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Baritones UnBound
Asolo Repertory Theater


Timothy Splain, Jeff Mattsey, Marc Kudisch and
Mark Delavan

The Baritones have blown into town (unfortunately nobody sings "They Call The Wind Maria") as the final show of Asolo Rep's summer season in a show called Baritones UnBound. In an interview several days before opening night, Marc Kudisch, who created the show with assistance from Merwin Foard, Jeff Mattsey and Timothy Splain, told me that he has attempted to give audiences a complete history of the baritone, "the common voice of the common man," according to the Encyclopedia Britannica. He originally thought he might be able to do it alone but it evolved to require three performers.

The script is quite informative, taking us quickly from plainsong into the world of early opera (three brief Mozart excerpts) and into the early Bel Canto era when baritones and basses began to differentiate. From there we move through early and then later operetta and into musical comedy, examine the baritone in pop music and into the current world of Broadway where for the last 30 years baritones are being endangered. I agree with much of what is said, but I have to register that there is still a world of difference between a bass-baritone and a lyric baritone, more than just a few notes of range. In Oklahoma! the same singer is unlikely to bounce between the parts of Curley and Jud Fry or Tony and Joe in The Most Happy Fella. Mark Delavan is a bass baritone, Marc Kudisch a baritone, and Jeff Mattsey is a lyric baritone. In another classic musical, Man of LaMancha, Kudisch would be cast as Cerevantes/Quixote, Delavan as The Innkeeper ("Night of the Woeful Countenance") and Mattsey as Sancho Panza.

And, wow, what performers have come to Sarasota to make the case of forgetting about basses and tenors. Marc Kudisch is the current star Broadway baritone, usually the villain. His biggest moment is "Where Is the Life that Late I Led?" from Kiss Me, Kate. He understands that Alfred Drake, who originated, played his roles with an overlay of humor. Mark Delavan is a leading opera baritone specializing in Verdi and Wagner, often at the Metropolitan Opera. He treats us to "Di Provenza" from La Traviata and the Dutchman's monologue from The Flying Dutchman in the first half, and salutes Frank Sinatra with "Night and Day" in the second act, presenting it much slower than any of the Sinatra versions I have heard but still getting across Sinatra's unique ability with phrasing. Jeff Mattsey is a Metropolitan Opera mainstay as well. He favored us with "Largo Al Factotum" from The Barber of Seville in the opera section. Shared highlights include "Oh, Better Far to Live and Die" (The Pirates of Penzance), "Ol' Man River," "Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin'," Carousel's "Soliloquy," and a medley of Sondheim duets. For the finale, Delavan offered "Stars" from Les Misérables, Mattsey sang "Make Them Hear You" from Ragtime and Kudisch gave us "I Am What I Am from La Cage aux Folles before all three joined forces for "The Impossible Dream."

Music direction and the excellent arrangements are by Timothy Splain. He is a man of petite stature, but when he steps center stage to lead a salute to the "Man in Black," Johnny Cash, he shows a dark, rich bass voice. Direction by David Dower and settings by Alexander V. Nichols add to the excellence of the production.

I trained as a baritone myself and I hate the over amplification in practice today, so presented with these three outstanding voices, not miked for most of the evening, I am as close to nirvana as I am likely to get anytime soon. I'm already planning UnBound 2 - The Ballads ("Lonely Town," "This Nearly Was Mine," "Hey There," "What Kind of Fool Am I?") and Return of the Baritones, Still Unbound - Women's Songs ("The Saga of Jenny," "100 Easy Ways to Lose a Man," "Hostess with the Mostes' on the Ball," "Hello Young Lovers," "Down in the Depths of the 90th Floor").

Asolo Repertory Theater presents Baritones UnBound through June 29, 2014, at the Mertz Theater in the FSU Center. 5555 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota, Florida. Box Office (941) 351-8000. For more information visit www.asolorep.org.

Cast:
Mark Kudisch
Jeff Mattsey
Mark Delavan

Music Direction and Arrangements by Timothy Splain
Directed by David Dower
Production Design-- Alexander V. Nichols
Stage Manager--Larry Baker


Photo: Timothy W. Sweetman

--William S. Oser



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