Sound Advice Reviews
Finian's Rainbow and Feinstein's Reyburn
It's love at first listen to this new Broadway cast album of Finian's Rainbow for this longtime fan of its 1947 score, so stuffed with rich, glowing songs. Like the crock at the rainbow's end in the show's plot, it's full of gold that still shines. The material is respected; this is neither a case of radical reinvention nor slavish recreation. Cast performances find freshness and nuances. Romantic leads Kate Baldwin and Cheyenne Jackson come across as just that: romantic, with a warm glowand heatof genuine, growing affection. They are disarming, and their interpretations are full of thoughtful, involved phrasing with emotion and chemistry. Simple-minded stereotypes of musical comedy seduction, bland or over-eager or overly wary ingénue and hero are avoided. And their singing has plenty of variety and shading. But with its socio-political agenda of satire, there's more in store than just boy meets girl/boy gets girl.
Coming through with flying colors, vibrant like the rainbow, are pointed barbs about society, politics and prejudice in the witty, still-sharp E.Y. Harburg lyrics (and what we hear of the dialogue he co-wrote with Fred Saidy). Burton Lane's melodies are felicitous and greatly please the ear, too. They are lovingly treated here, shimmering or catchy, never as mere vehicles for the humor and humanism in the words.
The messages about double standards for the rich and the poor, and the former manipulating the latter, the critical and hypocritical behaviors of people, social norms and socialism are not presented in a heavy-handed way. The entertainment value wins out, with the spunk and spark of the clever and artfully polished lyrics matched, generally, by the feistiness and playfulness of the cast's delivery of the messages. But some of the edge and sarcasm is missing, the joyful, bouncy singing overshadowing the shadow of the danger of unfairness in action or thought. One would like to think that we've made major progress in prejudice-shedding, thanks to the passing of the years and learning something from history, and that's why some of this can afford to have more sunniness. What might be a well-timed, sharp punch in the stomach sometimes feels more like a nudge in "When the Idle Poor Become the Idle Rich" and elsewhere. However, no punches are pulled in Terri White's gutsy leadership in "Necessity," a thoroughly rewarding, excitingly sung, major highlight. (She played the same role in the recorded Irish Rep production.)
Christopher Fitzgerald's leprechaun is earthier and less adorably cuddly-cute than other interpreters of the role. An argument can certainly be made that there's a logical development from his somewhat more impishly winsome and playful early number, "Something Sort of Grandish," to the emphasis on fierce ownership of lustiness not so tempered with wonder and lingering innocence in "When I'm Not Near the Girl I Love" when he has, after all, become "90% mortal" red-blooded male. At least on disc, he generally comes across as less mercurial and mischievous as some predecessors in the role, and I miss those qualities. However, in " ... Grandish," with those delicious invented Harburgian words, he really digs into the fun, especially in the reprise with all new lyrics and rhymes ("keenish"/"Halloweenish"), with the infectious delight of the delightful kids' singing.
The Rob Berman-conducted orchestra sounds great, even if musical phrases occasionally are more underlined than needed in instrumental passages or accompaniment. The melody lines are very strong, instantly accessible (and, of course, familiar to many) and don't need that kind of extra help. There's some dance music, an entr'acte as well as the overture and included reprises. A true bounty exists in the score of this Rainbow of rhapsodies and welcomes new personalities and players. So, this newest recording may not be definitive or groundbreaking but doesn't need to be. What counts in great amounts is that it is splendid and sparkling, affectionate and affecting, and, to quote a phrase from "If This Isn't Love," it's "bustin' with bliss."
There's a sample of E.Y. Harburg's charm on the this album, the collaboration Harold Arlen, "I Love to Sing-a." The singer taking it on does love to sing and that comes through loud and clear on her album. She can sing pretty loudand pretty clear. Her joy in singing for her audience is unmistakable.
