What makes a great solo comedy show? It would have to include a smart and insightful script that's as funny as it is poignant. That certainly describes Rhapsody in Seth. What else? How about fast-paced direction, with exquisitely timed segués from one set piece to the next? Rhapsody in Seth, directed by Peter Flynn, has that as well. What's the final ingredient? Simple: A star who is compelling, endearing, and inherently hilarious. Someone just like Seth Rudetsky.
A combination cabaret act/theater piece, Rhapsody in Seth is a stunning achievement and fundamental proof of the redemptive power of musical theater. Rudetsky's story of survival will entertain you almost beyond your ability to breathe (you'll be laughing so hard) and will make you empathize so deeply with the star that you may stop just short of wanting to adopt him (he's adorable, but oh-so-bitchy).
Rhapsody in Seth is Rudetsky's story of growing up Jewish and gay on Long Island -- though not necessarily in that order. Overweight as a child and unable to pass as straight even before puberty, Rudetsky was constantly an object of ridicule. His one escape was music; even his enemies, who were legion, recognized his talent. He tells his story with quick flashes of anger, comic self-debasement, and dance -- though, again, not necessarily in that order. A successful Broadway musician, TV comedy writer, and standup comic, Rudetsky put together this show about his own life for one reason only: Revenge. He does name names, and anyone who has been victimized by a bully, an insensitive teacher, misguided parents, or just by the sheer inequity of life will see himself or herself in the resilient, resourceful, and remarkable Rudetsky.
Cabaret-goers who have enjoyed this fellow's long-running theater celebrity interview show Seth's Broadway Chatterbox at Don't Tell Mama (Thursdays at 6pm) will not be surprised at how sharply funny he is in this scripted act. They will, however, be amazed at the emotional depth of Rhapsody in Seth. You will not likely see another cabaret act or one-person show this year to equal its humor and humanity.
Rhapsody in Seth can next be seen on Thursday, August 22 at 8pm at the Ars Nova Theater, 511 West 54th Street. A new space, Ars Nova is a combination cabaret club and theater located between 10th and 11th avenues.
Trent Kendall has the voice and presence of a show-stopping entertainer. Listen to him sing and you understand why he's on Broadway in Into the Woods, and why he was a featured player in the recent Off-Broadway hit Bat Boy. But Kendall is also a songwriter, and it was in that capacity that we caught him at the Duplex, trying out new material in an act that also included a handful of tunes by more well known composers.
Most of Kendall's songs have energy but the artistry came largely from his singing, not the music or lyrics. Performed with a band and four backup singers, his tunes were loud but not any stronger for all that volume. The blues melodies are sometimes catchy but the lyrics are not memorable. To be fair, Kendall was performing a style of music that was not to our personal taste, but he nonetheless displayed sparks of songwriting acumen in tunes like "Come 2 Me" (Kendall) and "I Need You Here" (Kendall/Polese). Should his songwriting talents ever measure up to his vocal gifts, Trent Kendall will be a composer to be reckoned with. Until then, it's a distinct pleasure hearing him sing selections like Stephen Sondheim's "Loving You" coupled with "I Wish I Could Forget You," not to mention Cyndi Lauper's "Time After Time."
Speaking of songwriters, Tracy Stark recently presented her latest batch of tunes in a show called Walk This World. She didn't walk the world or the stage at Don't Tell Mama alone; she had six talented singers, in addition to herself, performing her creations. It was an inspired idea to invite such a large and musically diverse cast to sing her songs as this helped to give each tune a different sound and sensibility. One particular surprise was the chance to see and hear Steven Ray Watkins, one of cabaret's finest musical directors, performing as a stand-up vocalist. His rendition of Stark's "Right Where I Belong" suggested that he was, indeed, right where he belonged: singing into a microphone. His attention to the lyrics was a lesson in interpretive intelligence.
These were most, though not all, of the memorable songs in the show. Andi Hopkins, a fine singer, didn't get a standout moment, nor did the other cast members have multiple winners to sing. Stark writes engaging music and arranges her songs magnificently well, but her lyrics too often lack sophistication. Her compositions have great musical flair but, like comets that catch your eye as they streak by, they tend to burn out before they land. Stark might benefit from collaborating with a talented lyricist. Still, her show at Don't Tell Mama was a gift to audience members who heard some good, new songs and experienced the talents of a whole slew of bright entertainers. That's no small gift.
[More cabaret reviews by the Siegels can be found at www.cabarethotlineonline.com]