It Helps to Sing About It! The Songs of Ben Schaechter & Dan Kael

It Helps to Sing About It!
The Songs of Ben Schaechter & Dan Kael

Metropolitan Room, NYC, September 17, 2016

Reviewed by Randolph B. Eigenbrode for Cabaret Scenes

Ben Schaecheter (L) & Dan Kael
Ben Schaecheter (L)
& Dan Kael

In their recent showcase, It Helps to Sing About It, Schaechter and Kael reveal their mastery of catchy, but genuine, songs about the most pedestrian of topics. Brought to life by singers Celia Berk, Nora Davis, Joshua Lance Dixon, Marissa Mulder, David Perlman and Kelli Rabke, the songs veer away from both anthemic theater and contemporary unexpected-melody type and, instead, settle upon an almost 1970s innocence mixed with a current-life topic sensibility.

It seems the duo can write a song for any topic or character, most effectively demonstrated in “He Knew How to Read Me,” sung by a coquettish Sunday edition of The New York Times, “Mice of Means,” a Manhattan Transfer-type piece performed by three lazy pet vermin, and “Apply,” a come-hither PSA for wearing sunscreen. The tunes stay with you, perhaps because of their singular appeal, and the lyrics, while specific, never seem too flashy to belie the ordinary characters that are singing them. (I did, however, love the triple rhyme of “malaria,” “Boston area” and “terrier.”)

Bringing them to life were six individuals who each, while talented, had an unassuming everyman quality that perfectly matched the material. Berk, the grounded sage, dazzled with “Manhattan in July,” a haunting love letter to steamy Big Apple summers, and expertly got the most out of each lyric. Rabke and Mulder, two redheads with individual styles, both are at home playing vixens, as well as serving up earnest ballads (most charming was Mulder’s “All in Good Time”). Perlman and Davis served as the perennial mensches in recognizable situations, and the rich-voiced Dixon practically walked off with the show in the heartbreaking “I Can Tell Time,” a tale of a five-year-old dealing with his parents’ divorce. 

Because of the self-contained nature of their material, the evening could have easily dissolved into a series of banal vignettes. But Sara Louise Lazarus’s direction turned Schaechter and Kael’s music and lyrics into a Closer Than Ever for the new millennium—full of musical brio and dizzying honesty.

Randolph B. Eigenbrode

Randolph is the newest addition to the writing staff at Cabaret Scenes. He is a cabaret teacher, previously teaching with legend Erv Raible, and his students have gone on to success in the field with sold-out shows and many awards. He is also a director and that, combined with a knowledge of the art form and techniques that cabaret performing encompasses, makes him love reviewing NYC’s cabaret scene. When not catching the Big Apple’s crazy talent, Randolph loves 1970s variety shows, mall Chinese food, Meryl Streep films and a good cold glass of pinot grigio.