Sound Advice Reviews
That perilous pair Bonnie & Clyde and
There's no law that says law-breakers can't break into song and provide bang-up musical theatre entertainment, and an infamous do-or-die duo do that in a new Broadway score. Then we steal time with two blonde vocalists named Sue, each armed with a variety of songs, including Broadway numbers.
BONNIE & CLYDE
This may be the very first release by a brand new label called, simply, Broadway Records (welcome!), but it's not the first score to look at life through the jaded or myopic eyes of criminals. Just experiencing this telling of the Bonnie & Clyde real-life story as an audio recording of the songs with minimal dialogue, it's easier to put aside the hurdles of humanizing characters with little respect for human life. We can also get past resistance to being pulled in because we know from the get-go how a story based on (in)famous folks will go. If you saw it on stage, you know it begins with a glimpse of how Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow met their end, and it ends with that, too. Given the cast's irrepressible sprits and character-rich flavorings with the orchestrations adding accents, color, and spice, the material is seductively served up. Like the dastardly duo whose tale is re-told, the musical had a short life (on Broadway), but it isn't something to file and forget.
Veteran writers Frank Wildhorn (music) and Don Black (lyrics) have given us alternately invigorating and endearing numbers. The material is neither deep nor sweeping. The lyrics don't glitter with wit or wordplay, nor are they shadowed by implying morals about right and wrong. They primarily directly express the characters' drive, and the music is driving and accessible. Going along for the rollicking ride has its rewards. From the early-on prison breakout, there are breakout songs that are like lightning bolts, with red-hot Jeremy Jordan's Clyde depending on neither creepy nor cuddly characteristics for his charisma and kinetic portrayal. Laura Osnes's balm-like balancing as Bonnie finds her crooning her way through country-and-western-inflected songs, the naïvely girlish character infatuated with fame and love and Mr. Barrow.
Treating the realities of convicts' crimes and punishments lightlyto the point of laughsbegins with an uber-peppy, cavalier song for four women partnered with such guys, "You're Going Back to Jail." It features the strong supporting performance of Melissa van der Schyff. She plays the wife of Clyde's brother, and shares enabling justifications that reinforce Bonnie's determination to stand by her man and stand at his side in robberies. This is crystallized in the female duet, "You Love Who You Love." Lines like "Common sense may say it's wrong" and "I only care that he's mine and I am his" recall such musical theatre predecessors for leading female character whose men ending up killing and then dying by play's end, such as Carousel's "What's the Use of Wond'rin'" ("Common sense may tell you that the ending will be sad ...") and West Side Story's "I Have a Love" ("I am his/ I don't care what he is ..."). If not breaking new ground, it still works and the performers are convincing (even if the logic isn't).
The full-throttle energy is dynamic, but ladled on thickly when material is thinner can feel like s-t-r-e-t-c-h-i-n-g thin material too far to reveal not so much weighty substance. A few numbers get repetitive and make their point early and then re-state it and the cast seems to be working with would-be compensating fervor and slam-bang builds from the band. It can go from thrill to shrill anti-climax too soon and I have to keep my finger off the pause or skip buttons.
But there's more than just strong cast performances and zingy songs to attract cast album fans. Instrumentally, much credit for the spit 'n' polish (and some heartstrings being more fully plucked on ballads) must go John McDaniel. His arrangements, orchestrations and overall musical supervision are attentive and bright, with much care to detail and crisp mini-bites of punctuation and percussive pointing-up of words and attitudes. He also scores with creating evocative layers of yearning in what may be the musical's real keeper among the candy and kickstarters, the sweetly simple invitation, "How 'Bout a Dance?" with a sexy blanket here wrapped around what could be a more innocent approach. It begins the CD as a brief orchestral prologue, then is sung winningly by our leading lady imagining herself as the chanteuse she'd like to be, performing for Clyde and his questionable role model, Al Capone. The song informs and haunts the bittersweet ending for just a moment or two. Other numbers owe bows to gospel, country, the Depression era pop music, and brassy Broadway beats. Pianist Jason Howland conducts nine other musicians who play more than 15 kinds of instruments plus a synthesizer. Balance is good and the feel theatrical, balanced, and very "present." Included at the end is a cut song for the titular duo, "This Never Happened Before," ostensibly about awkward male impotence, but avoiding any squeamish or snarky factor and actually showing a tender side to the relationship.
