CD Review: “When Everything Was Possible – A Concert With Comments”

For every young person who dreams of coming to New York City to be on the stage, for every adult who has lived through that dream or is living it now and for everyone who loves Broadway musicals this live concert recording is for you.  On Sunday evening, April 29, 2012, at 7:30 p.m. New York’s City Center on West 55th Street was filled to the rafters to hear Kurt Peterson and Victoria Mallory, considered two of the brightest lights of Broadway’s Late Golden Age,  perform together publicly for the first time in over 40 years. I was lucky to be there that night and now, thanks to Sk-K-Boom Records, everyone can be too.

Kurt, from the Mid-West, and Victoria, from the South, were two kids each with dreams of coming to New York City and making it on the stage.  They did come and they met and they bonded immediately over their shared thirst to perform.  All the while they, independent of the other and sometimes together, sang the songs of, and performed on stage with, the best talents of Broadway in the late 1960s and early 70s. Broadway however can be a mean mistress and it didn’t allow them to stay together.  Still, the forever fickle Broadway, plus dreams of the stage in a younger generation, brought them back into each other’s lives.

300_possibleThis beautiful concert was lovingly recorded and is sumptuously packaged, including many private black and white photos. Produced by Kurt’s James Williams Productions and by Stephanie Skyllas, it is distributed by theatre’s friends at Sh-K-Boom Records. In the concert, which is vividly captured, Kurt and Victoria each share their early dreams and tales of their early mis-steps and their fortitude to persevere. They first grabbed attention in the late Spring of 1968.  The New York Times announced on May 24th that two newcomers were selected by Richard Rodgers to star as Tony and Maria in the revival of the Laurents-Bernstein-Sondheim-Robbins classic “West Side Story,” to be produced by Mr. Rodgers and the Musical Theatre of Lincoln Center at the New York State Theatre that summer.  According to The Times, Victoria was 19 and Kurt 20, and both had graduated from AMDA just a week before.

They were on Broadway in three shows a piece, in two of which they both performed.  After “West Side Story” Kurt was featured in the original productions of Jerry Herman’s “Dear World” starring Angela Lansbury (1969),and later in the Stephen Sondheim-Michael Bennet-Hal Prince masterpiece “Follies” (1971). Victoria was also in “Follies” and in 1973, the original production of “A Little Night Music.”

Even with Ed Sullivan writing in July 1968, “Richard Rodgers predicts stardom,” after their “West Side Story” debut neither Kurt nor Victoria became big Broadway celebrity names.  Each of them however earned the highest respect from the most critical and discerning group of individuals in New York City–their professional Broadway colleagues and musical aficionados on both sides of the footlights.

In this concert recording Kurt and Victoria sing with more mature voices the songs they each originated on Broadway plus other songs from those shows, as well as songs they revived in other productions.  For Victoria, this included a revival at City Center of Bob Merrill’s “Carnival” and for Kurt, as a replacement in the off-Broadway original production of “Dames At Sea,” which had introduced Bernadette Peters. Kurt also sings from a revival of the Bernstein-Comden and Green classic “On The Town,” from which he was replaced before opening. Kurt was the driving force behind “Sondheim–A Musical Tribute,” the now classic one-night tribute in 1973 to Stephen Sondheim’s early work which is represented here too.

90

The years brought unexpected changes to each of their lives culminating in their reuniting for a series of concerts, of which this was the first.  Those concerts however were not fulfilled as Victoria passed away in 2014 after a sudden illness. The glory of their young vocal talents remain ever preserved in several original Broadway cast recordings of the earlier mentioned shows.  This recording preserves the maturity of their talents, the sound of their voices adding a depth to lyrics many of us know well.  It also preserves their mutual love and respect and the still youthful exuberance and wonder of days when, to quote Stephen Sondheim,  “everything was possible and nothing made sense.”

Having this unique and valuable recording in one’s musical theatre collection today makes a hell of a lot of sense to me.

“When Everything Was Possible” can be ordered directly from Sh-K-Boom.com.

Visit http://www.wheneverythingwaspossible.com for bios and for more pictures and information.

 

##

 

CD Review: “Hamilton,” 2016 Original Broadway Cast

WTF?! Patrick Bateman led me to Alexander Hamilton.

I’ve spent the last several weeks under the musical spell of the Original London (and only so far) Cast recording of “American Psycho” by Duncan Sheik.  I decided it was time to stop holding my nose and listen to the OBC of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “Hamilton: An American Musical,” the Original Broadway Cast recording. I have to admit that there is a lot to admire.

