Rock 'n' roll infrequently reverberates off the baroque walls of Feinstein's/54 Below, a supper club favored primarily by Broadway performers. Still, it seems reasonable that an exception should be made for the music of U2, one of the biggest bands on earth. Remember, that group's two leading members, Bono and the Edge, are also the composers behind the Broadway musical Spider-Man Turn Off the Dark. Fans of U2 and Broadway alike will be happy to know that no music from that epic flop appears in Maxine Linehan's new tribute show, One: The Songs of U2. What you will hear are the band's greatest hits, interpreted with soul and verve by a gifted vocalist.
We know that from the first song in the program, "Beautiful Day," which serves as an invigorating welcome to the audience. Wearing a simple black coatdress, Linehan belts out this opening number, embracing the audience with her giant voice.
The Irish-born chanteuse is mostly known for her interpretations of the Great American Songbook, but she fell in love with the music of her rocker countrymen after recording the band's "One" for her 2015 album Beautiful Songs (the song gets a gorgeous performance here). As it happens, the band's operatic arena rock sound proves to be a perfect match for Linehan's natural abilities.
Linehan marries Bono's primal howl with the pristine diction of a seasoned musical-theater performer. The result is that we truly hear U2's lyrics with a clarity we never have before. "And it's true we are immune," she sings in the antiviolence anthem "Sunday Bloody Sunday," "when fact is fiction and TV reality." The lyric could easily have been written about 2017, but was actually penned by Bono and the Edge in 1982. Linehan delivers the story behind each song with her inflection and facial expressions. She gives a defiant rendition of "Pride (In the Name of Love)", a song about Martin Luther King Jr. Her version of "Sometimes You Can't Make It on Your Own," about a typically tough and emotionally distant Irish father, feels incredibly personal and heartfelt. Linehan's mischievous and sassy interpretation of "Angel of Harlem" causes heads to involuntarily bob across in the dining room.
Music director Ryan Shirar (who is also the pianist) has tailored these songs to Linehan's voice, arranging for a small ensemble of musicians to create a surprisingly robust sound. Linehan is backed by a string quartet of one violin (Ben Lively), two cellos (Mairi Dorman-Phaneuf and Peter Sachon), and a double bass (Marc Schmied). Their opening riffs sometimes sound like the beginning of a piece by Gabriel Fauré, an unexpectedly classical sound that showcases the musical richness of the original songs. Of course, Steve Picataggio always brings us back to rock with his heart-pounding percussion.
Guitarist Andrew Koss faithfully produces the iconic arpeggios at the beginning of "Where the Streets Have No Name," a U2 hallmark that Shirar has wisely maintained. Koss switches to an Irish bouzouki for "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For," giving the piece a fresh, folk-rock feel. We're not surprised to learn that Koss is married to Linehan. "I have indeed found what I'm looking for," she says, clearing away the spell cast by her sincere delivery.
Even if you've heard these songs a thousand times, you'll feel like they're brand new in One: The Songs of U2. You only have one more chance to see it at Feinstein's/54 Below though: Linehan returns October 13.
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