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Harps and Angels

Director Jerry Zaks and a top-notch cast led by Katey Sagal, Michael McKean, and Adriane Lenox turn this revue of Randy Newman's songs into a delightful evening. logo
Katey Sagal and Matthew Saldivar in Harps and Angels
(© Craig Schwartz)
Harps and Angels, the new musical revue at the Mark Taper Forum, illustrates songwriter Randy Newman's contempt for hypocrisy, particularly in our own society. But what could have been an exhausting evening of 35 songs has been turned into a delightful evening by director Jerry Zaks and a top-notch cast.

Newman's songs are so complex some twist the tongue as he fills stanzas with polysyllabic phrases and words rarely found in popular songs like ramify and puppetudes in "Better Off Dead." As for subject matter, they mock such things as American politics ( "A Few Words In Defense of Our Country"), the battle of the sexes ("You Can Leave Your Hat On"), aging ("Potholes") and our fundamental beliefs in religion and death ("Harps And Angels" and "The World Isn't Fair"). Some tunes are deliciously sacrilegious, as even the all-mighty Lord sings of her own shortcomings in "God's Song (That's Why I Love Mankind)."

Meanwhile, the protagonists of these little one-act plays unabashedly reveal prejudices, insecurities, and inadequacies, sometime with a smile on their face as if they don't realize they're giving away their deep secrets, as in "Big Hat, No Cattle."

Because most of the songs were not written for the stage (except for the numbers that come from Faust), there's something fresh about hearing them by these six artists and a small but dynamic orchestra. The cast's two best known players are Michael McKean, who plays characters past their prime who sometimes don't realize how silly and at times creepy they are, such as the old fool chasing the go-go dancer in "Shame," and television star Katey Sagal, who brings passion to her songs like "Gainesville."

Tony Award winner Adriane Lenox brightens up the stage with her brassy "Down In New Orleans" and later touches the heart with embattled frustration in "Louisiana 1927." Sexy siren Storm Large turns the tables on the men who ogle her in "You Can Leave Your Hat On."

Broadway veteran Matthew Saldivar exposes some of mankind's cruelty in "Short People" and our self-involvement in "My Life Is Good," while not turning off audiences with his antics, and Ryder Bach captures boyish enthusiasm in "The Man" and nerdy desperation in "I Gotta Be Your Man."

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