Sondheim and Company
Sing a song of Sondheim! Plus: Robert Klein at Feinstein's, a Queer Songbook concert, and lots of nightlife activity.
Here's the crux of our complaint: Why present a revue of a great composer-lyricist's oeuvre if you're going to disrespect the integrity of his work? We can't imagine why Sondheim approved the use of his songs here when so many of them are chopped up; these are great songs as written, and they are not improved by inserting pieces of other songs inside of them like so much stuffed derma. Nor are they improved by all sorts of cutesy choreography in the background. The cast consists of Gregg Edeleman, Victoria Clark, Kate Baldwin, Jan Maxwell, and Eric Jordan Young. There's certainly a lot of talent on board, but it isn't always the right sort of talent; for instance, there's no belter on the premises. Worst of all, Opening Doors has been devised and directed by David Kernan to be stunningly bland.
By the way: Mandy Patinkin, who is currently performing in concert at the new Dodger Stages, sings a good deal of Sondheim in his act, including many of the same songs that are featured in the Zankel revue. In every instance of overlap, Patinkin's versions are far superior. The songs are interpreted with more intelligence, originality, and (naturally -- it's Mandy) more intensity. This show was not offered to critics for review, so we went and bought tickets. If that doesn't say it all…
In-Kleined to Laugh
Feinstein's at the Regency has insisted from its inception that it's a nightclub, not a cabaret room. With the current booking of comedian Robert Klein, the high prestige room at the swanky Park Avenue hotel has reinforced its claim. The only other remotely similar comedy act to have played Feinstein's was the Smothers Brothers. Happily for those of us who also like music with our comedy, Klein (like Tommy and Dickie Smothers) also sings. In fact, the Nightlife Awards' Living Legend opens his nightclub act with a screamingly funny song called "Colonoscopy," written by Klein and his musical director, Bob Stein.
Klein has always been a cerebral comic, his humor coming out of ironic observation rather than one-liners. Considering that life in America has become ever so deeply ironic, it's no wonder that Klein has flourished. An actor as well as a comedian, he has, from time to time, been a welcome addition to the Broadway stage; he made his greatest mark in They're Playing Our Song, starring with Lucie Arnaz, who was proudly cheering her old friend in the opening night audience at Feinstein's. She wasn't the only one cheering. Whether Klein was singing comedy numbers of his own composition, such as "I Can't Stop My Leg," or tossing off classic routines, he had the audience in stitches -- which only seems right for a comedian whose original ambition was to become a doctor.
Klein concludes his run at Feinstein's on October 8. Cy Coleman and his trio will immediately follow him, October 9-23.
To Our Benefit
We had no idea that there was a Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center in New York (it's at 208 West 13th Street) until we went to a benefit on its behalf, Queer Songbook: A New Generation of Broadway Composers. The concert also included the work of some previous gay generations, with songs by Bart Howard, John Wallowitch, Peter Allen, and Cole Porter. But the vast majority of the evening was given over to the songs of contemporary "out" composers and lyricists. [To access TheaterMania's photo feature on the event, click here.]
Hosted by the fast-talking and consistently hilarious Seth Rudetsky, produced and musical directed by Michael Lavine (who also played the piano for all but two of the performers), the evening offered a smorgasbord of talent. Not all of the material was sterling, but among the newer songs that stood out were "It's You, Stupid, It's You" (Marzullo/Campbell) performed with appropriate attitude by Paige Price; "A Normal Life" (Douglas J. Cohen), poignantly put over by Robert Bartley; and an impressively complex duet called "N & R" (Michael Arden), sung by Adam Fleming and John Hill. We also very much enjoyed a couple of contemporary songs that have already become favorites, both performed by their composers: the irrepressibly buoyant "Debbie and Teddy and Me," by Steven Lutvak; and the moving "Yard Sale," by Tom Andersen. (Andersen returns to the Center to perform his own show on October 21 at 7pm).
Other highlights included Shoshana Bean belting "Live Out Loud" (Lippa/Crawley), Michael Arden's sensitive rendition of "In a Restaurant by the Sea" (John Bucchino), Lisa Brescia's gorgeous take on "I Could Have Been a Sailor" (Peter Allen), and Rachel York's tempestuous turn in "Full Steam Ahead" (Bartley/Whitman). The evening also featured two songs with the same title, "Time," one written by Billy Porter and the other by Thalken/Kleinbort. The only truly jarring performance was Melba Moore's melody-shattering version of Cole Porter's "I Concentrate on You." Happily, Moore went on to sing "I Got Love" (Geld/Udell) from her hit Broadway show Purlie, and she rocked the room.
Nightlife Notes: Julie Wilson, Teri Lynn Paul, Jenna Robinson, and Steven Ray Watkins
The legendary Julie Wilson recently put on a show at Helen's to celebrate her 80th birthday. She was delightful as always, singing many of her most famous songs, as well as new material. One number she added was the poignant "This Funny World," by Rodgers and Hart. This song about the ways in which life so often takes an unhappy turn was, unfortunately, all too apt; the night after we saw her perform, Wilson was rushed to the hospital, where she remains as of this writing. We understand that she is feeling better, but her performances at Helen's are canceled. We wish Julie a speedy recovery and hope that we'll all be able to applaud her in person on the night dedicated to her at the Cabaret Convention at The Town Hall later this month.
Teri Lynn Paul usually sings the works of Dusty Springfield and Elvis Presley; but this past summer, in Mama Rose's brilliant Under the Covers series, she put on a show of standards built around Carly Simon's My Romance album. Paul recently reprised that show, and we're so glad that she did. We've never enjoyed her work so much. Coming to these Great American Songbook treasures for the first time with a hard won maturity, she was able to infuse them with a real depth of feeling. From her soulful and romantic version of "My Romance" to her inspired coupling of "My Funny Valentine" with "Something Wonderful," she was breathtakingly real and present in every lyric. Her throbbing vocals, full of emotion, made every note count.
Speaking of great voices: Jenna Robinson has a new show titled Carry On, also at Mama Rose's. Robinson has pulsating power in her lower register and a rich fullness in her high notes. Her show is not quite as good as her voice, but this is a singer with a great deal of promise. She has a thrilling pop sound that's made even more effective because she thoughtfully interprets the lyrics of songs such as "When Did You Leave Heaven," which she smartly couples with "Angels on Your Pillow." She also performs the best version we've yet heard of Rick Jensen's "Harbor."
Steven Ray Watkins is a singer-pianist who just seems to get better and better. Performing solo (sans backup band), he shone in his most recent show, Wouldn't Normally Do This Kind of Thing. From a satiny "I'd Rather be Sailing" (William Finn) to a sharply observed "All is Fair" (Nik Kershaw), Watkins put his personal spin on tune after tune. His patter came light and easy, and his program was peppered with songs that rarely show up in cabaret shows -- e.g., "Film Noir" (Jimmy Webb/Carly Simon), "Napoleon" (Harold Arlen/E.Y. Harburg), and "Ain't Nowhere to Hobo Anymore" (John Sebastian/Jimmy Vivino). A gifted pianist and an excellent interpreter of lyrics, Watkins also sings beautifully. He should do this kind of thing again and again.