dark/When you know you’ve just met an angel/Is there a proper remark?…Lovely. Out of Bells Are Ringing, written with Betty Comden and Adolph Green, we all sing “Just in Time” and “The Party’s Over.” “You’re lucky if you get one hit song in a show, he’d get four or five,” Reed remarks appreciatively. “Long Before I Knew You” arrives with yearning salved by love.
When Stephen Sondheim was brought onto the team developing Gypsy, he had just written the lyrics for West Side Story and made it clear that this time he wanted to author both music and lyrics. Ethel Merman, however, demanded the bankable Styne. Sondheim would’ve backed out had not his mentor Oscar Hammerstein II recommended he do the musical. “June Havoc (Baby June) always said, she was not my mother,” Reed asserts. “There was a lot of backstage tension and resentment. When Merman was on stage, she played a completely different show.” Both men agree it’s an extraordinary piece. Two numbers from the classic come next.
In the course of this afternoon’s entertainment, Reed himself performs two songs. “The trick is to choose ones nobody knows so they have nothing with which to compare.” His version of “Blame My Absent Minded Heart” (from It’s a Great Feeling) is gentle and cottony with the word “heart” palpably exhaled. “You Love Me” (from West Point Story) is sincere, if less memorable. The writer tells a great story, remembers endless facts and seems to have known everybody worth knowing. He recalls Styne as always cheerful and unusually ready to play at his own terrific dinner parties.
Though Do, Re, Me, (also with Comden & Green) had little staying power, it gave birth to the iconic “Make Someone Happy” which today emerges with music in which you want to walk barefoot. “Ain’t that true?” whispers Granat. We learn that the title role in Funny Girl (written with Bob Hilliard) was offered to and turned down by both Mary Martin and Carol Burnett, who felt Fannie Brice should be played by a Jewish woman. It was, of course by the young Barbra Streisand whose stardom was cemented. The room sings “People.” Granat is low key, but insistent, his hand balling into a fist on needing other children.
At the top of the event, in light of the election, Harvey Grant promised a stress-free hour plus. And so it was. We all left smiling.
Other notable Styne shows include: Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, Sugar (based on the film Some Like it Hot), and Hallelujah Baby!
Granat co-produced four-time Academy Award winning songwriter, Sammy Cahn, on Broadway in Words And Music, which had a successful run and toured throughout the US and abroad.
Frank Loesser 1910-1969 was the composer/lyricist who wrote Guys and Dolls, How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, and The Most Happy Fella, garnering Tony Awards for the first two, the Pulitzer Prize and a Grammy for the recording of the second, and multiple nominations for the third. Writing innumerable songs for the hit parade and film, he won The Academy Award in 1949 for “Baby It’s Cold Outside.” Susan Loesser tells us her father disdained awards – but kept them.
Loesser apparently got little support from a strict mother and constant criticism from his half-brother. His father, a classical piano teacher, never taught his son. Frank played by ear. Acceptance was a lifetime issue. As a boy, he was “a troublemaker…I think he went in the direction he did partly as rebellion,” Susan tells us. Though Loesser had to go to work when his father died, the young man turned as soon as possible to Tin Pan Alley where he got paid $100 a week for all the songs he could come up with. At this point he was just writing lyrics.
Offered work in Hollywood, his weekly salary rose to $200, but the author retained no rights to over 100 songs written for films. Here he worked with a number of lyricists including Burton Lane, “I Hear Music,” Friedrich Hollander, “See What the Boys in the Back Room Will Have,” and Hoagy Carmichael, “Heart and Soul” and “Two Sleepy People.” Granat’s graceful, soft-shoe rendition of the last swings like a southern hammock.
Susan remembers her father’s peculiar work habits as sleeping three to four hours, rising at 5 a.m, doing a little writing, having a martini at 11 a.m., doing a little writing, perhaps taking a nap, and going out at night. Our host performs a lilting “I Don’t Want to Walk Without You” (written with Jule Styne), feeding us the lyrics. There are always sing-along opportunities at a Granat event. “I’ll be taking this group on the road,” he quips.
Loesser apparently lived by two professional rules: Loud is Good and I write the song, don’t change it. This caused quite an altercation on the set of Guys and Dolls when the author tried to instruct Sinatra how to phrase his work.
World War II Songs included “They’re Either Too Yong or Too Old” and “Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition.” With the latter, Loesser began writing his own music. The period also produced “Spring Will Be A Little Late This Year” which Granat renders wistful and wounded with eloquent retards. “His lyrics have a sense of the way people really talk,” our host comments. David Lahm’s piano accompaniment is lovely.
“What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?” was set in a film during Spring. Susan tells us her father hated its always being performed during the holidays with no awareness/appreciation of original intention. Raised in a Los Angeles home filled with celebrities, “Until we moved to New York, I thought when you grew up you became famous.”
Now a commonly used colloquial, “Slow Boat to China” was a big success for the writer. Granat sings, we join.”Sing Out!” he encourages. The terrific, contrapuntal duet “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” was created to give Mr. and Mrs. Loesser party material to perform together. When Loesser sold “their song” his wife was very upset.