The booklet contains all the lyrics, credits, commentary, and opts for using space for many smaller color photos rather than just several large ones. Bravo to a new record company starting in 2012, the age of downloading, for having its debut release include valuable packaging that respects and informs the consumer and adds luster to the musical. While I can't make the argument that this piece is an instant classic or that the recording is a must-have, the well-produced CD has punch and panache that don't die after the first exposure.
As usual, warmth, good taste, and an especially attractive timbre are ever present on the performances by veteran singer Sue Raney on her latest endeavor. She was an early, early favorite of mine and I've never tired of her style and sensibilities. Her musicianship and very clean and unfettered sound make for something elegant and gentle, often restrained without risking becoming at all dull or emotionally aloof. And, every now and then, she'll judiciously use her formidable skill set as a vocal gymnast to remind you that she could join the singers' Olympics events if she chose to. Excellent intonation and diction add to the veteran's confidence. Melodies and lyrics are respected and relished, but never in a slavish or stodgy way. A creative risk-taker with tempi and phrasing, subtle and bold choices pay off handsomely. This is just the latest loveliness in a long series of released albums, too few and far between in recent years, that go back more than half a century now.
This time around, Sue is simply and thoughtfully accompanied by only one musician: pianist Alan Broadbent, whose instrumental solos are never indulgent or straying jarringly from what's been established. They're on the same page.
The melting ballads and soft sounds might be the strong suit here for some. The first track and title song, written by Dave Frishberg, is about heeding your inner voice, and attention must beand ispaid: vocalist and pianist are paying attention to the general message of the lyric as well as the literalness of the command to "Listen Here." There's an urgency and seriousness, extreme focus, but also a down-to-earth, accepting spirit. Such maturity and pensiveness inform the proceedings down to the closer, the epitome of a bittersweet rumination, "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes." Enjoy the luscious high notes (on the word "true") and deep tones, too, from this melody, classic Kern, shorn of the formality that too often encumbers it in "recital-style" renditions of this 1930 souvenir from Roberta. In between there are other gems from writers of Broadway and movie scores and standards.
On many selections, Miss Raney and Mr. Broadbent make a broad move or subtle turn down a side trip to a surprising path. "It Never Was You" from Knickerbockers Holiday is often heard as a heavy lament, throbbing with self-pity, but here it's a journey through true vulnerability, making the poetic line about "the heartbreak call from a meadowlark's nest" feel real. The famously trilling bird in "A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square" is usually approached with hushed awe so as not to break the bubble of magic in the recollection of how two lovers met and fell in love. At first, I thought it was the CD's "oops moment," as I was taken aback by the lighter, brisk tempo employed. I thought it would destroy the fragile ambiance I'm used to with this story-song, a particular favorite of my sentimental heart. But I find that the story and fine feathered friend survive quite well, the usual gossamer grace finding a kissing cousin in what's brought out here in the more ebullient, quicker telling: joy that radiates. Similarly, there is "The Music That Makes Me Dance" from the stage score of Funny Girl, thought of as a stand-in for "My Man," the ultimate beleaguered weeper of a torch song. Think again. The "Dance" metaphor sits this one out, and a happier, lilting tempo allows us to think of it as actually about a positive, healthy love relationship making one want to dance on air. There are two melodies by Richard Rodgers: "It Might As Well Be Spring" with Oscar Hammerstein getting a refreshing airing, and "He Was Too Good to Me" with Lorenz Hart's final line of the lyric, "He was too good to be true," phrased as if being realized for the first time, whichever of the line's double meanings is being considered.
