Category: Music

Cabaret Review: Tommy Tune

Tommy Tune photo credit David Andrako 2016_01_12_CafeCarlyle_15

This cabaret act is a testament to what a good director Tommy Tune is – and before you ask, yes, I do mean that as a compliment. Singing was never his leading talent, although he’s just fine at it, thank you. No, this club act makes it clear that it’s more about how he frames things.

And the frames are many: his angular shoulders and elbows, eccentric lighting cues which were clearly designed according to his specifications, the song selection (not a single ballad thank you), his tap dancing in almost every number. The songs are all familiar standards, but Tune’s long-time music director Michael Biagi drops in quotations from other music – a little “Rhapsody in Blue” here, a little Chicago there – that comment on the familiar songs like footnotes.

This also means that no one song stood out as a particularly effective interpretation. Rather, they were all effective numbers in a one-man musical about his career in showbiz. The genre is light-hearted backstage comedy, packed with joy and a little bit of rueful melancholy. He’s completely at ease and whimsical, which suits him very well.

At one point, he pays tribute to Charles “Honi” Coles his colleague in My One and Only, who had been a pioneer in tap dance and soft shoe since his youth in the early 20th Century. Tune recalls some private tap lessons with Coles, in which the master dancer instructed Tune to get progressively more “non-chalant.” And that accidentally points up this show’s one real problem – certain gestures, moments and ideas are so soft-pedaled that they don’t quite tell the story Tune likely wants them to. It’s not a major problem to have, and doesn’t prevent the evening from being quite entertaining. Recommended.

For tickets, click here.

To learn about Jonathan Warman’s directing work, see jonathanwarman.blog.

Theatre Review: “The Color Purple”

COLOR PURPLE 1685_Cynthia Erivo photo by Matthew Murphy, 2015

Jennifer Hudson may be the big name, but Cynthia Erivo is the event! More on that in a moment. On the off chance you haven’t read Alice Walker’s novel, seen the 1986 Steven Spielberg movie, or seen the original Broadway production of this musical here’s the gist: The Color Purple follows a poor African American woman in Georgia named Celie from her male-oppressed childhood in the 1900s through many tribulations to a kind of hopeful self-knowledge sometime in the 1930s – a great rip-roaring story, full of despair, joy and, finally, redemption.

The central role, Celie, is profoundly juicy – Whoopi Goldberg won a Golden Globe for portraying her in the movie, LaChanze a Tony for the original Broadway showing, and if Cynthia Erivo isn’t at least nominated for a Tony this time around, it’d be a crime. In some ways, she gives the biggest, most expansive reading of Celie yet. When she sings the 11 O’Clock number “I’m Here”, it’s like the sun coming out. And when she sings the final reprise of the title song, it’s the blazing light of high noon. Celie has a huge character arc, and Erivo rides it for all its worth.

Jennifer Hudson is the familiar star name in this production, playing charismatic blues singer Shug Avery. She doesn’t enter with quite the fiery bang that Shug should, but once she starts to sing, as you would expect, it’s pure pleasure. And once she gets rolling acting-wise, she makes you believe that Shug is the irresistible hunk of sensuality and life the other character’s describe.

This revival of The Color Purple started at small but mighty London theatre company Menier Chocolate Factory, and is directed by John Doyle. Both Doyle and Menier have a knack for finding soul in human-scale productions of big musicals, and this exciting production is exactly in that vein. Doyle’s stripped-down staging follows Celie’s story with laser focus, which frames Erivo’s performance perfectly.

As happens distressingly often with Broadway musicals these days, unbalanced sound design often makes it difficult to get all of the lyrics – when Erivo is getting drowned out by a flute, there’s a problem! That said, this still ends up being possibly the most satisfying version of The Color Purple yet. Highly recommended.

For tickets, click here.

To learn about Jonathan Warman’s directing work, see jonathanwarman.blog.

Cabaret Review: Marilyn Maye

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This legendary singer simply has to appear on the The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon (I’ve started a Facebook group with that goal)! It couldn’t be more appropriate: Johnny Carson gave her a standing invitation to sing on “The Tonight Show” whenever possible, and she ended up appearing 76 times while Carson was in the chair, a record no singer has broken since. She sounds almost exactly as amazing as she did back then!

For her January runs at the Metropolitan Room, Marilyn asks her audience to pick her “Marilyn By Request” set list by making song suggestions when making their reservations. Maye has been rediscovered by New York audiences over the last few years, and the ever growing lovefest between fans old and new is palpable in the room, which only adds to the fun.

Musical director Billy Stritch – a frequent foil for the likes of Liza Minnelli and Christine Ebersole – is the perfect match for this footloose kind of approach, combining a broad knowledge of popular music with snappy, sophisticated jazz chops. Maye exquisitely tailors her style of singing to the individual song, smooth for the ballads, swinging for the standards, and truly gritty for the bluesier numbers. And always, always fully at home in – and totally committed to – the music.

The night I went there were some really fantastic moments that I might suggest you request when you go (you really must go, I’m not giving you a choice). She did a sincerely groovy take on “Don’t Nobody Bring Me No Bad News” from The Wiz. She did “Some Enchanted Evening” for a couple that met across a crowded room at one of her shows – its not in her repertoire and she used a lyric sheet, but it sounded like she’d been singing it since South Pacific‘s initial run on Broadway. On the pop/rock side of things, she brings real warmth and soul to James Taylor’s “Secret O’ Life”.

There is simply nobody remotely like Maye, she’s an overpoweringly amazing cabaret singer. It might not be an exaggeration to call her the best jazz cabaret singer in the world. She’s certainly the last great performer in that style of her generation, still in astonishingly full command of her vocal powers. If you love songs of every kind sung like they’re meant to be sung, it just doesn’t get any better than this.

For tickets, click here.

To learn about Jonathan Warman’s directing work, see jonathanwarman.blog.

The New Cool: “DXDXD” by SHINee

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Oh HELL Yeah! I’ve called SHINee the Jackson 5 with 5 Michaels, and their latest Japanese video (after the jump) is really good proof!

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Theatre Review: “Allegiance”

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To quote another Star Trek luminary, Allegiance is utterly “fascinating.” It’s also far more engaging and even entertaining than I expected – this is after all, a musical about Japanese-Americans being interred in camps during World War II. George Takei, known equally for being Mr. Sulu on the original Star Trek and being something of a social media Oscar Wilde, was himself interred in these camps as a child. He inspired the creative team of Allegiance, and also stars in a dual role.

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