“Where’s Charlie? , the author’s first Broadway show, featured Ray Bolger “in full female regalia.” Granat (and co.) performs a charming “Once In Love with Amy.” One night Bolger forgot the lyrics. In the audience, producer Cy Feuer’s young son rose and supplied what was missing. Someone suggested the crowd sing along and it became a tradition, wildly popularizing the number. A cottony “I’ve Never Been In Love Before” follows. Small sighs are emitted among us.
“My mother, Lynn, co-produced The Most Happy Fella and was very involved in casting. She went looking for Rosabella, found Jo Sullivan, and said to my father, go hear her sing. You’ll love her. And he did.” Sullivan became both the show’s lead and Loesser’s second wife.
“Somebody Somewhere” (…wants me and needs me…) is stirring and resonant. Susan Loesser seems to look inward briefly before turning to Granat with a small smile. This number particularly touches her. The show was especially important to Loesser because his brother praised it. Everyone seems to know the lyrics to the jaunty “Standing On the Corner.”
The issue with How To Success In Business… was Rudy Vallee who felt he was too big a star to take direction. “I’ve spent a lifetime introducing songs my way…” Vallee so provoked Loesser that the writer quit and stormed off. “It took Feuer five telegrams to get him back,” Susan relates. Loesser wrote that his producer should have hit the egotistical film actor. The last telegram read: Come back! I’ll hit him. Granat cheerily percolates with “I Believe In You.”
Loesser’s last efforts were unsuccessful. Changing musical tastes in the 60s and 70s made him feel both lost and betrayed by Broadway. He set up the licensing organization Music Theater International and mentored upcoming talent. The author died of lung cancer at the young age of 59 leaving a legacy that remains robust today.
Another enjoyable and informative afternoon event with Harvey Granat.
Photos of Frank Loesser Used by Permission of Frank Loesser Enterprises Opening photo: Harvey Granat, Susan Loesser, David Lahm courtesy of the event
Songs & Stories With Harvey Granat- On Frank Loesser Special Guest, Loesser’s Daughter and Biographer, Susan Loesser David Lahm-Piano 92 Street Y 92nd Street at Lexington Avenue NEXT: On Jule Styne with Special Guest Rex Reed – November 10 On Burt Bacharach with Special Guest Will Friedwald – December 8
The 9th show in Stephen Hanks estimable New York Cabaret’s Greatest Hits series celebrates Laurie Krauz and Daryl Kojak’s 25 years of musical collaboration. “We’ve been working together since the world wide web went public,” she quips. It’s also a where-have-I-been-all-these-years revelation. Formidably talented, the duo, (with Sean Conly on bass and Gene Lewin, drums), represent a fortuitous coming together the universe doesn’t often facilitate.
Laurie Krauz channels her music from somewhere to which most of us will never have access. It courses through her body like electricity, shaped by palpable, tingling control; like a mesmerizing snake dance. By her side, Daryl Kojak taps into that same frequency, antennae up, responding.
A unique rendition of “Never Neverland” (Betty Comden/ Adolph Green/Jule Styne) emerges as gentle jazz with no loss of sentimental intention. In my experience, jazz interpretations of ballads mostly sacrifice meaning. Here, the duo manages to maintain this with grace. Piano sweeps of stardust, a bowed bass and circling brushes float a vocal which, deferring to the song’s purity, delivers barely an extra syllable.
Oscar Hammerstein II/Richard Rodgers’s iconic “Some Enchanted Evening” can here also be classified as jazz, yet emotionally communicates without getting sidetracked. Kojak’s piano keys sound like wind chimes. A drum is patted. It’s a black and white 40s film with curtains blown against an open French door. Dark, serious, evocative. Open-throated (open-hearted) singing is paired with tiptoeing accompaniment. The number exists like a snuffed candle, leaving whirls of smoke.
Even the chestnut “I Will Wait For You” (Norman Gimbel/English Lyric Michel Legrand) is given iconoclastic treatment. An exuberantly windy arrangement with sensuous, rhythmic drums feels like sirocco. Krauz sails up to oooing contralto and down to alto. I find myself dovening (rocking back and forth.)
The tandem “A House is Not a Home” (Burt Bachrach/Hal David) and “Since You Stayed Here” (Peter Larson/Josh Rubins), begins thoughtfully. Piano caresses. Krauz reaches deeply. I can feel her chest constrict, then fill with a sigh as she seems to recall. The second song, from the musical Brownstone, is an apt continuance…You’d never recognize the room/The pictures all have different frames now/All the chairs are rearranged now…it’s enacted without a flicker of artificiality. Bass acts as ballast.
“Send Me a Man,” (also YouTube Alberta Hunter’s 1935 recording) is saucy, playful Krauz in full Mae West mode. Symbiosis is never more apparent. Kojak plays a superb piano solo to which Krauz, hanging over the keyboard, reacts as if they’re having sex. “Oh yeah!.. that’s nice…YES!” No kidding. Not a word or moan is extraneous. This is a helluva thing to watch/hear. The vocalist moves as if compelled. Kojak breaks into burlesque honky-tonk, precise, but insinuating. FUN!
