Arlo Hill: I’ve Been in Love Before: The Songs and Stories of Frank Loesser

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Arlo Hill

I’ve Been in Love Before: The Songs and Stories of Frank Loesser

Metropolitan Room, NYC, May 21, 2015

Reviewed by Barbara Leavy and Peter Leavy for Cabaret Scenes

Arlo-Hill-I've Been-in-Love-Before-Frank-Loesser-Cabaret-Scenes-Magazine_212Barbara writes:

When Arlo Hill performed I’ve Been in Love Before: The Songs and Stories of Frank Loesser, he exemplified something the English poet, Alexander Pope, wrote in the eighteenth century: there were some creative talents who were possessed of a “grace beyond the reach of art.” By “art,” Pope meant technique, the skills that no matter how long and assiduously worked on still would not achieve the transcendence of “grace.

” Not that Hill has skimped on hard work: he has crafted a show that is virtually flawless, drawing on research, interviews, a gift for storytelling, a beautiful voice, and an expressive body language usually associated with dancers.

Pope himself would not have granted either Loesser or Hill the status of artist. Interestingly, this was also true of the Loesser family, which, immovably rooted in classical music, did not allow either popularity or financial success in songwriting and the creation of musical mega-hits on Broadway to dissuade them from their view that Frank had descended down the ladder of art into triviality. But even those reviewers whose tastes include popular music and are fans of cabaret performances will face a problem. The ineffable quality of grace, of that which transcends skill, is not easily going to be caught by the usual critical vocabulary.

What remains is a description of Hill’s show to capture its range and remind a viewer of what is associated with the musical career of Frank Loesser.

Peter writes:

In a show that garners praises from all who see it, Arlo Hill never hits a false note, either in the conception and execution of this tribute to Frank Loesser, or in his rendition of more than two dozen Loesser numbers, from his very first, “The Grass Grows Green,” written as a teenager, to his final lyric, never put to music, that Hill reads to his audience.

Of course, Loesser’s songs might provide a leg up to anyone focusing on them, but Hill combines an easy manner with an ingratiating stage presence and an impressive ability to capture and communicate the essence of Loesser’s lyrics.

He’s right on target, from World War II’s signature “Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition” to “Once in Love with Amy,” delivered more knowingly than I’ve ever seen it done since the magical Ray Bolger repeatedly brought the audience to its feet in the original 1948 Broadway production of Where’s Charley?

The extensive song list provides Hill with opportunities to include some enjoyable lesser-Loesser numbers, but also a dozen-plus of songs as familiar today as when they first were presented in one of Loesser’s blockbuster Broadway musicals.

Few shows ever achieve the resounding success of Loesser’s Guys and Dolls, The Most Happy Fella or How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. Also included were some from Loesser’s lyrics-only days: “Heart and Soul” with music by Hoagy Carmichael, “The Lady’s in Love with You” with Burton Lane’s music, and “Two Sleepy People,” also with Carmichael and recorded over the years by more big-namers than I have room to write here.

If you’re a fan of Broadway musicals, the Great American Songbook, or just in the mood for a knockout evening of cabaret, keep your eye on Arlo Hill and, given the chance, don’t miss any future production of I’ve Been in Love Before.

Barbara Leavy

Literary critic and author of books on literature, folklore and mythology, Barbara Leavy has been a contributor of features and reviews to Cabaret Scenes from the magazine’s earliest issues. Retired as a full professor of English at the City University of New York’s Queens College, she retains her honorary appointment as Adjunct Professor of English in Psychiatry at Cornell University’s Medical College. When not at cabaret, her current work in the realm of crime fiction. Barbara’s latest book, published by Poisoned Pen Press, is a second edition of The Fiction of Ruth Rendell—Ancient Tragedy and The Modern Family.