Having listened to “Hamilton” four or five times over the last week, including following along with the lyric booklet, I found myself more disposed to be taken in by the sheer musical audacity of the piece.  Musically it is much more varied than I had ever imagined and filled with catchy rhythms, snippets of which have stayed with me. Lyrically, I found that there is little imagery in my opinion and even less poetry.  To my sensibilities it is over-stuffed with repetition and cheap and poor rhymes. (I want a Hamilton $10 bill for every “Burr sir.) What I kept thinking each time I listened was, “how do the performers even begin to remember those lines?”  I found that there is nothing to help one remember where the music track is going. It’s accurate, I believe, to note that these are tracks and not songs as there isn’t a traditional song among the 46 tracks.

The history that the show’s lyrics convey is quite fascinating, for one or two hearings, even if some historians claim it to be historically questionable. At one point I was reminded of being in elementary school and the class being forced to hear one of those recordings of American history.  Fascinating if one liked history.   After several repeated listenings would one want to hear it again?

Hamilton_CastAlbum.jpg

The vocal and choral arrangements are credited jointly to Alex Lacamoire and Mr. Miranda; like jewels, the arrangements are multi-faceted and brilliant. The three-part vocal blending and harmonies of Philippa Soo, Renée Elise Goldsboro and Jasmine Cephas Jones in “The Schuyler Sisters” can take one’s breath away. The orchestrations and music direction by Mr.  Lacamoire is nothing less than stunning.

Frankly, it is these elements that make the recording of the score engaging, accessible and listenable. Well, listenable to a point for someone like me who has lived with the songs of the Great American Songbook in his head. I can most certainly understand, however, why listeners who live their life with a music shuffle would be caught up with the sound of “Hamilton.” It works well in small doses.

american-psycho-album-jpg
Still, while I greatly surprised myself by liking it, I can not imagine listening to it too many times over the years. Not say, like I’ve listened to “Gypsy” or “South Pacific” or “West Side Story,” and even “American Psyho.” Scores whose songs are hypnotic and are able to recapture a moment of time in some of our lives and illicit deep personal feelings. On the London recording of  “American Psycho”  I found that “You Are What Your Weat,” “Oh Sri Lanka,” “At The End Of An Island,”and especially “A Girl Before” to be songs that I found easy to like and to listen to repeatedly.

“I am needing so much more, every pleasure is a bore, I am something other than a common man, I’m not a common man.”

True of both Patrick Bateman and Alexander Hamilton.  I recommend both recordings. If I were a TONY voter though Best Score would be “American Psycho.”

http://www.hamiltonbroadway.com

Currently playing at the Richard Rodgers Theatre, West 46 Street, New York City

http://americanpsyhothemusical.com

Currently playing at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre, West 45 Street, New York City

##

Patrick Bateman or Evan Hansen? Who is Crueler?

Friday night I went to see the brilliant musical production of “American Psycho The Musical” on Broadway, for the second time. Saturday, on a whim, I went to a matinee performance of “Dear Even Hansen” off-Broadway at the Second Stage. I knew nothing about the show or its origins except that it was written by Benj Pasik and Justin Paul. After reading the Playbill I learned that they are jointly credited with writing the Music and Lyrics, and that the Book is by Steven Levenson. I was told by an Usher that the show is still in previews and opens on May 1st. Respecting that fact I won’t be reviewing the production I saw, so no spoilers ahead.

"Dear Evan Hansen" is currently playing at Second Stage through May 22nd.
“Dear Evan Hansen” is currently playing at Second Stage through May 22nd.

While observing the plot unfold I was reminded of a reader’s comment to Ben Brantley’s review of “American Psycho” published in The New York Times Friday morning. The reader commented on being “…utterly appalled and horrified that the torture and murder of women would be trivialized for Broadway.” From the totality of that reader’s comment there was nothing that indicated they actually saw “American Psycho” on Broadway, they were instead simply stating their position on depicting cruelty towards women. That then led me to begin thinking about what I was watching and hearing. I thought, “who is crueler–Patrick Bateman or Even Hansen?”

Now granted, fIrst and foremost both of these shows are theatre pieces.  They both ask their audiences to suspend belief and to view and listen to what is happening on stage as if is happening in the real world. Each of the leading characters, Patrick Bateman and Evan Hansen, believe themselves to be disenfranchised and separate and apart from the others who inhabit their worlds.  Patrick because he is superior and “not a common man,” and Evan because he believes he is invisible, living life “waving through a window.” As a result, they both act out behavior that is nothing short of being cruel to the people around them. But which is  crueler?

