Sound Advice Reviews
The sound of Silence! , The Sound of Music &
Up this week are polar opposites in sound and sensibility: the sound of Silence! and The Sound of Music. There's the outrageous and irreverent, profanity-peppered parody of the once-scary saga of The Silence of the Lambs, plus "raindrops on roses," reverence, Reverend Mother, Rodgers & Hammerstein with a 50-year-old Australian cast album now on CD. For those into intimacy, the cabaret hills are alive with the sound of musicjust voice and pianowith returning-to-cabaret Parker Scott, an appealing vocalist.
SILENCE! THE MUSICAL
This broad, audacious spoof hesitates for nothing in turning a particularly dark tale into brightly garish flashing lights. Silliness prevails. Don't blame only this musical's songwriters and Hunter Bell (script) for the idea of using the vulgar words and phrases that give the reason for that Parental Advisory sticker on the CD. They are lifted verbatim from The Silence of the Lambs. What might have been a jarringly stabbing line of dialogue in the stark film script here gets sung with glee as the cannibalized core of songwriting brothers Jon and Al Kaplan's full songs: repeated, blithely blisteringly blasted or crooned, embellished, embraced, milked, and reprised at the end of the show. It's all in good fun, though hardly what you'd call "good clean fun" or brilliant wit, and it revels in in-your-face moments set to music. As just a listening experience, the thickly served humor and shock turned to mock or shlock can wear thin. Those who love the writers' taste for tastelessness and the campiness of the show's skewering of the Academy Award-winning film will likely giggle again at the cast album. Coming through loud and clear and plain and simple(-minded) are the outsized characterizations of murderers, the tones of casual interplay or franticness, intentional tackiness, and the exaggerations of things like the central female character's emotions, accent and lisp. A fondness for time spent with the crass, the creepy, the crotch-centric may be a prerequisite. This little cult-musical-that-could has its fans and following since it grew from an online goof to a full-fledged show cheered in a 2002 theatre festival in Manhattan. An Off-Broadway production, with some of its original playmates on board, has been running since mid-2011.
As the notoriously sinister imprisoned Hannibal, Brent Barrett, Broadway's savvy, ever-dashing ultimate leading man juxtaposes excesses of musical theatre grandness and grandstanding with the character's self-satisfied, taunting sneer. His glorious voice rings out with radiance as he lets the madness find its own comfort level, as words and thoughts that can offend blend or collide with sweet, sincere or heroic vocal colors. The others simply have a field day with their more direct cartoon approach. With aggressive manic relish, Stephen Bienske dives into the portrayal of a sadistic murderer. With broad strokes, Jenn Harris glibly mixes masking fears (partially) and mastery of an investigator's desired control, taking on the key role played in the film by Jodie Foster. The reliance on false rhymes dulls the impact of the lyrics, but they and the melodies opt for a breezing-along approach that favor serviceable pluck over polish.
While they don't primarily aim at making a mishmosh of musical theatre song conventions, smartly mischievous musical theatre mavens Brian J. Nash and Mark Hartman (also familiar figures in NYC cabaret) are welcome and wise choices to be on the team. Nash is music director/orchestrator while Hartman did some additional orchestrations and is music supervisor. Both are associate producers, along with Dan McMillan, who's in the four-person band as a drummer (along with keyboardist Nash). They bring knowing perspective and panache and energy. They know how to musically wink.
Some who love or hate musicals or love or hate the film in question might find this a hoot. Others will find it juvenile. But no one will ever use the word "subtle."
THE SOUND OF MUSIC
With the more operatic approach by soprano star June Bronhill, does The Sound of Music sound much more formal? Sure, and it's grandin both senses of the word. It still works. But does she embody the characteristics of someone described in the lyric "Maria" as "a flibbertigibbet, a will-o'-the wisp, a clown"? Maybe not so much, but the vocal beauty and strength are compensations. And "Climb Ev'ry Mountain" gets the same majesty from Rosina Raisbeck as the Mother Superioras well as when June Bronhill takes it on herself in one of 10 bonus tracks.
June Bronhill, who died seven years ago this week, was 32 when the 1961 Australian production opened, and sounds here like a pleasing, if more formal, Maria. It's nice to hear these very familiar songs with those big, solid, strong Richard Rodgers melodies in a rich full-throated way. Catch her long, high note on the word "to" in "that will bring us back to ..." ("Do Re Mi"). There's some of the requisite warmth, but things do sound more stiff and formal when she rolls some of Rs in the beginning of "My Favorite Things" (on the words "bright" and "brown") and makes a consonant like T sound as decidedly crisp as those "crisp apple strudels" in Oscar Hammerstein's lyrics in the last score he worked on. And Rosina Raisbeck as the Mother Superior and others are quite attentive to such diction, too. You'll hear some accents betraying Australia for the Austria-set story, but your ear will find familiar accompaniment, though tempos sometimes will be different. The cast album's children don't sound overly bouncy "cute." Peter Graves's "Edelweiss" misses the sensitivity or fragility others have brought to it, and some other renditions are on the perfunctory/predictable side, but there's vigor in "How Can Love Survive?" from Lola Brooks and Eric Reiman. And everything else survives quite well.