For her second CD (" ... finally!" her fans might add), it's not surprising that vibrant cabaret singer Julie Reyburn would opt for a live album. Comfortable onstage and relishing the interaction with musicians, she sets off sparks in person and connects well with audiences. I've been a witness to that on numerous occasions. A lot of that comes through on the album, although there are some "you had to be there"-type moments. So, first the quibbles and disclaimers about this live recording, none of which are deal-breakers. A few notes here and there aren't as pristine as one can get in a studio with multiple takesor are the result of going for an "acting choice" that colors a phrase instead of a purer musical choice. She may occasionally seem to get carried away with the flush of excitement, biting into, lingering over or underlining a phrase for dramatic impact more than she absolutely needs to. There's some patter that goes on and is peppered with her ready, open laughs. Some of the down-to-earth but not earth-shaking talk, about memories and family and seasons, is tracked separately, so it can be skipped over if you don't want to hear it or the thank-yous on repeat plays. And it's certainly the kind of CD lovers of good singing and good songs imaginatively arranged do want to hear again and again. So, enough with the quibbles.
Recorded on her return booking at the elegant Feinstein's at Loews Regency in Manhattan, this is one of our best cabaret singers generally at her best. It doesn't show the full range she has (other shows found her swimming in a more varied musical genre pool), but there's some marvelous material for this feisty, open-hearted, earthy woman to sink her teeth into.
The first thing we hear is a musical concept that will continue through this opening numberit's her musical director, Mark Janas, on piano, playing a bit of the haunting strains of "Carousel Waltz." Then Julie begins singing the title song from that composer (Richard Rodgers)' collaboration with Stephen Sondheim, "Do I Hear a Waltz?" Within this one building number, they achieve the goals an opener in a nightclub should have: you know you are in not just good musical hands but imaginative ones and Julie shows she has a range of skills: expressing wonder, joy, humor andperhaps her specialtyelation. The effect is making an audience "sit back and relax" because the artists know what they are doing and have musical muscle and moxy, but they also sit forward a bit in anticipation, sensing that excitement is in the air with the adventurous spirit. The other thing that's obvious right away is that Julie can belt or sing gently, and both ways grab your attention and hold it. Following one of the main rules of cabaret and theatrical singing, she always seems to be in the moment. In fact, she may seem to be relishing it, reveling in it, holding onto it for dear life.
The program is filled with songs from shows and movies, including Irving Berlin's "Let Yourself Go" with an electric blend of sizzling tension and euphoric release. Kander & Ebb's "Sing Happy" (Flora the Red Menace), shows off Julie's powerful pipes, emphasizing the determined optimism rather than the struggle fighting off demons or denial which can be found in the material. A convincing lobbyist for finding and living on the silver lining of any cloud by glomming onto the joy, evidenced by this and the exhortation to "Sing, Sing, Sing," Julie might have been a convincing jump-on-the-bandwagon evangelist in another life or career choice. The joy she engenders and the blues she shouts down in this power-packing show might send the devil packing. She's devil-may- care instead, with the gutsy, bluesy, slower-burning "Speak of the Devil," co-written by Mary Liz McNamara and Julie's excellent in-demand bass player Ritt Henn.
The highlight of the album, its heart and soul, too, is the riveting and fully realized, involved interpretation of "Come Home" from a musical in development, Pinocchio of Chelsea. An articulate and touching plea a parent addresses to a departing, beloved child, it's full of love, wariness and assurance. The song, voted as the Outstanding Song of the Year by the members of MAC, the Manhattan Association of Cabarets and Clubs, was written by Julie's director, Peter Napolitano (lyrics) and pianist-musical director Janas (music). It's an ideal and very moving track, making one curious to hear more from the score and this team. And certainly it's always a pleasure to hear from the knockout Julie Reyburn, who has lately been joining forces with Messrs Janas and Napolitano as part of a vocal group called Marquee Five with sublime harmony. There's a lot of sublime stuff going on with Live at Feinstein's, too. No two-drink minimum required: just drink in the exciting singing, playing and top-drawer arrangements.