Sound Advice Reviews
Four from Broadway Records
"Right this way: Your table's waiting" goes the lyric welcoming us to a Cabaret setting in the title song of that musical. Last year the Manhattan cabaret room Feinstein's/ 54 Below welcomed patrons to its tables for a concert production of Our Table, a long-gestating project about other (fictional) New York City establishments for food and drinkadding fears and dreams and family drama. The souvenir live recording has many moments that are charming, touching and humorouswhile sometimes still feeling somewhat sketchy, tentative and uneven. The show has had developmental performances and readings outside the city, with changes in title, cast and score. (The liner notes, downloadable from the Broadway Records website for this so far digital-only release, reveal that 56 numbers were written and considered for the project over the years; earliest press announcements stated that veteran composer David Shire, who provides the music, was to collaborate on the lyrics along with Adam Gopnik, who now gets sole billing for them and the book.)
Associated with the project off and on for years, glorious-voiced soprano Melissa Errico elevates and imbues the material with invested emotion and empathy. She whirls through "Everyday Dance," one of the more satisfying numbers (in craft and execution), stuffed with dance-step vocabulary in its litany of regular responsibilities and abilities. And, throughout the concert, she adeptly colors her character's struggling and juggling of attentions to demands of motherhood, marriage, money matters in co-running the small cash-strapped restaurant with her husband, and the re-entry in their life of a man who'd been a business partner and, briefly, her lover. The latter, a suave Casanova type, is played with the requisite charisma and uber-confidence by Constantine Maroulis. He duels well with Andy Taylor, as the husband, as they compare notes and existences in "Take My Life" with the humorous supposed Freudian slip of substituting the word "monotony" for the dubious satisfactions of "monogamy."
Mark Nelson earns chuckles as a likably grumbling anti-trendy Brooklynite ranting against "Espresso" that's allegedly pricier than crack. Tyler Jones and Analise Scarpaci are endearing as the protagonists' teen offspring who bond over her belated introduction to ubiquitous technology. Their stumblingly inarticulate teen-speak duet, "So, Like, Maybe" is cute. Juliette McEnroe completes the concert cast: she is Melissa Errico's real-life daughter playing her younger child here.
"Lucky," a bonus studio track, pairs Alice Ripley and Liz Callaway to describe the kinds of commitments and connections people can have throughout life cycles. As in several other Our Table selections, there are interestingly intelligent ideas and pleasant melodic strains, but we don't get the anticipated full payoff.
The concert presentation's musical numbers get context with much playing time devoted to both cast dialogue and narration by Mr. Gopnik. Much of this spoken material is tracked separately, but with the instrumental trio's accompaniment often sliding in under dialogue, a listener's intention to play just the songs will find some starting with awkward ends of conversations as tracks' "beginnings." Beyond plot points and fleshing out characters, conversations offer some fun, well-timed quipslike the characterization of the commercialized chef being accused of putting the "kitsch" in "kitchen," the aggrandizing description of a serving of pizza not as a single slice but an individual pie with a triangular shape.
A July 20 Facebook-streamed event emanating from Union Square in downtown Manhattan, where much of the story is set, further exposes the score, with requested donations for area vendors' goal of the Covid 19-impacted distribution, rather than destruction, of raised food.
Whereas the recent Broadway musical The Prom was a cheerleader for same-sex couples being accepted as dates for the school dance, such a coup was not to be realized in real life back in the 1990s for a then-closeted, Missouri-born and religiously raised teen named Marty Thomas. But his deferred dream belatedly flowered like a well-preserved prom corsage in his recording Slow Dancing with a Boy and a prom-themed fancy-dress CD release event earlier this year. The lush, glossy romantic swirl of diva-driven pop hits prevalent around and about in that era is recalled and reclaimed in a rapturous rabbit hole of nostalgia.
The notably big-voiced Thomas, who's been on Broadway in Xanadu, Wicked, and (in his debut in pre-teen, pre-prom years) The Secret Garden, might have relied merely on parading his bravura showmanship, powerhouse prancing and posing, strutting and soaring on melisma and riffing. But, with his stratospherically high voice coated liberally with honey instead of brass, he floats and flutters, luxuriating in his chosen comfort zone of epic romance. Ambitiously taking on several trademarks of major recording stars in the league of Celine Dion and Madonna, he, producer Jamey Ray, band, and supporting singers do not pale in comparison, with their rich and layered, sensibly sentimental treatments.
With sweet renditions such as the one lavished on the ballad Vanessa Williams had memorably crooned, "Save the Best for Last," you want the mood to last and last. It cozily blends with "(Everything I Do) I Do It for You," and the track features singing volleyed with Mykal Kilgore. Elsewhere, more creatively, a cross-genre mash-up flavors "Dancing on My Own" with tastes of "On My Own" from Les Misérables and the 1970s pop lament "All by Myself," which itself was partially derived from a classical theme of Rachmaninoff.
