Lyrics & Lyricists: A Funny Thing Happened: Songs from the Road to Broadway

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Lyrics & Lyricists

A Funny Thing Happened: Songs from the Road to Broadway

92nd Street Y, NYC, January 9, 2016

Reviewed by Rob Lester for Cabaret Scenes

A-Funny-Thing-Happened-Cabaret-Scenes-Magazine_212We need a new song!! Broadway material written during out-of-town tryouts—under pressure, under the gun, to replace underwhelming ones that don’t work—can work wonders. Director-choreographer Kathleen Marshall briskly hosted and scripted Lyrics & Lyricists’ 40th season opener. First up: Sondheim’s original charming opening number for …Forum that didn’t suit a boisterous farce. Its replacement, “Comedy Tonight,” crisply set the tone. It clicked. Audiences finally laughed. They “got” it. And we got to hear both. South Pacific’s “Younger Than Springtime” suits its passionate moment, but its three rather listless, lust-less predecessors…. didn’t. This was shown with humor, females serenaded reacting with eye-rolling mock disdain. Time didn’t allow more side-by-side comparisons, alas. And  some last-minute pieces aren’t replacements. Also illustrated: how a superfluous solo and its character can be jettisoned (the agent once part of Chicago relishing his “Ten Percent”).

Teamwork made company numbers the standouts (“Oklahoma!,” Fiorello’s “Little Tin Box”). Ann Harada’s versatility and ebullience (as in “Sing Happy”) shined throughout. Betsy Wolfe was thoroughly gritty with Thoroughly Modern Millie’s added “Gimme, Gimme.” Elena Shaddow glowed in ballads, consistently impressing. She and Darius de Haas offered refreshingly natural commiseration with Promises, Promises’ “I’ll Never Fall in Love Again,” but otherwise the usually dynamo tenor was disappointingly (mis)used in muted, generic ways. Aaron C. Finley and Greg Hildreth, amiably stalwart, showed appealing voices while the latter’s Captain Hook needed more slices of theatrical ham (despite the kosher YM-YWHA venue). David Chase was an excellent choice as musical director of a quintet, bringing energy and musical smarts to the generous-length concert. Cabaret Scenes, dedicated to that lyric-driven art form of cabaret, salutes this series born to spotlight lyrics. True to L&L’s mission, this entry got back to that: focusing on lyrics’ functions and glimpses into lyricists’ decisions. Good decision!

Rob Lester

2015 is native New Yorker Rob Lester's eighth year as contributing writer, beginning by reviewing a salute to Frank Sinatra, whose recordings have played on his personal soundtrack since the womb. (His Cabaret Scenes Foundation member mom started him with her favorite; like his dad, he became an uber-avid record collector/ fan of the Great American Songbook's great singers and writers.) Soon, he was attending shows, seeking out up-and-comers and already-came-ups, still reading and listening voraciously. He also writes for and, has been cabaret-centric as awards judge, panel member/co-host, and produces benefit/tribute shows, including one for us.