Mikey Writes It!, a revue of songs by Michael Holland, might well be setting the Don't Tell Mama record for most people on stage in a single show. Still, director Courtney Knowles somehow keeps the small performance space uncluttered, elegantly moving a huge number of performers through their fast-paced entrances and exits. Most importantly, the massive cast is there in service to Michael Holland's music and not the other way around; 16 performers and the songwriter himself (working as arranger/accompanist) grace the stage, figuratively and literally.
We're delighted to report that some of Holland's songs include the kind of dramatic character arcs that are not often found in pop tunes. From "(I'm Not) Invisible," sung by the attractive Kristy Cates in a wig and glasses, to "Hush," given a darkly compelling rendition here by Debbie Magidson, Holland tunnels deep into human emotions. Yet, in straddling the worlds of pop and musical theater, this young songwriter sometimes falls into the abyss between them. One example is "In Heaven," about a man yearning for his dead lover, reminiscent of early 1960s teenage death songs like "Patches." Holland's lyric doesn't tell enough of the story; it repeats an emotional sentiment without grounding it in details. However, it just so happens that Brandon Cutrell sings "In Heaven" with so much fire that he makes the song sound far more significant than it really is. Indeed, that there is more than one instance during the show where an exceptionally talented performer rises above the material. Certainly, Sidney Myer is more of a gas singing "Marjorie and the Gasman" than is the song itself.
Though not all of Holland's songs are gems, plenty of them are at least semi-precious, while some are veritable diamonds in the rough. And do they ever sparkle when performed by some of cabaret's most sensational singers. It's downright exciting hearing Julie Reyburn give a cyclonic performance of "Surrender Dorothy" (yes, that Dorothy). Scott Coulter's rendition of "Everything in the Whole Wide World" is the ultimate meeting of exquisite tenor voice and lush romantic ballad. And Judy Barnett's winning comic sensibility in combination with a light, engaging arrangement of "I'll Give You My Heart" is simply charming.
Michael Holland is a very fine vocalist in his own right but, in this show, he has chosen not to sing any of his own songs until the encore. It's a brilliant choice. Rather than singing all of his own material -- common practice among songwriters even when they can barely carry a tune -- Holland has wisely parceled out his work to a group of exceptional singers. Now, there are (at least) 16 cabaret performers who each have a Michael Holland song in their repertoire. What a smart way for a composer to get his music heard in clubs all over town! Besides, assembling a cast of this stature is a surefire way to fill a cabaret room. Like an all-star movie, this all-star cabaret is a big draw. Mikey Sings It! can next be seen at Don't Tell Mama on September 11 at 8:30pm.
[More cabaret reviews by the Siegels can be found at www.cabarethotlineonline.com]