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Anything Can Happen in the Theater: The Musical World of Maury Yeston

Theatre Review by Marc Miller - December 6, 2019

Jovan E'Sean, Alex Getlin, Benjamin Eakeley,
Mamie Parris, and Justin Keyes

Photo by Carol Rosegg
A couple months ago the York Theatre's Musicals in Mufti staged a revue, The Decline and Fall of the Entire World as Seen Through the Eyes of Cole Porter, that delivered exactly what it promised. It was Cole Porter—so you knew going in that there would be beguines, florid ballads, list songs ribbing at long-ago celebrities, ditties about sex with naughty double-entendre lyrics.

Stick with me, I'm getting at something. The point is, Cole Porter comes with, as it were, an identity, a set of stylistic assumptions borne out in the work. Maury Yeston, the subject of the York's new, non-Mufti revue, Anything Can Happen in the Theater, does not. A first-rate craftsman of music and lyrics, with an admirable set of hits behind him (Nine, Titanic, half of Grand Hotel) and some intriguing less-than-hits (Death Takes a Holiday, the non-Lloyd Webber-and superior Phantom, In the Beginning), Yeston lets his style be dictated by the material, not the other, Cole Porter way around. Like Jason Robert Brown and Michael John LaChiusa and Flaherty and Ahrens, he's flexible and adaptable. His work's always neat, literate and appropriate, and often it's dazzling. But as a body of work, it doesn't hang neatly together, making it difficult to come up with a revue format that could unite around a singular concept.

The show is conceived and directed by Gerard Alessandrini, who wrote and directed Anything Can Happen (and whose own latest Forbidden Broadway will merrily follow it into the York in January), doesn't even try to. He just rolls from song to song, with his five gifted young singers facing front and pouring out the Yeston. There's a sixth crucial player, musical director Greg Jarrett, who sits center stage at a big grand piano and nimbly navigates Yeston's unpredictable chords and frequent key changes. So much page turning! This music isn't, to quote the title of one of Yeston's most beguiling Nine songs, "Simple."

The women, Alex Getlin and Mamie Parris, are pretty stunning. The silken-voiced Getlin delivers a winning "Danglin," and she and Parris have fun with "No Women in the Bible," a funny gripe on same, from In the Beginning. Parris, wrapped in pink lounge pajamas and an old-fashioned phone cord, does a sizzling job with "Call from the Vatican" (Nine), though if you saw Anita Morris in the original, you know she'll never be equaled.

The men: Benjamin Eakeley, Justin Keyes, and Jovan E'Sean. Three guys, and they couldn't come up with one baritone? The showing-off-the-high-notes thing does become a little oppressive, and it's seldom in the service of the material. Eakeley makes some beautiful sounds in a rather slow "New Words" (In the Beginning), but he fails to convince you he's actually a young dad besotted with his infant son. He's more persuasive on "Only with You" (Nine), which Alessandrini peppers with some witty staging surprises. E'Sean impresses with "Mississippi Moon," which isn't from anything. But if there's a standout among this talented crew it's Keyes, who has a subversive twinkle lacking in the others. Aided by some more clever Alessandrini staging, he kills with "Salt 'n Pepper," a horny-cook-in-the-kitchen romp that emerges instantly as one of the funniest, dirtiest songs about food you'll ever hear. There's other unfamiliar material, too: You'll love "I Don't Want to Rock 'n' Roll," an ensemble number in praise of classical music that has the nerve to rhyme, "I'm gonna boycott all the radio stations/ That don't play the Goldberg Variations."

The cast is all overmiked, by sound designer Julian Evans, but the excess of decibels is less annoying than usual, because the lyrics are so clear and everyone sounds so good. It's mostly solos and duets, but the ensemble harmonies are truly gorgeous: "Home," from Phantom, never sounded as wonderful as it does here. Gerry McIntyre, another Forbidden Broadway veteran, provides choreography that's mostly modest and non-attention-grabbing, but he does let ecstatically loose with "Feet," a demented item from In the Beginning that has the Hebrew slaves tap-tap-tapping their way out of Egypt: "We'll have no need to view the pyramids, we've taken the tour!" Yeston's good at silly; he should try it more. And the show is elaborately costumed: Melinda Hare's costumes are predominantly black, but for a revue, there's a lot of outfit changing, and usually to fine effect.

It's a short revue, about an hour twenty, and there's no Titanic at all until the encore. Which mainly leaves us hungry for more. Where's "Folies Bergere"? "You Are My Son"? And the only selection from Death Takes a Holiday is "Shimmy Like They Do in Paree," presented in a pairing with "I Want to Go to Hollywood" (from Grand Hotel). Yeston was in the audience the night I attended, looking justifiably satisfied, and let this review serve as a plea to him: Keep writing. His versatility may work against creating a stylistically consistent, readily characterizable revue, but in these jukebox days, musical-theater writing at this level is certainly something to admire and savor. Anything Can Happen in the Theater may be a hodgepodge, but it's a hodgepodge you'll want to hear.

Anything Can Happen in the Theater: The Musical World of Maury Yeston
Through December 29, 2019
York Theatre Company, 619 Lexington Avenue (enter on 54th Street between Lexington and 3rd Avenue at St. Peter's Church) Tickets online and current Performance Schedule: