Purpose of Love: A Tim Di Pasqua Songbook
(A Benefit for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS at The Triad)
Nearly two dozen Broadway and cabaret stars got together at The Triad recently to sing the songs of up-and-coming composer Tim Di Pasqua. The commitment they made, as well as their sheer number, was a testament to both the quality and variety of Di Pasqua's work. For the audience, it was an opportunity to hear some possible future standards as well as the chance to enjoy the talents of a slew of singers. The show was a benefit for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, so it was a win-win-win situation all the way around.
We've heard Tim Di Pasqua's songs before, but never so many at one time. This was a 90-minute show with 22 numbers. Happily, a substantial percentage of these original songs have a lot going for them. Di Pasqua's melodies caress the ear with a seeming simplicity; they are warm, engaging, and nostalgic. But he's not a pop-tune kind of composer who writes songs with verses that endlessly repeat. His compositions, whether intended for inclusion in a show or not, are true theater songs that have character--and characters. The tension between the melodious music and the detail-heavy lyrics creates a strong dynamic in Di Pasqua's work.
Love songs made up a good portion of his show at the Triad, but most of them were not what you'd call typical of the genre. Take, for instance, Tom Andersen's hilarious interpretation of Di Pasqua's "You Make Me Nuts," which is among the funniest proclamations of affection you will ever hear. On the unrequited side of the love coin was "Maybe You Didn't Hear Me," performed by J. Robert Spencer with a broken-hearted delicacy. Love's temptations were represented in one of Di Pasqua's best songs, "Big Hairy Man," sung by Scott Coulter with longing tempered by loyalty. Phillip Officer's shimmering voice resonated with the lovely melody of "Since Love's Come Around." And an all-inclusive love song, "Every Beautiful Man," told the story of a young boy who can't wait to fall in love with someone--or everyone--at the earliest possible moment; David Gurland performed it with an innocent abandon that was as funny as it was touching.
In addition to songs of love, some of Di Pasqua's specialty material was presented, including an item he penned expressly for the great Alix Korey: "My Favorite Note." Korey, as she so often does, stopped the show, but she couldn't have done it without the material and that note (which, incidentally, is an E-flat). Another special moment was composer Stephen Schwartz's willingness to show his support by singing Di Pasqua's "The Best That I Can Do"--and Schwartz did a damned good job with it. This was one of a group of songs from a musical Di Pasqua has written called Synchronicity, all of them given strong performances by singer/actors associated with the project: Bob Bucci sang the sweetly poignant "I Want to Go Home," Trent Armand Kendall put the truth in the title of "I Could Really Be Big," and Michael Levesque was bold and powerful singing "As It's Meant to Be." Levesque also produced the show and directed it with a wonderful fluidity.
Infinite Joy: The Songs of William Finn
(The Joe's Pub Songbook Series)
The opening number in the recent show at Joe's Pub celebrating composer William Finn's music was "Mister, Make Me a Song." Well, Finn has made more than his share of songs, and this evening demonstrated that he's crafted many of them with a touch of genius. Justly revered for his work on Falsettos and its precursors (In Trousers, March of the Falsettos, and Falsettoland), Finn can boast of a creative output that is by no means limited to that cycle of shows.
The essential nature of his compositions, regardless of whether they are comic or serious, is a bar-busting urge to soar beyond the confines of the song itself. You hear it in the lyrics that are crammed into tunes like "And They're Off" (from A New Brain); the words all but pound on the walls of the music, demanding to be released. Then there are songs like "I'd Rather Be Sailing" (also from A New Brain) that have a melodic transcendence. In short, Finn is a composer of true dimension, scope, and purpose.
Finn, who sings like a cross between Ed Wynn and Bert Lahr, got lots of laughs in the four songs he performed at Joe's Pub in his quirky, throwaway style. For instance, he played to the crowd with his piercingly sarcastic "Republicans" (cut from A New Brain). He displayed a peculiar, cranky sort of charm when he sang "Stupid Things I Won't Do" (from The Royal Family of Broadway). And he performed with a sly wit his letter in song to fellow composer Ricky Ian Gordon, titled "The Ballad of Jack Erik Williams."
An exceptional cast of Broadway singer/actors joined Finn at Joe's to perform his work. Other than Finn himself, no one made more of an impact than Stephen DeRosa, who was bitingly funny as a rat singing "Welcome To My Hole" (from the unreleased movie Tom Thumb and Thumbelina) and then stopped the show with his one-man rendition of "The Ballgame" (from Falsettos). Best among the other performers were Carolee Carmello, who scored with "I Have Found" (from The Royal Family of Broadway), and Norm Lewis, who was infinitely wonderful singing this show's title number "Infinite Joy." In Finn's intro to the show, he said, "My infinite joy is a well made song." In that case, his own body of work should make him very joyful, indeed.