A vocal version of the theme from the 60-year-old movie The Bad and the Beautiful becomes almost a treatise on life and love with a revelatory, line-by-line exploration. It's one of many highlights. I haven't heard her recording of another film song, "Aren't You Glad You're You?," which is an extra track on the Japanese/import version. But I do know I'll be rushing to catch Sue Raney sing movie songs when she's among the singers in the 92nd Street Y's Lyrics and Lyricists concerts in the first week of June, in fine company: Rex Reed, pianist Mike Renzi, and musical theatre favorites Tom Wopat, Jason Graae, and Polly Bergen.
The vocalist Sue Halloran and her main man musician, Ken Hitchcock, are wife and husband, celebrating 25 years of marriage with this CD, their first together. But they've been plowing the musical fields, together and with other colleagues, for a long time, with gigs of all kinds and genres. They are playful with the repertoire on this nine-track CD, often coming off more as lively entertainers and blithe musical companions (for each other and listeners) than playing the roles of heavy-duty song explorers or painters of multi-layered aural landscapes. Song choices are mostly on the content or sentimental sides. She's done a bit of everything from commercial jingles to singing on the bandstand with various congregations to musical theatre roles to a notable stint as one of three women making up the group String of Pearls. He's played with jazz heavyweights and on film soundtracks and in the pits of Broadway shows such as Memphis.
On this album, he multi-tasks and multi-tracks himself, playing alto, tenor and soprano sax, flute and alto flute, clarinet and bass clarinet. He's joined by other playersvarying from track to trackon piano, bass, organ, trumpet, guitar, andfor two pieces31 string players from the City of Prague Philharmonic, with sterling and unflappable drummer Ray Marchica on all but two cuts, keeping the beat and adding zest. On the final track, Rodgers & Hart's voluminously recorded "My Funny Valentine," it's just Halloran and Hitchcocksort of. She creates her own cloned vocal quintet singing two soprano and three alto lines and the studio mechanizations and rewinds make him a one-man band of the same size.
Besides that double-quintet quintessential valentine exercise, there are other samples of Broadway's past: Kander and Ebb's "A Quiet Thing" from Flora the Red Menace, not quite as quiet and quivering as we usually hear it, a perky, adoring "Look at That Face," and the On the Town number that gives the album its title, sprinkled here with asides and inserts of culinary references that came in more recent times (Bobby Flay, etc.). Fun seems to be the goal, as they're busy confidently serving up rambunctious recipes, eschewing the double entendres that can be the other kind of ingredient in this tour de force strut. There and elsewhere, things can feel rushed, a lyric's fuller potential brushed aside, a gentler melody crushed by the weight of so much going on in the "swing" of things. Some songs would have benefited from more variety and different levels of energy or the occasional eye in the hurricane; instead, they often come out of the gate driving hard and (ever-)ready, (more than) willing and (very) able to blast off. "More" can sometimes be just "more." The glib, game-for-anything vocals show vigor and versatility, but in the challenging jazz piece, "Autumn Nocturne," with the chance to turn contemplative, Sue Halloran sounds like she's out of her otherwise wide comfort zone in presenting the mood as well as some tricky vocal reaches.
It might seem like ungrateful grumbling when these two have so much on their plates to handle in I Can Cook Too!, and obviously have skills and multiple arrows in their bows, but the mistakes in song credits are egregious. For the record on this record, the late Adolph Green's name has been left off the names on the CD's title song where he should be co-cook on the clever lyrics, the names of two other writers are spelled wrong (including Richard Rodgers), and one number, "Daddy," which was written by Bobby Troup, is listed as "Hey Daddy" and credited to Sammy Kaye whose band recorded it. The couple's website has numerous other things spelled wrong, but I won't go there. Actually, I would (again), if they had more music clips, as I'd like to hear what else they do as a duo or separately. One guess is that their long years of musical meanderings pay off more in a live setting. And that's exactly what can be experienced when they come to The Iridium, the club next to NYC's Winter Garden Theatre, on May 1, along with drummer Marchica who has his own band's set for the late show that night, working with vocalists and a couple of the fine musicians from this CD: pianist Mark Soskin and the longtime A-list bass player David Finck. And the beat goes on, as does the "cooking."