Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Power of Song By Beverly Creasey

American Classics has been doing it for eons. Overture Productions had a good run. Now Metro Stage is getting into the act with a concert performance of VICTOR VICTORIA. The advantages of a concert musical are threefold: You get dialogue, story and you get to concentrate on the lyrics…in this case, Leslie Bricusse’s cheerfully goofy rhymes about Paris nightlife (“Losing my libido…at the Lido….like a big torpedo”). As far as I’m concerned, it works better this way.

Leigh Barrett and Henri Mancini are a match made in heaven. Barrett soars on Mancini’s ascents, giving Victor/Victoria warmth and depth. Robert Saoud as Toddy masterminds the hoax (and masters the hilarious double entendre) which has Bob DeVivo (as the macho wheeler dealer) falling for Victor. Jennifer Ellis (as his moll) squeaks her way into the frivolity, (Boy, can she sing!) rivaled only by Robert Case as DeVivo’s loyal enforcer. Directed by Chris Carcione, with musical support from Maria Duaime, this VICTOR VICTORIA is acted and sung so gorgeously, it’s a pity it couldn’t have a longer run.

Boston has missed chanteuse Jan Peters. And we don’t hear John O’Neil nearly often enough so their reunion cabaret this past weekend was reason for celebration. Add to that the news that Peters is moving back this month and the audience was ecstatic. Throw in the Jim Rice Trio and you have a classy, jazzy and “Impossibly Lyrical” evening of song.

Peters is queen of the smooth, silky delivery and O’Neil is cabaret royalty. Both can tear at your heart strings and tickle your funny bone with equal skill. They both know how to “work” a crowd: O’Neil with his delicious spoof of Broadway musicals and his delightful, laugh filled “Don’t You Hate It When They Make You Sing Along” (We didn’t and we did!)…and Peters with her heroic “save” of “Ring Them Bells” when a naughty audience member tried to upstage her. (Not bloody likely!)

All anyone could say at the end of the night was “More. Give us more… soon!”

Jason Robert Brown’s THE LAST FIVE YEARS is more of a concert show than it is your old fashioned, production number-filled musical. The two character piece traces a couple through song from the first blush of romance to the pain of divorce …with a clever trick. Her reminiscences are backwards in time and his are forward. They come together only when the two trajectories intersect in the middle: in love in Central Park in a boat.

Mark Linehan shines in the comic songs (especially the tale of “Schmuel”) but it’s Aimee Doherty who gets my sympathy (perhaps it’s because we women stick together??). She has the light, cheery numbers (like the amusing “audition” songs and the wonderfully sardonic “Summer in Ohio.” Doherty portrays Cathy as eager, indefatigable and eminently reasonable where Jamie, the writer/husband, seems awfully full of himself.

Director Jim Petosa keeps the pace brisk and designer Cristina Todesco gives us a pair of gorgeous Chagall panels shaped like ellipses at either end of the small black box stage. Alas, the double sided seating right up to the exits and the elongation of the playing area make it difficult to hear all of Brown’s catchy lyrics when the actors leave center stage. Music director Todd C. Gordon’s tiny ensemble has a big orchestra sound, especially moving when the cello duets with Doherty, both perfectly expressing what heartache feels like.