Don't Go Into New Maury Yeston Revue Expecting to Hear Titanic
Anything Can Happen in the Theater is a tribute to the Tony-winning songwriter, but largely omits his few Broadway successes.
I have very distinct memories of seeing Titanic on Broadway in 1997, from partial view seats we got at the TKTS booth. We would listen to the cast album, first on cassette and then on CD, on every drive we'd take after that. Even as a kid, I would lose myself in the soaring melodies, bombastic orchestrations, and choral arrangements of Maury Yeston's Tony-winning score, and it still gives me chills. One of my greatest professional thrills, over nearly a decade of working on the theater beat, was being in the rehearsal room for a 2014 concert that reunited the original cast at Avery Fisher Hall.
I love Yeston's scores, and not just Titanic. His music for Nine and Death Takes a Holiday is just as exhilarating to me. The several songs he contributed to Grand Hotel are wonderful character numbers. I listen to his December Songs cycle every holiday season for a good cry on the subway. So I was particularly excited to see the first-ever revue of his songs, Anything Can Happen in the Theatre: The Songs of Maury Yeston, at the York Theatre.
Directed by Gerard Alessandrini (on a rare break from the satire of Forbidden Broadway), Anything Can Happen… is 75 minutes of well-performed songs, presented as straightforwardly as possible considering there's absolutely no context. The choreography by Gerry McIntyre is minimal, as are James Morgan's set, Melinda Hare's costumes, and Jacob Zedek's lighting design. If there's a way to sum up the style of the show in a sentence, it's that five actors are auditioning for us by singing through the Maury Yeston songbook, and we're collectively seated at a casting table. (Please note that that's not the plot. There is no plot.)
As a Yeston acolyte, I wish I found Anything Can Happen… more satisfying than I did, but there are a few crucial missteps that really got in my way. The songs are presented in no particular order. You don't know what shows they're from (unless you look down at the program constantly), why they were picked, or why Nine is represented with five selections (three of which are gamely performed by Mamie Parris), but Titanic only one. The focus seems to be on his lesser-known material, which is fine, but there just doesn't seem to be any reason for these choices.
I would have liked to have learned more about what makes Yeston tick as a composer, and how he could go from penning such a ribald number like "Salt n' Pepper," perhaps the most sexually provocative number ever set in a kitchen, to a melancholic number like "Halloween," both of which were performed persuasively by Justin Keyes. Quiet tunes like the latter are Yeston and the production's strongest suit, and performers Benjamin Eakeley, Jovan E'Sean, and Alex Getlin do right by simple solos of "New Words," "I Had a Dream About You," and "Danglin'." Group numbers like "I Don't Want to Rock 'n' Roll," "Cinema Italiano" from the film of Nine, and "The Mardi Gras Ball," from an unproduced musical called The Queen of Basin Street, fall very flat.
The best number of Anything Can Happen... is the finale, a sweet number called "Home" from Yeston's 1982 musical Phantom. Though relatively popular on the regional and community circuit, Phantom never reached New York City, overtaken by a similarly titled 31-year-old phenomenon with a falling chandelier. "Home" is a sublime ending for a revue about a true creature of the theater. If only we learned more about him.