Benjamin Walker as Patrick Bateman in "American Psycho the Musical" on Broadway.
Benjamin Walker as Patrick Bateman in “American Psycho the Musical” on Broadway.

Patrick Bateman is so emotionally removed that his means of coping with a world and a life that he despises is to create a fantasy world where he engages in acts of murder and torture. In this fictional world he creates for himself Patrick can easily remove anyone who displeases him or whom he finds unworthy of taking up space. The physical cruelty and bloodshed that he causes is initiated by himself, and although depicted in stage time it is inflicted in his imagination, stylistically and with scalpel-like precision on both women and men. Patrick’s initial delight in brutal killing gradually loses its ability to lift his spirits and he is left little choice but to accept his common man place the real world around him. The harm to himself and to others is purely in his head.

Ben Platt stars as Evan Hansen in the Second Stage Production of 'Dear Evan Hansen" currently performing through May 22, 2016.
Ben Platt stars as Evan Hansen in the Second Stage Production of ‘Dear Evan Hansen” currently performing through May 22, 2016.

Evan Hansen, another loner, is about ten years younger than Patrick, and someone whose socio-economic class would have made him a prime target for Patrick had their worlds intertwined.  He is awkward and shy, where Patrick is polished and out-going.   Evan’s cruelty begins not by his own choice but by a circumstance of life that places Evan at the forefront of the family tragedy of teenage suicide.  Almost immediately Evan realizes that he gains and becomes less invisible and more valued by a simple omission of fact.  By not correcting this and perpetuating a mistaken impression Evan engages in an emotional cruelty on the real people in his world, vulnerable innocents already suffering a tragedy from which none ever truly recover.

So, which of the two is truly more cruel?  Patrick Bateman, who inflicts imaginary physical pain and death on people in his imaginary world?  Or is it Evan Hansen, who by initially omitting a fact promotes and perpetuates emotional and psychological life-long harm on real people in his real world?

http://dearevanhansen.com/

http://americanpsychothemusical.com

##

Theatre: “AMERICAN PSYCHO The Musical,” 2016 Broadway

“AMERICAN PSYCHO The Musical” is COMPANY for The Millennials.

One might make the quick comparison that AMERICAN PSYCHO the Musical is SWEENEY TODD, THE DEMON BARBER OF FLEET STREET for a new generation. After all, the main characters of both these musicals spend a goodly portion of plot and stage time murdering victims, either with a razor (Sweeney Todd) or in Patrick Bateman’s world with knives, or a buzzsaw or a gun. I would argue, however, to look deeper. For me, AP is the Millennial’s COMPANY.

If you haven’t seen AP let me say there will not be any spoilers here. Hey, I’m not even giving a critical assessment of the musical. I’m simply going to explain why it’s my point of view.

What equates Patrick Bateman to Bobby (the main character in COMPANY)? A fear of commitment and specifically of marriage. The drivers in both musicals are Patrick’s and Bobby’s emotional and psychological states as they unconsciously move towards an understanding of, and conquering of, that fear. Perhaps they are successful, perhaps not.

image
“American Psycho” is currently playing at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre, Broadway.

In both AP and COMPANY Patrick and Bobby are single men living in Manhattan in the last quarter of the 20th Century, 25 to 30 years apart. Both men are well-to-do and happen to be white.  Both musicals are told within the framework of the emotional relationship between Patrick and Bobby to the other people (characters) in their world, as well as how those others see each of them. Both musicals include a birthday party for each man as hosted by those who hold them each most dear. Both musicals also include a wedding. The line that connects Patrick to Bobby, as opposed to Sweeney Todd, is Patrick’s and Bobby’s connection, or lack thereof, to the people around them.

Looking briefly at Sweeney Todd, he’s a man at an older age in life, living in another time, the Victorian era of the 19th Century, and in another country, London. Once married and with a child, both of whom he lost, Sweeney, is focused on revenge. That is what drives the musical. Sweeney’s relationships with the other people in his world are relationships that support his goal (Mrs. Lovett, the Beadle, etc.) or he has no use for the person (e.g., Anthony or Toby)

Sweeney is about revenge while Patrick is about self-awareness. That is especially evident if you believe, as I do, that what we, the audience, see on stage in not happening in real time, but rather in Patrick’s head.

So when someone says that AP is SWEENEY TODD, all they may be seeing is the slashing. That’s why I say look below the surface. One might see why Patrick and AMERICAN PSYCHO are Bobby and COMPANY the Millennials.

Oh, then there’s the matter of whether Patrick and Bobby are gay, or bi-sexual. I say, I’ll leave that for another blog, if there is one.

http://americanpsychothemusical.com/

##