Noel Carey: Opening Numbers

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Noel Carey

Opening Numbers
Feinstein’s/54 Below, NYC, August 30, 2017
Reviewed by Victoria Ordin for Cabaret Scenes
Noel Carey

“I’m positive that in the coming years you’ll see writers [in New Writers at 54!] make their Broadway debuts,” states series producer Jennifer Ashley Tepper in her impassioned description of the summer musical theater showcase at Feinstein’s/54 Below. If Noel Carey’s Opening Numbers, the penultimate show in the series, is any indication, the Broadway supper club’s creative and programming director is surely correct. 

Carey called on friends and collaborators, including Julia Mattison (for whose brilliant Ruby Manger Carey served as musical director), Andrew Kober, Max Sangerman, Bonnie Milligan, Emily Skeggs, and Abby Goldfarb, to perform an astonishing range of material from his first year at Emerson College and days at the BMI workshop up to the present day. Some songs are, as the show’s title suggests, opening numbers from musicals only partially written, while others come from more complete works performed at multiple venues. 

Whether Carey is writing a jazzy, lighthearted coming-of-age tale, like “I Know Exactly What You’re Thinking” (from his final project for the BMI musical, Seven Minutes in Heaven), or tackling political resistance in German-occupied France (“Europe Zazou” and “Streets of Paris”) in Zazou, his lyrics are acute and his melodies entrancing. Details like a retainer that “glows in the dark” evoke the awkwardness of the teen years, when first kisses must navigate orthodontic hardware. 

Early in the show, Andrew Kober, sporting a beard, staggered to the stage from the bar to portray Hal Morton, a boozy talk show host from yesteryear. “America’s Sweethearts” (a trio attired in matching red 1940s dresses) evoked the Andrews Sisters in “You Should Talk.” 

In the folk-western musical, Beast of Balladeer, Carey transports us to the early 1900s. The harmonies of Emily Skeggs and Max Sangerman meld perfectly with fine pick work by Adrian Aiello. And just like that, we find ourselves in Three Ghosts, an immersive Christmas Carol, where past, present, and future are imagined as three librettos. “Nothing,” which Carey performs solo, leaves us longing to hear more from this inventive show. 

Three songs from The Great Ventura, a musical for kids, proves that Carey is as comfortable writing family fare as he is exploring darker material, à la Kander and Ebb. (“It’s an upper!” he quipped of Zazou, his show set in World War II.) The band, led by wunderkind Danny Weller on bass–whose credits read like someone 15 or 20 years older–never sounds better than in “Prologue.” (Jordan Ross on drums, Josh Plotner on reeds, and Max Sangerman on trumpet round out the excellent ensemble.) And who can resist a clever, grammatically-correct line like, “The epitome of archaeology is she!

” David De Almo, Abby Goldfab, and Nick Siccone shine in song of the show’s title, as does Mattison in “Mine.” 

“The Showmen,” the most fully realized material in the show, was less impressive than “Younger,” from Hocus Pocus, which “isn’t a musical, but should be,” according to Carey. (Perhaps in context, “Opening Sequence” plays better, as the premise of an MGM musical that doesn’t have a wildly unrealistic happy ending, is a good one.) With typical self-deprecation, he joked, “I could not be further from having the rights to this show, so if you know anyone, [make a] call!” If and when Carey does get the rights, Bonnie Milligan, Natalie Walker, and Abby Goldfarb will be perfect as the singing witches.


The evening ended with “Whatever Occupies My Mind,” a simply beautiful ballad not from a musical. “It’s just me,” Carey told the audience. Opening Numbers, directed by Max Friedman, left no doubt that whatever occupies Carey’s mind is invariably compelling.