From the torchy and tragic teardrops of Patti LuPone to a
travesty on the topic of toothpaste in a Fringe Festival frolic, and in between, two live
albums with plenty of show tunes.
This lady's torch is simmering on a lower flame than you might expect; Patti LuPone's new album of torch songs only occasionally flares up to remind you of the fiery vocal blasts often associated with her. This collection of love laments is mostly reflective, mature and calm.
Although she first came to most people's attention with powerhouse belting in Evita and an Anything Goes revival, no one-trick pony is LuPone. She's shown a gentle side on album tracks before (especially the prior one, Matters of the Heart), and anyone who saw her recent turn as Fosca in the concert of Passion knows she can do somber. Patti gives us a dose of her vocal pow in parts of "The Man I Love" and an ardent "So In Love," but she's mostly on the musical equivalent of decaf here, and the CD successfully displays her as a balladeer and actress.
Recorded in a studio following live appearances of this repertoire put together and directed by Scott Wittman, Patti sounds fully at ease with the material. She's vocally in fine form and careful with enunciation (the diction police can look elsewhere for transgressors). The interpretations and arrangements are quite traditional; none of the standards are radically rethought or recast musically. Broadway's Jonathan Tunick is responsible for 12 of the 14 classy orchestrations. There is very effective writing for brass and reeds, and Erik Charlston playing vibes adds a especially flavorful touch. Chris Fenwick is pianist and conductor; the spare tracks featuring piano accompaniment are in a way the most affecting. One is "My Buddy," arranged by and addressed to the late Dick Gallagher, the singer's former pianist (and the whole CD is dedicated to him). It is especially touching in its simplicity and sincerity.
Not all is doom and gloom, though tears will be jerked. "I Wanna Be Around" lets the singer sharpen her claws in the lyric that gloats how "revenge is sweet" and she lets out some anger out in a fun way. "Do It Again" is more playful, too. The main impression is of sorrow, but not so much from the point of view of a lover who is in shock from a love affair that just ended and who is in heavy handkerchief rotation mode. Instead, it seems like she's been living with the sadness a while and it's become a wearying part of her. It's in her bones, it's affected her long view, there's some acceptance. Thus, there's a lot of mellow in the melodrama, and one of our major Broadway stars glows nobly in this torch light on Ghostlight.
This is an album that doesn't make me jump up and down with excitement or send a chill up my spine, but one I respect and like for its professionalism and grown-up sensibilities. Kurt Deutsch and Joel Moss have produced a CD with warm and clear sound, well sequenced: it flows.
There will be a one-night only concert of the material at The Vivian Beaumont Theater in Lincoln Center on May 22 as an AIDS benefit for Broadway Cares. And speaking of AIDS benefits...
VARIOUS ARTISTS (S.T.A.G.E. CONCERT)
Although the CD is just being issued now, this benefit concert featuring the music of Charles Strouse, Arthur Schwartz and Stephen Schwartz took place several years ago. Since the mid-1980s, concerts of songs from the stage by S.T.A.G.E. (Southland Theatre Artist Goodwill Event) have been held in Los Angeles to raise funds for AIDS charities. Ten other concerts featuring the music of the major composers have been recorded and released. This is the first of the series to be released by Kritzerland.
Strouse, Schwartz, and Schwartz is a 2-CD set, a grab-bag of theater performers, with some exciting renditions and a few underwhelming ones. But it's quite a good batting average and there are hits aplenty with some really hit out of the ballpark. What I especially enjoy about these concerts is that they tend to have some theater singers not heard on disc for quite a while. Those who have been collecting the series or seeing the live concerts will recognize returnees, notably Carole Cook who often holds court comedically. This time it's with a riff about being in companies of Annie and she sweeps through "The Middle Age Blues" from Bring Back Birdie. It's a rarely heard song, making it welcome among the more well-tred tunes like "Day By Day" and "Meadowlark." Another seldom heard one is "There's Never Been Anything Like Us" from Dance a Little Closer. Ttthe enthused rendition is a duet by Lee Lessack and Eydie Alyson.
Ron Abel is the pianist, arranger and conductor with 11 other musicians credited. There are several awkward musical moments, instrumentally and vocally. As in any live performance without a luxurious rehearsal period, things won't be perfect. Still, there are many reasons to agree with the title of the final Arthur Schwartz/ Howard Dietz number, "That's Entertainment" - as the company sings, "The stage [in this case, S.T.A.G.E] is a world of entertainment." As I hear things, the Arthur Schwartz selections fare the least well of the three composers represented, although "Make the Man Love Me" from A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (words by Dorothy Fields, but incorrectly credited in the insert to Dietz) is a major highlight. It's sung by Polly Bergen, in a rendition that is thrilling, throaty and thoroughly possessed of star power.
As far as the other Mr. Schwartz - Stephen - his Children of Eden is represented by Lauren Kennedy and Christopher Sieber duetting on an intense all-stops-out "In Whatever Time We Have." Four Pippin picks include corralling the audience into singing along on the chorus of "No Time At All" with Andrea Martin, who incorporates a comic monologue, forgets the lyrics but the improv-trained comedienne makes such a gaffe work for her. Also high on the amusing scale is the marvelous pro Betty Garrett with "Charmin's Lament" from The Magic Show. From the same musical comes what is the loveliest track on either CD, "Lion Tamer," engagingly realized by David Burnham, who shows vulnerability as well as technical knowhow (he varies the dynamics superbly, using head tones and vocal strength, both appropriately and for full effect of each).
