Mr. C. & Mr. C.
This time out: some breezy, easygoing singing, lighthearted and light on the drama. One CD features a feisty fellow full of Fun named Robert Creighton (currently on Broadway). The other is a much, much more mellow man named Jerry Costanzo, with Can't We Be Friends?. Each Mr. C. dips into old songbooks.
A large measure of charm and the abundant, infectious joy heard in the singing of ebullient Robert Creighton make for a delightful CD of old-school performance style and panache. If you didn't already know that this fellow is the understudy for impishly zippy musical comedy veteran Joel Grey in the revival of Anything Goes on Broadway, you'd be reminded of his kind of endearing and energizing M.O. Vintage, vaudeville-y numbers populate this strong and sweet album, but they neither creak nor get loaded down with gimmicky modernization. Much of the credit for that must go to versatile Georgia Stitt who created the majority of the arrangements and orchestrations and plays piano. She also produced the CD, which slides right into the early 20th century, reflecting and honoring the old-timey era without leaning on button-pushing nostalgia pastiche. There's a freshness and bright energy in the musical settings, playing and the singing that leaps out and is exhilarating, while respect for the olden, golden days is evident. Robert is clearly having a ball and is in his element. He's brought along some terrific traveling companions we know from musical theatre, including Mr. Grey himself.
"Adorable" is the word for Creighton's persona on most of the numbers, whether he's bubbling over with smiley goodwill or coming off as a music hall variety performer whose job description is to make the audience smile. Prudently, the cheerleading and strutting is broken up with the occasional tender, plaintive ballad like a wistful but retrained "My Buddy" and the sweetly idyllic "If You Were the Only Girl in the World." Sincerity beams from our incurably romantic Robert. His voice can be coy and cutely character-y, ornow and thenarrestingly unaffected. Fitting in comfortably are two terrific numbers he wrote (music and lyrics) for a show about James Cagney (which has had a few productions) titled, simply, Cagney! (with exclamation point, of course!) He sings the winning "Crazy 'Bout You" with flash and flair and a pair-up with Kate Baldwin on "Fallin' in Love" is bouncy and full of playful and slightly goofy goodwill. Another Creighton contribution is an appealing and brief mood/era-setting album intro piece.
Two odes to the value of optimism blend surprisingly well with the Harold Arlen/Johnny Mercer faux-preacherly, high-energy adviso, "Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive," neither upstaging nor too upbeat a musical mate for the lean and legato Jerome Kern/ Buddy G. DeSylva "Look for the Silver Lining." They weave around each other as do the voices of Creighton and singing companion, lightning-voiced Tituss Burgess, at his best here. They complement each otherthe songs and the singers. Other singing guest stars are Heidi Blickenstaff, shining and lively on "You Are My Sunshine"; and Daniel J. Edwards, John Treacy Eagan, Merwin Foard and Brent-Alan Huffman on a barbershop quartet style version of "I Want a Girl (Just Like the Girl That Married Dear Old Dad)"this dear old relic (it recently had its 100-year anniversary) glows. Joel Grey is last in order of appearance but hardly least in impact. He famously played the great theatrical multi-tasker George M. Cohan, and a Cohan signature song and ultimate Great White Way anthem, "Give My Regards to Broadway," is their plum assignment. The mutual admiration and love for theatre and the fabled avenue are palpable. Starting in "gentle" gear, and building, it's far more than just a rouser. It's a love letter. So is the album. So is this review.
Featuring the numbers from Ain't We Got Fun!, Robert Creighton recently did a live nightclub act in New York City at the Metropolitan Room. On March 26, a Monday "night off" from his Broadway duties as the Purser in the cast of Anything Goes, he goes to Birdland just a couple of blocks away as a guest when Jane Monheit sings and swings a special jazzy re-vamp of that Cole Porter score, arranged by bassist Mary Ann McSweeney, who plays on this CD, along with other fine musicians on tracks with varying configurations.
Nothing seems to ruffle this fellow named Jerry Costanzo. He has a pleasant voice and sounds comfortable with a bandand if the album's title were a literal invitation, rather than the title of the old 1930s song about a break-up and disappointment, you'd probably find him genial enough to be his friend. He comes off as the ultimate nice guy. But nice guys aren't the most compelling interpreters of songs that might be drenched in romance or regret.
On that title song, where the singer bemoans being rejected as a love partner and is only offered platonic friendship, leading to the rueful resolve of "Never again,/ Through with love ...," it's still casual Costanzo. He eschews the kinds of songs whose lyrics would demand deep introspection or deep, dark sorrow. With those that might suggest the possibility of hurt, he seems to circumvent any lament by skimming over the words as the musical arrangements and tempi emphasize a blithe briskness. In "Love Me or Leave Me," he offers the titular ultimatum and, as he sings about how he'd "rather be lonely than happy with somebody else" and how he knows that means his fate may be "to be independently blue," his blasť attitude doesn't find a payoff or justification. These two standards have a very minor amount of additional lyrics credited to Kevin Fitzgerald Burke, who co-produced the CD with the vocalist. Jerry could hardly sound less concerned, plaintive or angrily accusatory in "Mean to Me" ("I'm left alone ... You treat me coldly each day ..."). This torch song burns not. These are representative of the approach throughout most of the album with items that have more potential for intensity in proclaiming lasting love or mourning its loss. Wisely, some are lighter fare, fairly absent of any agenda except a lilt and a smile and a cozy attitude.
Each arrangement, except the last track, is by one of the musicians on board and things are kept laidback and relaxed, but not bland or limp. A kind of sweetly polite, modest persona informs some of the stylings and attitudes, recalling Nat King Cole's sometimes preferred approach. There's tenderness in some phrasing and warmth of timbre on the idyllic and dreamy "Stairway to the Stars," the last cuta rewarding one worth waiting for. (There are only ten selections.) And "Oh, You Crazy Moon" (Johnny Burke and Jimmy Van Heusen), the other highlight, reveals the thoughtful, serious, nuanced performance Costanzo issurprise!capable of, after all. In this piece chastising that lunar object for casting its irresistible spell on one's sweetheart and best friend ("look what you've done!"), he is convincing and involving. But other tracks are full of missed opportunities to get into a lyric's story and mood or to take the reins decidedly and compellingly in some way.
Sure, many singers have rejected melodrama for mellow and made appealing marshmallow-sweet music with lush voices and pillowy plush. Others have taken serious songs and swung them hard, even cavalierly, finding surprising bite, downplaying sentimentality, or their blazing-hot voices, impressive jazz chops and improvisational skills compensate. That's not what's happening here. It's more "At ease, let's not break a sweat, let's kick back and float or sail on the wave of the music." They used to call it Easy Listening, and aspects of it have plenty of real appeal for someespecially if your focus is on the glow of familiar melodies when smiles trump tears. The seven-man band enriches some numbers' ambience, with felicitous work by Mark Sherman on vibes. Having Tedd Firth on piano is always a great asset; I just wish he were spotlighted more with solos and was more prominent overall in the orchestrations. His two contributions as arranger ("I Just Can't See for Lookin'" and "Penthouse Serenade") are particularly tasty and seem to find support and encourage the best happy medium between cool and warm.
I sense a developing if uneven singer on this CD; this late 2011 release was actually recorded back in 2008, the same year his first album came out. His growth can be checked out in person as he has been appearing in New York City at Feinstein's at Loews Regency, with his next date coming up on March 21, with the band from this album.