Play It Again, Marvin!: A Marvin Hamlisch Celebration

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Play It Again, Marvin!
A Marvin Hamlisch Celebration

(Varèse Sarabande Records)

June 13, 2018

Reviewed by Alix Cohen for Cabaret Scenes

The irreplaceable Marvin Hamlisch had range, skill, sensitivity, and infectious joie de vivre. His oeuvre embraced contemporary zeitgeist, evoked past eras without copying, and managed to infuse instrumentals with storytelling qualities that rode tandem with lyrics rather than merely supporting them.

Play It Again, Marvin!, featuring the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra conducted by J. Ernest Green, contains symphony orchestra instrumentals, accompanied vocals, and a few charming (recorded) contributions by the composer himself. It’s a celebration and a reminder.

“Dreamers” (lyrics: Christopher Adler from 1983’s nascent Seberg) is youthful and romantic. Hamlisch excelled at sentiment, particularly romance. Sylvia McNair’s lovely vocal imbues the song with warmth.

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Later, her tender interpretation of “Theme from Ice Castles” (“Through the Eyes of Love”) (lyrics: Carole Bayer Sager) virtually skates in long, sweeping, sentimental phrases. The composer often subtly referred to plot setting with music. A piece for The Swimmer is dark, alert, muscular, graceful—as if steadily moving through water.

The effusive Judy Harrison offers “Nobody Does It Better” (lyrics: Sager from The Spy Who Loved Me) in a rhythmic, pop version with a real feel for the genre. We hear flair again during a hurt, declaratory “If You Remember Me” (lyrics: Sager.)

Two from Sweet Smell of Success (lyrics: Craig Carnelia) as sung by Doug LaBrecque are, to my mind, highlights. The artist is clearly an actor, every ounce of fraught, noir drama ably manifest. His “I Cannot Hear the City” is hushed, palpably full of longing. Hamlisch exhales the music as if conjuring. “At the Fountain” arrives a prime example of saga with or without lyrics, though vocals add to the number’s bruised underbelly.

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Success is an under-appreciated musical.

Hamlisch himself plays and sings the title number and “If You Really Knew Me” from They’re Playing Our Song (lyrics: Sager). Hearing a songwriter perform his own work is always a telling treat.

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The honoree is IN character. The first of these is bouncy, tickled, ebullient; the second, gentle, touching. Hamlisch knew for whom/what character he was creating.

Though smoother than Broadway’s sassy, individual arrangements, “A Chorus Line Concerto”—Kevin Cole is at the piano—evokes unabashed admiration for the score’s freshness and pizzazz, much of which is exhilarating. “Marvin’s Melody,” also featuring Cole, bookends the concert with a deft mélange of material garnered from various shows.

Because we’re unaccustomed to a full symphony orchestra accompanying musical theater material, some of this feels overly big for lyrics. “Sunshine, Lollipops, and Rainbows” (lyrics: Howard Liebling), Hamlisch’s first hit, becomes an emphatic production number rather than its innately jaunty self. “Nothing” (lyrics: Edward Kleban from A Chorus Line) loses its quirky character. “A Mother’s Voice” (lyrics: Alan and Marilyn Bergman, written for Marilyn Michaels as a love letter to her then-12-year-old son and her mother) sounds like a staged anthem rather than the universally moving song it is.

Note to the responsible CD producer: Omission of most lyricists in liner notes is blatant.

Alix Cohen

Alix Cohen’s writing began with poetry, segued into lyrics then took a commercial detour. She now authors pieces about culture/the arts, including reviews and features. A diehard proponent of cabaret, she’s also a theater aficionado, a voting member of Drama Desk, The Drama League and of The NY Press Club in addition to MAC. Currently, Alix writes for Cabaret Scenes, Theater Pizzazz and Woman Around Town. Additional pieces have been published by The New York Post, The National Observer’s Playground Magazine, Pasadena Magazine and Times Square Chronicles. Alix is the recipient of six New York Press Club Awards.