Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Review: David Burnham and Valerie Perri, Together Again For The First Time

Mark Vogel, Valerie Perri, David Burnham, and Michael Sterling

The Broadway Sophisticate and the Boy with the Million Dollar Smile brought their new cabaret act to Sterling’s Upstairs at the Federal on Sunday, September 21st in a fast-paced 90-minute evening of engaging stories, eleven o’clock numbers and pop favorites that went by in the blink of an eye.

Both Valerie Perri and David Burnham debuted professionally in Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals and both recently appeared in Musical Theatre West’s dazzling revival of Sunset Boulevard. Burnham’s big break came when he took over for Donny Osmond in the national tour of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and he talked about what that was like singing his first performance with Donny sitting in the front row. Nerve-wracking as it may have been, suffice it to say he got the big “thumbs up,” and after hearing him sing “Any Dream” and “Close Every Door” from Joseph, it isn’t surprising.

Perri has sung the role of Evita over a thousand times, beginning with the national tour under Hal Prince, and demonstrated how powerful the show’s signature songs can be in the right hands. Her mashup of “Buenos Aires” and “Argentina,” with the second verse sung in Spanish, was as moving as if she was singing it for the very first time. That’s the mark of a true professional. 

She also paired the dramatic “With One Look” from Sunset Boulevard with “Memory,” a song she said Andrew Lloyd Webber originally wrote for Sunset Boulevard, not for CATS. (The two musicals were being written at the same time, but CATS was ready first so the song went into it instead.) The thought of Norma Desmond singing “Memory” and those haunting lyrics is enough to give you goose bumps.

Perri also talked about growing up in Pennsylvania near Hershey Park where she had the great fortune to listen to Liza Minnelli headlining a show one day. Perri’s own version of Liza’s classic showstopper “Cabaret” was an early favorite in the program and a perfect example of her ability to belt a high note and hold it until the crowd goes wild. As a girl she was also influenced by a young singer on the Ed Sullivan Show whose expressive way with a song made a big impact on her. That singer was none other than a young Barbra Streisand, and Perri’s “People”/Parade” medley was full of the same kind of deeply felt emotion that made Barbra famous.

The pair followed her Barbra belt medley with the famous duet between Barbra and Judy Garland from a 1963 television episode of The Judy Garland Show. Perri took Barbra’s “Happy Days” melody and Burnham sang Judy’s “Get Happy” in a gorgeous version of the classic duet.

Burnham grew up on a farm in Fontana, singing to the pigs (no kidding) and when he was eight years old he announced to his mother that he was good enough to sing with Natalie Wood and would she write MGM a letter and tell them so. Not missing a beat, she found a paper and pen, wrote the letter, and walked him down to the mailbox…and in that small moment, served as the nurturer of dreams. His beautiful version of "I’ll Be Seeing You” was a heartfelt tribute to her, and you didn’t need to be a parent to see that the entire room was touched.

He also sang a song for his brother who he said isn’t really a musical theatre fan but who did like one show - Les Misérables - which contained his favorite song, Valjean’s very moving “Bring Him Home.” His brother had gotten married and moved to Israel with his wife several years ago, and they were actually coming home very soon, so the song had extra significance for him. Burnham has mastered the fine art of the falsetto and as you hold your breath and wonder if he can sing the floating high notes, you instantly relax when you hear that he can. A Broadway belter who can sing in falsetto as beautifully as he can, and phrase a line with such purity, is a joy.

The duo performed a series of rapid-fire pop songs with musical director Mark Vogel – pianist for the evening and a rock star musical phenom in his own right – also singing. The set included a lovely version of “When I Fall in Love” sung by Vogel and Perri, as well as some rich 3-part harmonies on hits like “River Deep/Mountain High,” “I Feel The Earth Move,” “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” and “Can’t take My Eyes Off of You,” with Burnham singing lead, coincidentally to John Lloyd Young, who originated the role of Frankie Valli in Jersey Boys and who happened to be in the audience. (Shades of his debut in Joseph with Donny Osmond in the front row)

This appearance will be Perri and Burnham’s last for awhile. Burnham shared that he will soon be opening in a new musical revue in Las Vegas featuring him as lead singer and host, along with 2 female singers, 28 dancers and 35 orchestra members. He gave us a taste of the classic Broadway songs the show will feature, including a medley of “Luck Be a Lady” from Guys and Dolls, “Razzle Dazzle” from Chicago and his biggest eleven o’clock number of the night, “What Kind of Fool Am I” from Stop the World I Want to Get Off.

All in all, more than thirty songs made up the program of one of the best cabaret shows I’ve seen in a very long time. From the rousing opening trio, “It’s a Grand Night for Singing  Broadway” (State Fair), to the final encore, “Somewhere” (West Side Story), it was a night to remember.

And if Perri and Burnham get a chance to do a repeat performance on the Strip on his night off? Well, that can only mean - next stop - Vegas, baby!

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