For those looking for something respectful but a bit different, the bonus tracks are rewarding. The additional material has vocals and accompaniment generally presented conservatively, very much in the spirit and style of the show. Four are Bronhill's versions of songs from the show and are somewhat gentler and "lighter" and in stereo; the remaining bonus tracks are by others and are in "mono". So, with reprises and the bonus tracks, we have three or four versions of a few songs. These aren't radically re-thought "pop" versions by any means. There are male solo versions (well, mostly solo) on a few numbers not so assigned in the show. The title song is sturdily done by Edmund Hockridge (with a choir ooohing behind him). Similarly, Dickie Valentine sounds involved and assured on "Climb Ev'ry Mountain." Sometimes this song comes off as pedantic and preachy, but here it is more approachable and inspiring. "An Ordinary Couple" gets a graceful and tender treatment from Ken Dodd. Mark Wynter is smooth and relaxed with "Sixteen Going On Seventeen," joined near the end by an unidentified female voice. (There's no booklet with full credits, just a few lines of basic facts, a few photos.) A likeable Joan Regan does get some young voices (more homogenized) for her closer-to-the-show "Do Re Mi." Having played the lead in the show in the past and presently playing Feinstein's at Loews Regency, Petula Clark is a special treat to have included with her genial and bright, delightful "My Favorite Things." A chorus takes over mid-way and they join up.
If this score is one of your favorite things, this first-time-on-CD version of the score, with its supplemental material, makes for a fine package.
It's clear that singer Parker Scott knows the importance of being earnest. More importantly, it works for him. He does not take things lightly, especially love and songs about love. His sincerity and passion and well of feeling come through, and his devotion to old ballads of devotion sound genuinely and fully felt. Soaringly or sotte voce, vibrant or vulnerable, he sounds like he believes what he's saying and doesn't shy away from ardor. With just the accompaniment of piano, played by the talented and thoughtful Wells Hanley (the CD is billed as "an intimate conversation between singer and player"), it is a pair in tune in every sense. You can kind of hear them listening and responding to each other, phrase by phrase, such as on "The Nearness of You" and a pained but not overdosing of self-pity for "Drinking Again." Most of this CD is lovely, lovely stuff, butgratifyinglythey mix purity and "pretty" with "pensive" so things rarely feel pat or plodding.
The album's title is a reference to a line in "Two for the Road" (Henry Mancini/ Leslie Bricusse): "We'll travel down the years/ Collecting precious memories, selecting souvenirs/ And living life the way we please." What pleases this pair seems to be to be romantic in a direct way that avoids getting sticky or confusing sentimentality with true sentiment. Old standbys that came to the public's attention in Broadway shows a couple of years apart in the 1930s, Rodgers & Hart's "My Funny Valentine" and Cole Porter's "Begin the Beguine," are the two longest tracks at over five minutes, but they sustain interest. The commitment does not waver.
With all the lush and languid legato, a change of pace number breaks things up about mid-way, butwiselyit isn't a jarring choice. Rather, it's a sweet, easygoing "breather": a winsome gem about preferring to ease through life in the slow lane, "Early to Bed" (Richard Rodney Bennett/ Franklin Underwood, with a brief quote from "Ain't Misbehavin'"). A particularly effective highlight is "You Are Here," an emotional yet elegant piece written by Anthony Gaglione and Parker's director and CD co-producer, Gerry Geddes.
Singer-actor-vocal coach Parker Scott's eclectic performing background includes a production wherein he sang from the late John Denver's repertoire. He's a natural fit for the two such souvenirs selected here for open-hearted, gratitude-filled statements: "Sunshine on My Shoulders" and "Annie's Song" (with its euphoric declaration, "You fill up my senses ..."). Wells Hanley has a cerebral sensibility, like the singer, whom he knows how to spotlight and urge on when things might be in danger of veering into murky navel-gazing. Stick with this CD, even if the outpouring of heart seems like it will border on somber, sticky or stuck in low gear or feel like heavy going at first. There are moments where nuance or a sense of relaxation may be wanted instead, sometimes when an "S" sound doesn't sound quite right, but I suspect they'll win over many listeners.
The Scott/Hanley/Geddes triumvirate returns to New York cabaret at Don't Tell Mama, with this Saturday being the first for the new year. As I learned from attending a recent performance, these performances can be especially riveting and focused in person. Much comes through on this CD, a second release after some years away from cabaret and the recording studio. Welcome back.