Regional Reviews: Connecticut and the Berkshires
Truth be told, musicals that try to shoehorn songs into a narrative usually turn me off, but Burt & Me feels novel and fresh, managing to avoid the pitfalls typically inherent in shows like this. And while it probably helps to have a love of Burt Bacharach/Hal David songs going in, Burt & Me should be a pleasure for just about everyone. This evening of entertainment evokes nostalgia and fond memories, as well as laughter and tears.
Seven actors are listed in the program, but the bulk of the songs are sung by the ingratiating and extremely appealing Andy Christopher as Joe. While it may have been generous to give more songs to the other performers, one soon gets swept up in Joe's life. The book for Burt & Me is by Larry McKenna and includes a great deal of wonderful dialogue, with Joe talking directly to the audience throughout. But in a musical entertainment like this, the key moments are the delivery of the songs, and this actor comes up aces there as well.
From a lovely "(There's) Always Something There to Remind Me" to start off the show, Christopher's singing is just amazing, and these Bacharach songs, with their complex melodies, can't be easy to sing, though Christopher certainly makes it seem like they are. Highlights include a splendid "This Guy's in Love with You" and an extremely moving "A House Is Not a Home" in the second half of the show, with the performer's impressive rendition of the title song from the Bacharach musical Promises, Promises proving to be a tour de force.
Burt & Me is not a one-man show, however; there are six other actors sharing the stage. As the girl Joe falls in love with, Lacey, Lauren Gire is pretty great and she especially shines in such songs as the second act opener, "Blue on Blue," which she shares with her leading man, as well "I Say a Little Prayer," with the full company eventually coming in. My personal favorite of her numbers is "Knowing When to Leave" from Promises, Promises, sung as a duet with the equally talented Adrianne Hick as Lacey's best friend Sally.
Another performer who stands out is the comical Josh Powell, who plays Joe's friend Jerry and is just terrific singing "The Look of Love." At times I wished that some of the other actors had more to do than to just provide background harmonies, which, admittedly, are a key part of just about every Burt Bacharach song. Still, Neal Mayer is touching as Joe's father, and it is just sensational to watch Lauren Gire, Adrienne Hick, and Katie Luke, recreate some of the Michael Bennett choreography from "Turkey Lurkey Time" to mark significant moments in the plot.
Director Brian Feehan has staged Burt & Me very well, and the evening flows smoothly. Scenic designer Emily Nichols provides an attractive, 1960s-like background for the action and Lisa Bebey's costumes are entirely appropriate throughout. The excellent musical director Michael Morris leads the phenomenal onstage band superbly.
Ultimately, Andy Christopher is at the center of the show is, and he is completely winning from the moment he steps onstage. Burt & Me is strikingly different in style and concept than most musical revues highlighting composers, and is all the better for it.
Burt & Me, through April 7, 2019, at Ivoryton Playhouse, 103 Main St, Ivoryton CT. For tickets, please visit www.ivorytonplayhouse.org or call the box office at 860-767-7318.