Join Barbara & Scott as they putter over to Golf: The Musical and get jazzed about Kurt Elling's show at the Oak Room.
At the outset, we should note that Barbara knows golf about as well as she knows hockey -- which, for a theater critic is (if you'll pardon the expression) par for the course. Scott, on the other hand, grew up watching professional golf on TV with his father during endless Sunday afternoons. He has even played the game a handful of times, though he was definitely not par for the course.
We mention our knowledge of the game (or lack thereof) to make the point that it doesn't matter as far as Golf: The Musical is concerned; what you don't know about golf won't hurt your enjoyment of the revue, and what you do know will only enhance it. Golf is a gently irreverent take on the sport; wisely, it does not take itself seriously. As comfortably casual in its direction (by Christopher Scott) as the game itself, the show hits most of its shots straight down the fairway. If a few of the songs and skits veer off into the rough -- e.g., a forced, vulgar, double entendre number in which a wife mistakes her husband's golfing plans for "playing around" -- the vast majority are funny and exceptionally well performed. Actually, the show's fundamental underpinnings have far less to do with golf than with musical theater; its secret soul is revealed when, in a song about the way golfers dress, the characters are referred to as "forever plaid."
The music, by Michael Roberts, is mostly pastiche but it serves his clever lyrics well. We're not talking Sondheim here, but the songs are smart and entertaining. Hey, the show is about golf, so there are limitations -- and Roberts even has fun playing with those limitations.
The foursome starring in the revue is a talented lot -- and they need to be, because the revue format requires considerable versatility of its performers. Sal Viviano is exceptional in this regard; he's a charming comic presence throughout the show. Whether playing a "golf detective" in the style of James Naughton's role in City of Angels or singing a ballad that takes a sly turn towards comedy at its end, Viviano is a revelation as a comic actor. (We always knew he could sing). Joel Blum's comic dancing is delightful (he sings, dances, and plays golf all at once!) and his bit as an ancient duffer at the end of the show is fall-out-of-your-seat funny. When Blum and Viviano do a sketch together in which they play Bob Hope and Bing Crosby (respectively) meeting in Purgatory, the routine is "dead on": Blum looks like Hope and Viviano captures Bing's jazzy nonchalance aong with the "boo-boo-boo-boo." These two are so sensationally hilarious together that they would be smart to consider putting together their own Hope/Crosby act (or Off-Broadway show?)
Christopher Sutton is a winning actor who brings a devilish sense of fun to the show. He plays a blind golfer in one bit, a delicious throwback to silent comedy antics. We hope to see more of this young performer. Trisha Rapier is the fourth member of the cast, and the only woman. She doesn't always get the best material to play but she's a gamer and she has a bright, brassy voice. All four work together well. Musical director Ken Lundie, a playful presence at the periphery of the Astroturf stage, solidly supports the cast. [Note: It's not easy to catch Viviano, Bloom, Sutton, and Rapier in the show at the same time; understudies jump in quite often as the leads are allowed to take short-term gigs to augment their modest Off-Off-Broadway salaries. The understudies may be wonderful, but we haven't seen them.]
Let's talk cool. Let's talk jazz artist and Grammy nominee Kurt Elling. He's finishing up a one-week stint at the Algonquin Hotel's Oak Room with two shows on Friday and Saturday night. This guy's not just a cat; he's the cat's meow. Stylish, self-possessed, and smart, he has amazing vocal control and he often finishes musical phrases with unlikely but inspired notes. On top of all that, he brings a definite point of view to lyrics. The man not only sings with unique artistry, he also interprets songs with intelligence and passion.
His source material is largely taken from the Great American Songbook. He put his own spin on "My Foolish Heart," "April in Paris," and "I Can't Get Started," as well as some tunes he's co-written. When we talked to him briefly after the show, we asked how his performance for the Oak Room might be different from what he does in more traditional jazz clubs. "I slow down the velocity," he said cryptically. "The impact comes at a different speed but it's otherwise the same show."
Yes, Kurt Elling is definitely cool. So is his CD on the Blue Note label, Man in the Air. This slice of modern jazz features many more tunes written by Elling than may be heard at the Oak Room. But whether you hear him live or on disc, this guy purrs.