Protest Songs: Volume 2
Metropolitan Room, NYC, February 11, 2017
Reviewed by Peter Haas for Cabaret Scenes
“Do you hear the people sing? Singing the songs of angry men? It is the music of the people … ”
This lyric, from Les Misérables, is as relevant as today’s newspaper headlines. Protest songs, in fact, have a long tradition in the United States. Dating back to the Revolutionary War, they have since emerged to talk about slavery, poverty, civil rights, economic injustice, the environment, politics, modern wars, and more. Inspired now by today’s current events, Scott Siegel gathered a group of young singers for two programs of diverse protest songs – first on Inauguration Day, in January, and then, because of its success (see Elizabeth Ahlfors’ review), in a second edition, in February, with a completely different set of songs and singers. This review covers the second.
Once again performed in the Metropolitan Room, and with the same co-musical directors as the first edition – Ross Patterson on piano and Sean Harkness on guitar – the second evening featured more of Siegel’s treasure trove of fresh singers. The show – with commentary throughout by Siegel about the songs and their origins — opened with Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land,” performed by Jillian Louis, with an enthusiastic sing-along repeat by the audience. She was followed by the powerful theater/cabaret star Sal Viviano singing “Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor,” the classic poem by Emma Lazarus that was later set to music. He followed with a thrilling rendition of “The House I Live In” (“That’s America to Me”) by Earl Robinson and Lewis Allen, a song that had become popular as interpreted by Paul Robeson, Mahalia Jackson, Josh White – and in a movie short starring Frank Sinatra.
Other songs included: Bob Dylan’s “The Times, They Are A-Changin'” presented by Alex Getlin; “Only in America,” a country music number performed by Rachel Dickson;“Dona, Dona,” rendered gently by Laila Robins, “Not Ready to Make Nice,” originally introduced by the Dixie Chicks and assigned this evening to Emily Iaquinta; and two theater pieces by Rodgers and Hammerstein: “You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught,” from South Pacific (Walker Jones), and “You’ll Never Walk Alone” from Carousel (Pepe Nufrio). Joni Mitchell’s “Woodstock,” another contribution from Robins, compared that famed festival with the Garden of Eden, while Bob Stillman and Jeanine Bruen scored with, respectively, “Fragile,” written by Sting, and “Back to Before,” from Ragtime. A stirring finale, by the entire cast, was the aforementioned anthem from Les Misérables, “Do You Hear the People Sing?”