Several predominantly scat tunes show off Krauz’s skill and individuality with this kind of musicality. The best is Kokak’s own composition. “Ducksoup” which sounds a bit like a cool, Pink Panther theme. Krauz peppers and punctuates, progressing to an uncanny, mute-horn-like wah-wah. Closing her eyes, she bends, gestures, and squeezes out the vocal. We see a smoky back room, tilted fedoras, finessed hip movement. “Everybody sing!” And curiously we do-come in on a scat line, higgledy-piggeldy but grinning. Start/stops are like winks.
A warm, funny woman, Krauz tells us about her “first gig,” being paid a quarter by her father not to sing (she endlessly extemporized songs on family car trips) and shares her personal take on a Monica Lewinsky sighting back in the day that would have made a fine Saturday Night Live skit. My single caveat of this performance is that patter, though mostly entertaining, goes on too long.
“When you work closely with someone for 25 years, you become really good friends…” introduces a muscular version of “Here’s To Life” (Phyllis Molinary/Artie Butler) which is viscerally textured by experience and sincerity. The packed room erupts.
Photos by Maryann Lopinto
The Metropolitan Room May 14, 2016 Venue Calendar Next in the monthly series, New York Cabaret’s Greatest Hits Barbara Porteus- June 13, 7 p.m.
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
This 1960 musical which astonishingly ran a year, featured then popular Nancy Walker and Phil Silvers. Damon Runyonish without the swell songs and nifty book of 1950’s Guys and Dolls, the show must’ve been a vehicle for its stars. To my mind, it contains one timeless ballad- “Make Someone Happy,” two somewhat amusing girl group songs- “All You Need is A Quarter” and the quirky “What’s New at the Zoo,” one successful, tongue-in-cheek number “It’s Legitimate,” and one comic (musical) soliloquy “The Late, Late Show.” Otherwise material is tuneless and verbose. The game company does manage to deliver some entertainment, however.
Whitney Meyer, Beth DeMichele, Anna Bucci; Daniel Marcus
Briefly, Hubie Cram (the Nathan Lane-ish Patrick John Moran) is a losing dreamer and small time con man looking for the big score. His loving wife, Kay, (Laura Daniel) wants him to take a job in her father’s dry cleaning business, but, patience wearing thin, sticks by him nonetheless. Hubie fixes on the idea of cornering the jukebox market and enlists former gangster comrades, Fitzo (Daniel Marcus), Brains (Roger Rifkin) and Skin (Michael Scott.) His intentions are legitimate, theirs reflexively shady. At the same time, he discovers singing waitress Tilda (Beth DeMichele) and starts recording her.
Beth DeMichele and Patrick John Moran; Tyler Milliron and Beth DeMichele
The jukebox business is a failure, but Tilda’s a success. When she falls in love at first sight with music industry competitor, John Henry Wheeler (Tyler Milliron), the hoodlums are sure their golden goose will leave and plan on violent measures. Before this can happen, everyone is pulled into a Washington DC court for strong-arming practices. It’s Hubie’s first experience in the spotlight and, despite threat of incarceration, he loves it. (Moran’s face is a pitch perfect reflection.) Needless to say, everything turns out fine.
Patrick John Moran and Laura Daniel
Patrick John Moran (Hubie) deserves better material. There’s a sweetness about his ineptitude and frustration. The actor has good comic timing and delivers solid vocals. Were direction lighter, he’d surely be funnier as well.
Laura Daniel is credibly working class, long suffering and devoted. Adding some specific physicality to her character would help define Kay.
The best voice on the stage belongs to Beth DeMichele (Tilda), who is also an appealingly natural actress. If Tyler Milliron would take his resonant vocals down a notch, the two would mesh nicely.
Of the gangsters, Daniel Marcus’ Fitzo stands out. His accent is grand. Marcus moves heavier than he is, reacting with habitual speed and attitude that illuminates the crook.
Director/Choreographer Donald Brenner’s high spots are two terrific girl group numbers with very cool synchronized movement. He should do a fifties show.
Photos by Michael Portantiere Opening: Laura Daniel and Patrick John Moran Whitney Meyer, Beth DeMichele, Anna Bucci; Daniel Marcus Beth DeMichele and Patrick John Moran; Tyler Milliron and Beth DeMichele Patrick John Moran and Laura Daniel
Musicals Tonight! presents Do Re Mi
Libretto- Garson Kanin; Music- Jule Style; Lyrics-Betty Comden and Adolph Green
This Production Directed and Choreographed by Donald Brenner
Music Director/Vocal Arranger- David B. Bishop
The Lion Theatre
410 West 42nd Street
Through April 3, 2016
Tickets at Telecharge or The Lion Theatre Box Office
NEXT April 5-17 : Wonderful Town