Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Review: Kritzerland's The Story Goes On with Maltby & Shire's Songs

It’s no surprise that Bruce Kimmel’s monthly Kritzerland series (this is show #38) has gained such a loyal following at Sterling’s Upstairs at the Federal. For true musical lovers it is the rare opportunity to hear beautiful, funny and surprisingly touching songs from musicals you may never get to see. Sometimes it’s because what remains is only a jewel of a song or two from a musical that never found its niche with audiences. Other times the musical may have gone through rewrites and changes in its artistic vision causing a song to be cut, lost, or scrapped before it even made it into the musical. Along with these little-known classics, Kritzerland shows always contain a few very special songs that did hit it big making the evening a terrific way to celebrate the joy that is musical theatre.

Monday night’s show, The Story Goes On…, featured songs written by the team of Richard Maltby & David Shire. Both men achieved success in their careers individually – Maltby for his work on shows like Miss Saigon, Song and Dance and Ring of Fire, and Shire for his many scores for TV and film projects like Alice, The Conversation and All the President’s Men. But this night celebrated their work as a duo. 

Kimmel described the songs as “complete meals” adding that “singers can feast on them in many ways,” and he’s absolutely right. Numbers from Maltby & Shire’s two big musical revues, Starting Here, Starting Now and Closer Than Ever and their musical Big, made up a significant part of the evening, along with songs from Baby, and a few others.

West Coast Ensemble produced a wonderful production of Big several years ago with Will Collyer in the role of Josh, the 12-year old boy who wishes he was big. When he magically wakes up as an adult he finds being big isn’t as great as he thought it would be and eventually realizes that all he wants to do is go home. Unfortunately, he can’t control how he got to be big so he doesn’t know how to overcome time and get back. Collyer captured every bit of Josh’s fun and sweetness then, and now, in a touching version of “I Want To Go Home.”

This idea of time and how it impacts our choices and actions was a common thread that ran through the Kritzerland evening making this collection of songs even more meaningful. Shannon Warne sang two songs from Big that expressed different views of the passage of time. In “Dancing All The Time” she remembers what it was like to be 12 and have all the time in the world, and in “Stop Time,” she sings of how fast a child grows up and how, if you could only stop time and keep him safe, everything would be okay. Warne is a true leading lady with a crystal-clear soprano belt that has become richer over the last few years and is always a highlight of any musical evening. Tonight she was once again in great voice.
Heather Lee has the market cornered on quirky characters as her hilariously understated “Miss Byrd” from Closer Than Ever showed. Watching this little buttoned-up secretary sing about her secret lunchtime quickies is a study in how to act a song and let the comedy play itself without getting in the way. She makes it work beautifully and then turns right around for a bittersweet reflection of love in another time, “Autumn,” a song that Barbra Streisand recorded.

From bittersweet to downright bitter, John Sloman sang a caustic version of “I Don’t Remember Christmas” that cut through the crowd and had an especially effective ending. He also sang the beautiful “Earthbound” from Maltby & Shire’s most recent musical, Take Flight. Even musical director & pianist John Boswell was featured on several songs -- first in a trio with Collyer and Heather Barr in Closer Than Ever’s sad love triangle “She Loves Me Not,”  and later in the title song from Only When I Laugh. The light, swingy number was a nice fit for him. Collyer also returned later in the show with a simple and heartfelt version of If I Sing” from Baby that showed off his lower register.

Streisand also made famous another Maltby & Shire song that was originally written for Robert Goulet, “Starting Here, Starting Now.” Kimmel says that one day she saw the sheet music laying on the piano and all of a sudden it became a signature balled for her instead. On this night it was the incomparable Terri White, filled with poise, passion, and a vocal depth few are blessed with, who stopped the show with her version of Streisand’s signature song. Point of fact – anytime you get a chance to see Terri sing, you should take it ‘cause a song just doesn’t get sung any better than that.

Ashley Fox Linton has a lovely voice and gave “Crossword Puzzle” from Starting Here, Starting Now the ingénue treatment early in the show. Tricky intervals in the song may not have always been clean but she was cute and the audience appreciated her self-deprecating humor. Her second number “The Bear, The Tiger, The Hamster and the Mole” – a song that had been cut from Baby along with the character who sang it before being put into Closer Than Ever – showed off her character belt and I could hear the makings of a dynamite Ado Annie waiting to happen. Linton also closed the night with “The Story Goes On” from Baby, a song that has special meaning for Kimmel since it is the one that introduced him to Liz Callaway.

Kimmel narrated the evening while offering up a good bit of trivia and little known interesting facts about the songs. He even sang a touching version of “her Laughter in My Life from a Maltby & Shire musical about computer dating before there even was computer dating.

All in all, another terrific night of entertainment at Michael Sterlings classy, cool supper club in North Hollywood. Next month Bruce Kimmels Kritzerland series, produced by Kimmel and associate producer Adryan Russ, will feature the music of Disneys Richard Sherman on November 3rd. For reservations, more information, and a complete calendar of all the upcoming shows at Sterlings Upstairs at the Federal visit http://www.msapr.net/.

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