Regional Reviews: Seattle
Contemporary Classics New Voices 14
Also see David's review of The Book of Mormon
For the past seven years, Contemporary Classics Artistic director Brandon Ivie has gifted Seattle audiences with the New Voices Songwriter Showcase concerts, wherein the songs of some of the hottest new composers and lyricists of modern musical theatre are given rousing renditions by a lively cross-section of Puget Sound audiences. New Voices 14 (which was presented on January 7) was one of the best such outings I have attended, this time co-sponsored by the rapidly rising Balagan Theatre Company in their home base Erickson Theatre Space.
Do you like musical comedy dripping with darkness? Easily the funniest and most edgy song in this New Voices outing was a tune from composer/lyricist Drew Gasparini's Inappropriate Stories Told at a Bar, "I Could Use A Drink," in which the increasingly twisted tales related by a trio of barroom buds are topped by a stranger who joins them. Gasparini's bold material was superlatively delivered by Matt Wade, Bill Williams, Rob Scherzer and Brian Lange. Pure gothic darkness, in the form of an eight-minute folk ballad/bluegrass style near aria, holds sway in Ryan Scott Oliver's "Leave Luanne" from the composer/lyricist's musical exhibition 35mm in which songs are inspired by photographs and vice-versa. Trent Saunders (with Lindsey Hedberg and Erin Sprow providing background vocals) delivered a true tour-de-force performance of this one-of-a-kind piece. A classic, soaring ballad lamenting a lost love, "Where Does The Love Go?" by Will Reynolds, was perhaps the evening's emotional highlight, and anyone wanting to know why Seattle leading lady Beth DeVries was cast as Diana in the upcoming Northwest premiere of Next to Normal would have that question answered if they heard her exquisite rendering of this song. A tender near-lullabye of a heart warmer was Scott Alan's "Always," ideally matched by the tender delivery of it by Jenny Shotwell. Robert Baumgartner, Jr.'s driving musical line and clever lyrics for "Pictures of the Border Signs" were rousingly performed by New Voices regular Sarah Davis. The number perfectly chosen to close-out this edition of the series was Joe Iconis' raffish "Everybody's at the Bar But Me" from the intriguingly titled Things to Ruin performed with stylish sass by Rashawn Scott and her backup singers Danny Kam, Ryan McCabe, Trina Mills and Erin Sprow.
Not all of the songs were instantly distinctive or memorable, but no one could fault the evening's other splendid performers, including the always appealing Diana Huey, vibrant Kirsten DeLohr Helland, soulful Heath Saunders, sunny Jessica Skerritt, sultry Jessica Low, warm-voiced Joshua Carter, and spitfire Naomi Morgan. Brandon Ivie himself is always an ingratiating, self-deprecating host, and no small praise to musical director R.J. Tancioco and his intrepid band.
New Voices 14 served as a fundraiser for the Balagan/Contemporary Classics collaborative production, directed by Brandon Ivie, opening February 8. For further information on that production and Balagan's upcoming Hedwig and the Angry Inch go to www.balagantheatre.org.- David Edward Hughes