Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Los Angeles

In Good Company Concert

Brian Lane Green and
Lee Lessack

The concept was a threefold one - a concert to celebrate the tenth anniversary of LML records, to serve as a release party for Lee Lessack's new album of duets, and to raise money for Operation USA's relief efforts. In Good Company featured Lee Lessack and a series of cabaret and Broadway performers recreating some twelve tracks from the album of the same name, plus a few surprises.

Lessack is ideally suited to the task. He's an amiable host whose genuine enthusiasm for working with all of his guests clearly shines through. More than that, he has a soft-edged singing voice that works perfectly with nearly every other type of voice. Whether providing counterpoint to the clear, high voice of Nita Whitaker (on 'The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face'), alternating verses with the rich, seductive voice of Joanne O'Brien ('Summer Wine'), or blending with the passionate theatrical voice of Franc D'Ambrosio ('Vincero Perdero'), Lessack's voice fits. And, as befits a genial host, he frequently takes the back seat, allowing his guests to shine in the spotlight.

While most of Lessack's guests performed only a single duet with him, two ladies were given three songs each - two duets and a solo number. And, although the evening was about duets, the solo songs were true highlights. Ann Hampton Callaway sang a hell of a 'Blues In The Night' (which she dedicated to all the 'single and bitter people'). And Susan Werner accompanied herself on the guitar for a rather unusual 'rearrangement' of 'Wouldn't It Be Loverly' (which she described as 'the intersection of The Indigo Girls and Marlene Dietrich') that had to be heard to be believed.

Johnny Rodgers
The only other performer given more than half a duet was Johnny Rodgers, who also served as musical director for the evening and led the Johnny Rodgers Band. Rodgers performed three solo numbers as something of a warm-up act (which was wholly unnecessary - the capacity crowd was rarin' to go as soon as the show began). Rodgers also had a duet with Lessack, entitled 'Here's To You.' After the song, Lessack somewhat unnecessarily explained that Rodgers had written it as a Simon and Garfunkel tribute song. The tribute elements of the song are simultaneously subtle and obvious; without directly naming Paul and Art, the song reflects some of their lyrics, melodies and harmonies. Indeed, before you're even aware of the lyrics, Rodgers and Lessack offered up a harmony that your mind would distinctly associate with Simon and Garfunkel - even if you didn't realize your brain had standard Simon and Garfunkel harmonies on file.

The delicate nods to Simon and Garfunkel in 'Here's To You' are to be contrasted with Callaway's 'Who Can See The Blue The Same Again?', a song she wrote as a fundraiser for tsunami relief. While Callaway's good intentions cannot be questioned - nor the earnestness with which she and Lessack sang the song - the lyrics 'Send a wave of love from every shore/Higher than it's ever been before' seemed somewhat misguided.

One song in each act was performed with visual entertainment. On the CD, 'The Look of Love' is performed by Lessack and Susan Egan. But Egan was not present for the concert, and the recording of the song was played while Kimberly Mikesell and Sal Vasallo danced a sensual duet, including lifts and spins that TV's Kelly and Alec wouldn't dream of trying. And, as Michael Feinstein was not present to recreate his duet of 'May I Suggest?', Lessack sang it solo, accompanied by the always evocative sign language interpretation of Jon Maher.

The show, like the CD, contained some unusual arrangements - like Brian Lane Green and Lessack dueting on Journey's power ballad 'Open Arms,' and taking a lot of the power out of it. A similarly slowed-down arrangement of 'The Rose' was performed in concert by Lessack and Werner (although Amanda McBroom joined Lessack for her composition on the CD). These slower arrangements, in which nearly every syllable is emphasized, didn't sit well with my memories of the better-known recordings of the songs, but, to be fair, Lessack did warn that this was 'a make-out album.'

A more successful, but equally surprising, arrangement was used when Lessack joined Stephen Schwartz on Wicked's 'For Good.' Divorced from its theatrical context, and sped up a notch, the song plays less like a tearful goodbye and more like a genuine expression of gratitude between two buddies.

The friendly spirit exemplified by Schwartz and Lessack was present throughout the evening. Even when a song was intended to be bittersweet, romantic, or passionate, all of the performances took place in the congenial atmosphere of the celebration of LML's first decade of work, and the good cheer of knowing the event's proceeds were benefiting a worthy cause.

In Good Company performed on July 10, 2005 at the Ford Amphitheatre.

Crystal Cruises & Continental Airlines Presents In Good Company - an evening of romantic duets under the stars. Produced by LML Music and Rob O'Neill. Starring Lee Lessack. In duet with Jon Philip Alman, David Burnham, Ann Hampton Callaway, Franc D'Ambrosio, Brian Lane Green, Jon Maher, Kimberly Mikesell, MaryJo Mundy, Joanne O'Brien, Stephen Schwartz, Stacy Sullivan, Sal Vasallo, Susan Werner, Nita Whitaker and Johnny Rodgers & The Johnny Rodgers Band. Celebrating the 10th Anniversary of LML Music and benefiting Operation USA's domestic and international relief efforts. Musical Director Johnny Rodgers; Choreographer Lee Martino; Lighting Design James Smith III; Stage Manager Winne Y. Lok. Directed by Ken Sawyer.

Photos: Dan Steinberg

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