While the recording ably programs tracks to unjarringly segue from one soulful serenade to the next, it does not dissolve into a mush of soundalike syrup. There's more visceral fare with the fervently performed inclusions of views of life not fully sugar-coated via the more self-examined "Someone to Fall Back On" by Jason Robert Brown and the timeless West Side Story vision of a place "Somewhere" that all kinds of people can live in harmony.
Filled with fizzy enthusiasm and sass, likeable Robbie Rozelle is very much the Entertainer. The guy oozes fun. And attitude. The live recording of his cheeky act at Feinstein's/ 54 Below is a breezy, musical theatre-centric romp and a half. This ever-game guy's winking brash exterior doesn't at all doggedly attempt to disguise a dear vulnerability and gratitude for the enabling audience's fond and full embrace.
Although he doesn't initially seem the type to indulge in open-hearted serious material, Robbie is effectively unguarded with William Finn's "I Have Found" and other wistful moments as respites. That being said, it's the friskier fare where he fares best. The mostly happy hoot is the album's title song, Songs from Inside My Locker (imagine the bullied student shoved into his locker, but with an unkillable song in his voice, heart, and soul echoing through the metal). With bubbly effervescence, the radiant Rozelle bounces from song to song, sprinkling in memories of his youth and unabashed, still-thriving Broadway obsession. An unbridled, strong, contemporary gay New Yorker's perspective is present and inspires a form-fitting song by Michael Finke, "In Hell's Kitchen."
Some song choices sample scores that are very, very familiar and a couple are double-dipped (Annie's "Little Girls" and "Tomorrow," and The Wizard of Oz's "If I Only Had a Brain" and the verse of "Over the Rainbow" which is in a mix including "Tomorrow," "Here Comes the Sun" and an anecdote about a resurfacing schooldays nemesis). A Cole Porter classic, "Let's Misbehave," sets a mischievous mood.
A major asset of the recording is the presence of rarely approached material. Engagingly sung, "A Change in Me" is a welcome change from well-trod stuff, and a fine example of a rescue-worthy item from a successful Broadway show's unsuccessful sequel (Best Little Whorehouse Goes Public ). The title song from The Kid, a musical based on a real-life story of a gay male couple raising a child, is nicely nuanced and tender. A nod to Paul Lynde cues that comedian's role as the voracious rat in the animated Charlotte's Web to gleefully launch into the Sherman brothers' ode to gluttony, "A Veritable Smorgasbord." Another tasty treat for all ages is the rowdy encore, an aptly daffy race through "Jam Tomorrow" from Steve Allen's 1985 Alice in Wonderland score.
On the subject of the included patter, of which there is quite a bit: While most of it works well in setting up his connections to material and showcasing his pluck and perspectives, two pet peeves diminish my pleasure. Both are habits I find annoyingly common in performers these days, so he's not alone. But the frequent insertion of the word "like" as a pause-filler and the cavalier use of four-letter profanities are negatives for me. But, to each his own; others may find a song called "First Penis I Saw" more off-putting or irritatingly juvenile.
Reading through credits, the name of Robbie Rozelle is a name that is likely more familiar to purchasers of Broadway Records releases as their A&R man as well as a longtime savvy designer for packaging of physical CDs. It's an ironic sign of the times that at least the initial release of Songs from Inside My Locker is digital only, precluding that. But clearly the man has many talents. Just listen. And laugh. And feel a connection.
New York City-based Lauren Turner, who has appeared in local cabarets like Don't Tell Mama (where she was a regular chanteuse) and in musical theatre productions around the country, has her own five-song digital release. It primarily showcases her affinity for uninhibited pop power ballad belting. The big, full sound is brave and potent, although I find the most arresting track to be the outlier restrained item: James Taylor's early success, "Fire and Rain." Her thoughtful rendering is nuanced with emotion and sensitivity, making me wish this were a full-length release that would allow for more styles and aspects of her abilities to be showcased. (I've also seen her capably do some musical theatre material at the aforementioned club, in the series "Ricky Ritzel's Broadway.")
Piano bar/cabaret stalwart Michael Isaacs provides driving piano and the singer matches his fervor with enjoyable, if sometimes oh-so-close-to-original-blueprints for pop hits spanning a few decades. A volcanic Whitney Houston hit performance is a perhaps hopelessly tough act to follow or to scale down in any way that won't be anticlimactic, but Lauren Turner gives it a willing whirl and sounds daring and involved. Better still is the old Jackson Five upper "I'll Be There" with lots of zest. The belting vocalist has a rich, ripe sound that is invigorating. The Sheryl Crow trademark "If It Makes You Happy" growls fiercely along, pushing toward the border of harshness and could benefit from more careful attention to diction. "The Heart of the Matter" finds a solid medium ground between the purely powerhouse and the pensive. Aided by simpatico harmony vocals of Tara Martinez and fine guitar work by Daniel Muniz, Lauren Turner and team offer a performance that shows heart and heartbreak with a complexity of emotions and real in-the-moment presence.