Regional Reviews: New Jersey
NJPAC Cabaret: The Enchanting Sounds of Marin Mazzie and Jason Danieley
Marin Mazzie and Jason Danieley, top of the line Broadway musical artists, have combined their talents to create the cabaret show Opposite You which brightened the local arts scene with two performances in the Chase Room at the Newark's Performing Arts Center on Saturday, December 2.
Not coincidentally, ten years ago, they joined their lives together in marriage. Their obvious pleasure in performing together brings an added glow to each of their performances. As talented and delightful as Mazzie and Danieley are, their impact would be stronger if they would add more spoken material in order to create a greater feeling of intimacy between themselves and their audience. As it stands, Opposite You, apparently derived from their participation in Lincoln Center's American Songbook Series, is a first rate concert performance. By mastering the art form which is cabaret, Mazzie and Danieley could be even more effective.
The pair make their entrances from opposite sides at the rear of the room, displaying their lovely, classically trained voices singing Romberg's beautiful duet, "Indian Love Call. Once onstage, they continue singing what proves to be a medley of 17 duets. They include a wide variety of Broadway songs from the pens of Gershwin, Kern, Porter, Rodgers, Loesser and Bernstein. The avowed purpose of the medley is to inform us that the evening will consist mostly of duets. However, such a medley would work better at the end of the performance. We would be hungry to hear as many songs as time would allow before we have to say good night. Presented at the top, it feels unnecessarily rushed, at a time when we want to hear songs fully sung and interpreted. Such a lengthy opening medley produces too long a delay before they can provide a personal introduction.
The first repartee of the evening is followed by a performance of "Honeysuckle Rose" and a Harold Arlen medley. Mazzie and Danieley then introduce what they describe as new, less familiar songs about contemporary relationships. The first two are interesting cabaret songs in that they are character driven, and they chart the informal and confused nature of modern relationships. The third ("The Natural Order of Things") has a more standard lyric, but it nicely expresses the idea that a relationship requires attention and refurbishing if it is to remain strong. I believe the first of the trio is by Barbara Schottenfeld and the later two are by the team of Scott Burkell and Paul Loesel. When singing songs that are new to most of your audience, it behooves performers to mention something of their provenance.
Although it incongruously flows from that medley, Marin Mazzie then brings the house down with her outrageously funny interpretation of Kander and Ebb's "Ring Them Bells." Gusto, vocal power and, in selected passages, a full fledged "Noo Yourk" accent knock this one out of the ball park. Immediately following, Danieley hits one out himself with a truly gorgeous (the pure final note alone is worth coming out to hear) reading of West Side Story's "Maria."
A flat and unfunny novelty song which goes by the title "Nellie, the Nudist Queen" is heard next. According to Mazzie and Danieley, they sing it because of the nudity each displayed on Broadway, she in Passion and he in The Full Monty. Not many in the audience (myself included) could have known this reason for its inclusion without having read Peter Filichia's interview with them in the Star-Ledger. Several other tidbits from that interview would have been a real plus here.
The balance of their performance goes from highlight to highlight. These include a well written jocular routine in which the pair tell us how they differ from one another. It becomes competitive as the boasts of each take the form of putting down the other. I'll not spoil the gags, but some of them cut close to the bone, revealing the duo to be extremely good sports. Still, they should tell us more stories, in a more intimate manner, about themselves and their career experiences. They mention Passion early on (Danieley says that the first time that he saw Mazzie she was unclothed on stage). However, much later, when Mazzie sings a rapturous "Happiness" during the terrific Sondheim segment, she doesn't mention either Passion or her connection to it.
The medley of contrapuntal Irving Berlin songs ("Play a Simple Melody," "Old Fashioned Wedding," and "You're Just in Love") is a delight. And the finale is the appropriate and lovely Lynn Ahrens-Stephen Flaherty song "Opposite You" (from a show which hasn't yet reached the New York metropolitan area). For their encore, Mazzie and Danieley have a lot of fun with the classic good time novelty song, "Abba Dabba Honeymoon."
An outstanding contribution is made by musical director-pianist David Loud. His sure and supple accompaniment provides a lush carpet of melody which richly enhances the vocals.
Marin Mazzie and Jason Danieley: Opposite You at the Chase Room of the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, December 2.
The NJPAC Cabaret schedule for the balance of 2006-2007 Season: Mary Cleere Haran - I Love Lyrics January 27, 2007; Eric Michael Gillett - Hook, Line and Sinker February 10, 2007; Phillip Officer - Sondheim Serenade March 3, 2007; Karen Mason Timeless March 31, 2007.