It was a dark and stormy night ... literally ... when I saw a revue called Broadway Nightmares at the nightclub Dillon's on West 54th Street. Its one-night-only October 24 New York City performance had the bad luck of coinciding with a relentless rain and wind storm, courtesy of the path of Hurricane Wilma. The very audible sound of pounding rain from just outside seemed appropriate, however, to the spooky mood of some of the subject matter. I thought it might be a good omen. I was wrong.
Taking songs from musicals like Jekyll and Hyde, Wicked and Phantom of the Opera, the two-act presentation was over two hours of musical numbers dark and heavy along with some lighter fare. The theme of "creatures" was used to mean societal misfits as well as the spookier types suitable to the timing of a week before Halloween. The theme had the potential for high drama or high camp. I'm sorry to report it found its way to neither path. Despite some costuming (lots of black), a little smoke effect and the singing done in character, many of the numbers were hardly scary or gripping out of context.
Little Shop of Horrors has its cute-scary moments, but "Somewhere That's Green" is hardly one. Sweeney Todd is certainly a show with frightening moments, but the song chosen for inclusion was "Green Finch and Linnet Bird," the song of sympathy for caged birds. This is hardly one of the more spine-tingling moments of Sondheim's often intense score. So one is forced to think, "Oh, I see. This song comes from a show that has some 'nightmare' aspects but this isn't one."
It became clear that the songs were chosen to showcase the talents of soprano Arianna, who is the show's reason for existing. The good news is she sings beautifully with an impressive, flexible voice and is lovely. She was introduced with a speech saying she has a five-octave range. She can sing an aria and belt strongly. Much more than capable, her voice may not be especially distinctive, but she's a strong singer with pure tones. Her vibrato is quite attractive. Never abrasive, she can be warm and unlike many sopranos, she sounds as comfortable with an aria as with a musical comedy number like "If," the tricky Comden and Green lyric sung by a woman who has just shot her unfaithful hubby. Arianna's real-life hubby, Joseph Tatner, bills himself the program's host, writer and director, but takes on a large amount of singing. He is not on her level as a singer. He had a bit more success with comic relief. Some of his singing found him struggling with pitches and comfort level. Gamely, he took on a seemingly infinite number of songs from Jekyll and Hyde, The Scarlet Pimpernel and other shows, reappearing in dark cloaks and top hats, looking menacing to a degree. Frankly, it all became quite tedious.
There was virtually no dialog or set-up for the songs, except at the outset. No printed program or song list was provided. There was a pianist onstage all night who played quite well when he played, but roughly half the songs found him sitting patiently on stage with his hands in his lap while, ludicrously, a karaoke orchestral tape served as accompaniment to the singing. Constantly alternating between the live and taped instrumentals was even more jarring. It was cheesy and, combined with the weaker or less tied-in numbers, this made much of the enterprise seem like community theater. I couldn't help but think they'd picked up a karaoke CD of songs recorded by Linda Eder (for certain show tunes) and figured they'd get their money's worth. Otherwise, what is the justification for including her Man of La Mancha romp?