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.
Nancy Anderson’s father had a terrific collection of vintage jazz LPs. These set her on a path of appreciation and exploration outside what became a musical theater career. At age nine, she learned “Ain’t She Sweet” on a battered ukulele. In private life and then cabaret performance, Anderson took to the music of the 1920s/1930s with innate recognition. Her 2005 CD Ten Cents A Dance irresistibly reflects the era.
Stylistically, the artist has it down. Successive lyric lines seamlessly meld. Selected words arc as octaves rise and fall. Back of throat vibrato is called forth to emphasize emotion. At a live show, one happily observes flapper moves that seem second nature. Anderson shimmies, shakes her shoulders, snaps her head, circles, prances, flirts, pouts and punches in frustration – never over the top.
As a young artist, Anderson bought an Artie Shaw tape based on the cover and fell in love. “I listen through the nostalgia,” she tells us. “These guys were the rock stars of their era.” Shaw’s “I’m So in Love With You” finds the vocalist suddenly serious after two upbeat numbers. Audibly deep intake of breath adds to expressive angst. The clarinet oozes regret. An actress, she holds fast to mood during instrumentals. As there was no sheet music for these selections, Patterson had to transcribe off the album.
“You’re Giving Me a Song and Dance” (Milton Ager/Marty Symes) was popularized by singer-with-the-band, Peg LaCentra…Now you want me cause you ain’t got me…Anderson shrugs with a jaded smile. A wink and a nod take us out. The performer is an expert with picture perfect exits, an arm raised, a back turned. “It Ain’t Right” (Bob Rothberg/Joseph Meyer) begins with pluck/slide bass sparking the audience to clap in time. The spirited dame on stage is having none it “it.” …ooo I’m out the door-yeah!.. “Darling Not Without You”(a perfectly in sync contribution by Anderson herself) is three martinis deep. Mellow bass creates resonant echo. Piano steps carefully, lightly.
From a Rogers and Hart show Anderson performed in London, we hear a medley of three songs with only deft piano accompaniment. “My Romance” is a particularly lovely treatment. All three of these delicious tunes get unnecessarily BIG in the middle. As this is a vocalist who can deliver equal skill quietly – many can’t- I find interpretation disconcerting and harmful to lyric intention.
Tommy Dorsey’s very cool “Alibi Baby” swings from lullaby to sass with flair. “True Blue Lou” is a lament. Hands behind her back, Anderson is in the song up to her eyebrows. Piano strolls and sighs. ‘Wonderful arrangement. “How’dga Like Ta Love Me?” (Jimmy Dorsey) emerges breezy, dancey. The vocalist delivers implicit wide eyed emulation. Her growl is impish. Part of the pleasure of this show is hearing rarely performed numbers.
Rodgers and Hart’s “Ten Cents a Dance” is a theatrical turn. This exhausted, hardened taxi dancer has both moments of sheer ingénue and parentheses of near hysteria.
Caveats: Anderson was recently Glenn Close’s understudy in Sunset Boulevard. Rationalizing this material is of the same period depicted in the Andrew Lloyd Weber musical, she ends this show with “Just One Look.” It lands like a wrong piece of the puzzle. The show is peppered with personal stories which would be more appealing if edited. No Director is listed.
Nancy Anderson occupies the stage with infectious enthusiasm.
Musicians are first rate.
Photos by Steve Friedman
Scott Siegel presents Nancy Anderson: Ten Cents A Dance Musical Director/Piano- Ross Patterson J.J. Mcgeehan-Guitar/Banjo/Ukulele, Aaron Heck- Reeds, Don Falzone-Bass 54Below 254 West 54th Street July 5, 2017 Venue Calendar
Twenty-two years ago, Glenn Close won the best actress Tony Award as silent screen star Norma Desmond. She’s back and better. That’s pretty much all you need to know about this pared down production which comes to us from a successful run in London. The piece itself was never substantial. Unlike Hello Dolly or Gypsy repeated year after year as actresses yearn to execute star turns, both music (Andrew Lloyd Webber) and lyrics (Don Black/Christopher Hampton) here are pedestrian. It should be noted, however, that songs will probably never sound better as performed by a 40! piece orchestra and engineered by Sound Designer Mick Potter.
Glenn Close, Michael Xavier
Transitioning from Billy Wilder’s 1950 film, Sunset Boulevard also lost the pith of the noir aura which, in its initial form, was as morbid as Nathanael West’s 1939 The Day of the Locust. Whereas William Holden’s young screenwriter Joe Gillis was already bitter and cynical, musical theater actors have played him increasingly more innocent and/or compassionate.
The line culminates in Michael Xavier’s portrayal. A good singer and actor (not to mention eye candy), Xavier is made to sympathize with Gillis’s benefactor to such a degree, we lose the repulsion and self loathing, mercenary attitude prevalent in the original. The former is completely defanged by referring to Norma as 50 years old when, in fact, she’s supposed to be 40-50 years his senior. (Kisses should elicit shudders and don’t.) The latter appears as an afterthought. I lay these issues at the feet of Director Lonny Price, though Close may have demanded the age change.
The Company at Schwab’s
With the show’s orchestra taking up most of a sizable stage, Lonny Price must shift his characters around and above with both visual adroitness and attention to story location. He does so. An overlong party scene of youthful movie hopefuls is graphically upbeat, aided and abetted by Choreographer Stephen Mear’s exuberant moves.
For those of you living under a rock, the synopsis: chased by collectors who will shortly repossess his car, Gillis accidentally wanders onto the grounds of once celebrated, silent screen star Norma Desmond. With the conniving and protection of butler Max von Mayerling (Fred Johanson, who seems more like a cardboard Munster than an ominous obsessive), the former toast of Hollywood lives in a gilded fantasy of return to her public.
Michael Xavier, Siobhan Dillon
When Gillis learns Norma’s written a massive script in which she expects to play 16 year-old Salome, he signs on to doctor it and shortly ends up living on premises, coddled, gifted, owned. An inadvertent side romance with attractive wannabe writer, Betty Schaeffer (the very fine, fresh, and credible Siobhan Dillon) comes to naught as Norma finds out and takes violent action.
The role of proud, desperate, unbalanced Norma is less camp than frequent embodiment in Glenn Close’s well practiced hands. Older and perhaps more understanding of the diva’s emotions, Close gives us a terrified woman fighting for life as she knows it. She’s persuasively obtuse, imperious, raging, joyful – oh, the expression on her face watching Norma’s film or dancing with Ellis!, and mentally unmoored. Though vocals can be thin or off key, the performer never loses focus or verisimilitude. The audience, having raised Close to a pantheon of appreciated survivors, greets every big number with extensive applause. Three separate bows evoke cheers and stomping.
James Noone’s imaginative set utilizes metalwork scaffolding, balconies and stairs to great effect, though performers get a taxing workout. A vertical daisy chain of chandeliers is marvelous as is a floating cadaver. To my mind, the Schwab’s (Drugstore) sign is way too small to allot significance. Mark Henderson’s Lighting Design offers far more nuance than mere gridwork might inspire.
Tracy Christensen does an able job with Costumes which live visually well together and appear period apt. Anthony Powell’s Costume Design for Glenn Close is both wonderfully over the top and flattering without seeming high camp – until the last scene when dressing for an early film purposefully reflects madness. Charlotte Hayward has alas toned down Norma’s exaggerated Make-up.
Photos by Joan Marcus Opening: Glenn Close
Glenn Close inSunset Boulevard
Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber
Book & Lyrics by Don Black & Christopher Hampton
Directed by Lonny Price
47th and Broadway
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