Stephen Schwartz wrote the lyrics for Rags with Charles Strouse's music, and that convenient overlap is noted with the inclusion of one number "Blame It on the Summer Night," by Linda Michele, in a version that could use a little more summer sultriness. Strouse's songs with lyricist Lee Adams are an opportunity for three women to revisit material. With schtick and great timing, Tyne Daly lays on the guilt trip, "A Mother Doesn't Matter Anymore," as she did in the TV version of Bye Bye Birdie with this showpiece that was added to the score. And three decades after Applause, original cast members Penny Fuller again recalls "One Halloween" and Bonnie Franklin solos on the title tune.
Finally, all three S men's music comes together in what's called "The Hope Medley." Considering the cause, hope is an appropriate note to come to just before the finale. A portion of the proceeds from the album sales goes to AIDS service organizations. Hopefully, next up will be the recording of S.T.A.G.E.'s concert saluting Comden & Green.
Kritzerland's other new release is also a live album, but this time just one performer. It's Kevin Spirtas. It's safe to say none of our readers who were Boy From Oz repeat customers ever saw him go on for Hugh Jackman when he was the standby because Jackman never missed a show, so a high point of the concert is that Kevin gets a chance to finally do a few Oz numbers for an audience. Here's a guy who's big on charm and cheer and if he doesn't have a rich, resounding goose-bump-inducing voice, it's bright and clear and he can belt and croon. Kevin is very much an entertainer who sounds super-happy to be performing and sharing his chattery patter about his career path. He's especially upbeat and down to earth in a show bizzy kind of way.
In his breezy program, Kevin zips through some favorite show tunes that he had encountered first in the movie versions seen on TV in his growing-up days. He tips his top hat to Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly, and also includes numbers from Guys and Dolls ("I've Never Been in Love Before") and West Side Story ("Somewhere"). As a very young man in New York, he was cast as a replacement in the Broadway production of A Chorus Line. This leads to his lively and feel-good rendition of that musical's "I Can Do That" and apparently he does a back flip to prove that, "I can still do that." You can feel him winning over the audience. Some of that audience might know him from a few movies and the TV daytime drama, "Days of Our Lives." He earns points and laughs by mocking both his roles in slasher sequels and his television character, a doctor with a ludicrously complicated personal life. This is done to a tee with special lyrics set to a melody kidnaped from Les Miserables. I am as interested in watching soap operas as I am in watching soap float, but I found it hilarious.
Not every number is the perfect fit but he's game and garrulous. The ballad performances don't really dig deep enough to provide big heart-stopping cabaret catharsis, but they're pleasing. He's not profound, but he's a pro. With versatile John Boswell on piano, the spirted Spirtas has energy that is truly infectious.
The act was smartly put together and directed by Bruce Kimmel, who wears many hats, including a crown as the king of the Kritzerland label.
UNDER THE RADAR
Greed, dysfunctional relationships, and a story including the discovery that a brand of toothpaste has the surprising side effect of curing depression - what more could you want? A plate of macaroni and cheese that glows in the dark? Actually, the musical Genius Famous has that, too. This quirky, edgy little-show-that-could from last year's Fringe Festival in Manhattan is now available on CD. It's a low budget affair as far as recordings go, hardly state of the art, but it has a lot going for it. There's some wild humor, high energy performances by a youthful cast and a boldness that's kind of endearing in its way.
It's a piece that's gone through changes and could use more work; some lyrics could use a tweak and another twist, as well as some clarification. It's not all instantly accessible in this version, but after a second and third listen, I found it more and more satisfying. Stylistically, it's contemporary with pop and rock influences and a rollicking renegade kind of musical theater sensibility. The characters have life and attitude, with some effective interaction. The recording features the 2005 cast directed by Ryan J. Davis. A cut song, "It's Hard to Love a Person When They're Suicidal," has dark irreverent humor and I'd vote for its reinstatement. It's pretty funny, maybe a guilty pleasure. The advertising world's rat race is a big part of the story (thus the toothpaste as a product to be marketed) and there's a jingle that's quite fun. Another number about a woman's sometime anti-male bias is cute as a can't-live-with-'em-can't-live-without-'em statement. And that song about the macaroni and cheese that glows in the dark (it's a long story) is tasty.
Although the cast and material are uneven, there's some good work here. The company does especially well in a sharp ensemble number about young underemployed people in the city trying to make ends meet. Best of all is Matt Sigl whose goofy and madcap merriment suits the piece, especially in a number in which he covets a prestigious credit card. The music, lyrics and book are by Jason Atkinson, who shows talent and is already onto other projects. He's writing a new musical about musicians and has his own more low-key pop album, Friendly Radio, as a singer-songwriter.
Those who have a taste for satire and something off the beaten path will appreciate the potential and zing of Genius Famous. In the interest of truthful marketing, it won't cure depression any more than toothpaste can, but it may temporarily make you smile several smiles with those pearly whites.
And I think I'll leave you while you're smiling.