By Roy Sander
WHEN I HEARD ABOUT "RHYTHM OF LIFE," A revue of the music of Cy Coleman at Don't Tell Mama, I thought, "Yes, I Like Cy Coleman." I left the show thinking, "God, I love Cy Coleman." When I interviewed Barry Kleinbort for the Back Stage feature on creating a successful cabaret act, he talked about shows with a songwriter theme, saying that the audience should walk out feeling: (1) that the writer is really great, and (2) that the performer is wonderful. Well, then "Rhythm of Life" is a big success, for I was as impressed by the cast (Eric Michael Gillett, Kay McClelland, Kevyn Morrow, and Melanie Vaughan) as I was by the material. Splendid singers all, they make Coleman's songs sound terrific (thanks also to the gorgeous vocal arrangements by musical director Mark Kressel); polished performers, they're a pleasure to watch. Kudos, too, to Tripp Phillipps' direction and the sprightly choreography by Shawn Ku--we are treated to delightful movement and attractive stage pictures.
The performers shine in their solo numbers: Gillett turns in a rapturous rendition of "Too Many Tomorrows," from "Sweet Charity"; McClelland does a marvelous job on the gutsy torch song "No Man Left for Me," from "The Will Rogers Follies"; Morrow delivers a forceful rendition of "Funny," from "City of Angels"; and Vaughan scores with the trenchant "You There in the Back Row," from "13 Days to Broadway." Then there are glorious duets and ensemble numbers. And the Mega Medley would turn anyone into a lifetime member of the Cy Coleman fan club. Only the pedestrian dialogue disappoints, but there isn't a lot of it--and in any event, the evening is about the songs. Remaining showtimes are Mondays, April 13, at 9 pm, and April 20, at 7 pm.
IMAGINATIVE, BEAUTIFULLY CRAFTED, AND deeply moving, "Jonathan Wesley Oliver, Jr." is one of the finest songs to emerge from the AIDS crisis. It was written by the late Tom Brown, who himself succumbed to the disease. Thanks to Brown's friend, actress-singer Joan Crowe, now we know that he wasn't just a one-song wonder. In her show "Shooting Stars," which was directed by Barry Kleinbort and musical-directed by Brian Hurley, she introduces us to 10 other Brown compositions.
Though a couple of the songs are only pretty good, most are very good, indeed. "Don't Anybody Move" uses creative imagery to express very clear sentiments. By being appealingly quirky, "The Eleven O'Clock Song," in which Brown tells his mother that he has found a new home away from home, succeeds in being touching without ever being maudlin. By what it leaves unsaid, "Good Morning" ends potently, and the dear "My Brother Dreams in German" is filled with the kind of warmth that makes one feel, "aahh!" Crowe performs these songs with intelligence and sensitivity. If I were to cavil, I would comment that she doesn't realize the poignancy potential of some of the material. "Shooting Stars" will return to Don't Tell Mama, Wednesdays, April 22 and 29, 9 pm, and Fridays, May 22 and 29, 8 pm.
ORIGINALLY PRODUCED BY THE ADIRONDACK Theatre Festival, and created by its cast of three, the farcical revue "Max & Maxine: Together Again!" purports to mark the beginning of a desperate, last-ditch concert tour by Max (Bryan Johnson) and Maxine (Jennifer Perry), a married couple with a dysfunctional relationship and even more dysfunctional talent. These two are clueless. They're out of it, but they think they're so cool. Toying with men in the audience, Maxine tries to be sexy, but she's only crude and grotesque. She has trouble concealing an epic drinking problem, and Max harbors his own secrets.
A "Phantom of the Opera" segment is inspired: The dialogue is wry and funny, and the arrangements are wonderfully inappropriate--a delicious fiasco. The pair's "artistically" dramatic interpretation of "MacArthur Park" is great. "Happily Married Man," by Gary Adler (the show's musical director) and Ira Gasman, is a nifty song with an even niftier ending. And Max and Maxine each has a big 11 o'clock number: he singing an anthem about his hairpiece (one of five original songs by Johnson); she doing "How Could I Be So Wrong?" from "Golden Rainbow." ("Max & Maxine" has three songs from this 1968 Broadway musical, which starred Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gormƒ. Not a coincidence, I'm sure.) Under Martha Banta's direction, the players take everything to outrageous extremes, which adds to the hilarity. And as the team's nerdy accompanist, Shecky Sheckenstein, musical director Adler proves himself to be a quite decent actor. While not every moment or conceit lands (the evening could use a bit of sharpening), several hundred of them do. The show recently completed a return engagement at Don't Tell Mama; watch for yet another return.
IF YOU'RE INTERESTED IN JOHNNY MERCER and/or his lyrics, you should check out the website at http://www.johnnymercer.com. [And if you're not interested in Johnny Mercer, why not, pray tell?] A labor of love by Steve Taksler, this educational archive contains a comprehensive song list, full-color sheet-music images, a discography, photos and memorabilia, biographical information, a list of upcoming shows that will include Mercer songs, and more--much, much more.
AROUND TOWN: At Eighty Eight's: Natalie Gamsu is performing her new show, Tuesdays, at 8 pm, through May 26. Martha Lorin sings Fri., April 3, 11 pm, and Sat., April 4, 8:30 pm. Jeanne MacDonald returns, Saturdays, April 4-25, 11 pm. Gary Lyons does his new show, Wednesdays, April 8-29, 8 pm, and Fridays, April 10-24, 11 pm. On Mon., April 6, at 8 pm, Angela LaGreca and Mark Nadler are doing a one-hour version of the show that conquered Brownville, Neb.
"Laughter for Life," a variety show benefiting the Leukemia Society of America, will be staged at The Duplex, Sun., April 5, 9 pm, and Mon., April 6, 8 pm . Judy Barnett and her quartet are now performing on Saturday nights, at Wilson's restaurant, on West 79th Street, sets at 9 pm, 10:30 pm, and midnight . Susan Campanaro is at The Oaks, Mon., April 13, 7 pm . Barry Phillips has returned to Danny's Skylight Room; remaining showtime: Thurs., April 9, 7 pm . Also at Danny's, David Berk, Caroline Durham, and Michael Murphy are performing the lyrics of Johnny Burke, April 6-May 11, Mondays 9:15 pm . Rick Crom's long-running "Our Life & Times" continues, Upstairs at Rose's Turn, Saturdays, 8 pm; Sundays, 6 pm. q