The Siegels aren't picking up Good Vibrations but they did spend a rewarding seven hours at Birdland on Monday night.
Where to begin? Its faults are so many! In no particular order of complaint, we might start by saying Kristin Chenoweth should sue. The show's leading lady, Kate Reinders not only looks like Chenoweth, she's doing a virtual impression of her, right down to the walk. Clearly, she's been directed to take advantage of the resemblance, but to what possible gain? It sure won't help make the show more "Pop-U-lar." Otherwise, the large and energetic cast in this wipeout of a musical should not be faulted. Best among them is David Larsen, who plays the male lead, Bobby; he's a good dancer with a sweet set of pipes.
The book by Richard Dresser is, to quote a Woody Allen line in Bananas, "a travesty of a mockery of a sham." Nothing in the details rings true. For instance, in what alternate universe does a high school nerd become president of his class? Since when does a young middle class girl, fresh out of high school, get permission from her parents to drive cross-country with three guys? Our heroine becomes popular in California for what reason? She has a cute hat? What?
One might live with a bad book for the chance to hear a night's worth of great Beach Boy songs. But they even ruined the score! One does not think of drums when recalling The Beach Boys, yet at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre (talk about a long day's journey into night!) the mix you hear is full of heavy drum beats. Worse, the entire score is so over-orchestrated that the shimmering beauty of The Beach Boys' famous harmonies is totally obliterated. Only once in the entire show, when the three lead boys sing about eight bars a cappella, do you get a glimmer of what's missing in the score: the real sound of The Beach Boys.
Monday Night Trifecta
Our full evening of entertainment on Monday, February 7 began with Julia Murney, who brought her big voice and bigger-than-life personality to Birdland for a one-night-only concert. From a hard-rock number full of screaming to a sly, dark Christine Lavin comedy tune, Murney displayed more range than the Rockies. Among the peaks in her show were a couple of numbers from Andrew Lippa's The Wild Party, the show in which Murney first rose to prominence. "Raise the Roof" from that beloved score is surely a latter-day musical theater classic. Murney can seemingly do most anything she wants with her voice, but she might consider raising the roof more sparingly and spending more time in structuring an act. A vibrant, risk-taking performer, she might profitably gamble on putting together a tighter, more carefully considered program that would create new fans rather than catering to her loyal following.
Immediately following Murney at Birdland, the first hour or so of Jim Caruso's Cast Party was given over to a remarkable series of performances in honor of the publication of The TheaterMania Guide to Musical Theater Recordings, edited by Michael Portantiere. From the sweet perfection of Rita Gardner (the original Girl in The Fantasticks) singing "Try to Remember" to Christine Pedi's quicksilver musical impersonations of Eartha Kitt, Ethel Merman, and other divas, it was an impressive showcase of talent. The book is a must-have reference tome -- and it was great to have it delivered with a floor show!
Capping the evening was the bulk of Cast Party, the regular Monday night event at Birdland. There are always some wonderful performers on hand to lift the weekly event -- and, on this particular occasion, Sally Mayes dropped in. Mayes goes way back with Cast Party pianist Billy Stritch: They were both members of a trio in Texas many moons ago. Now, they performed a sensational version of "My Funny Valentine" as recorded on Mayes' lush new CD, titled (why not?) Valentine. The party was definitely in gear, and Caruso remained in charge of a seemingly endless parade of gifted singers until things finally wound down at 2am.