Sunday, August 26, 2018

The Anderson Twins Play Hoagy Carmichael at SONGBOOK SUMMIT

L-R: Molly Ryan, Peter Anderson and Will Anderson in SONGBOOK SUMMIT.  Photo by Geri Reichgut.

Irving Berlin was arguably the greatest American composer of the twentieth century and Jerome Kern may well have had an even greater influence on the Broadway musical, but Hoagy Carmichael was unquestionably “jazzier” than either of them – both figuratively and literally.  Indeed, Carmichael was so “jazzy” in a figurative sense that he actually served as one of Ian Fleming’s inspirations in his creation of James Bond.  And, in a literal sense, one need only listen to Bix Biederbecke’s recording of Riverboat Shuffle, Carmichael’s first big Dixieland hit – or recordings of Stardust or Skylark or Jubilee or Georgia on My Mind, for that matter - to appreciate the enormous musical contribution that Carmichael made to the jazz world.

Songbook Summit, featuring Peter and Will Anderson, two exceptionally talented musicians on saxophones, clarinets and flute, has been running at Symphony Space on Broadway on the Upper West Side of Manhattan since early August.  It is a four weeks program devoted to the works of Irving Berlin (August 7-12), Jerome Kern (August 14-19), Hoagy Carmichael (August 21-26), and Jimmy Van Heusen (August 28-September 2).  We were fortunate in having attended performances of both the Irving Berlin and Jerome Kern programs and we enjoyed them both immensely, not only for their musical entertainment values but for their educational values as well (see our recent reviews of both programs). But having just come from the penultimate performance in the Hoagy Carmichael program, I must say that, strictly from a musical standpoint, this was the best program of the three.

I suspect that that may be because Carmichael was so much more of a true jazz composer than Berlin or Kern ever were, so that the Anderson twins found themselves so much more in their own element when performing his works.  And that may be true of the other very talented musicians backing up the Andersons as well: Tardo Hammer on piano, Clovis Nicolas on acoustic bass, Philip Stewart on drums, and Molly Ryan on vocals.  But whatever the reason, the Carmichael program was just terrific with several knockout performances.

I was particularly taken with the Anderson twins’ opening performance of Riverboat Shuffle, with Tardo Hammer’s virtuoso solo piano performance of Heart and Soul, and, of course, with Molly Ryan’s big band renditions of Skylark, Jubilee, The Nearness of You, Lazy River, Two Sleepy People, and Georgia on my Mind.  All in all, the segment of Songbook Summit devoted to Hoagy Carmichael clearly was a huge success.

The final program in this year’s Songbook Summit will focus on Jimmy Van Heusen and will run from August 28 through September 2.  I can hardly wait.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

The Anderson Twins Play Jerome Kern in SONGBOOK SUMMIT at Symphony Space

L-R: Peter and Will Anderson in SONGBOOK SUMMIT

Chalk up another win for the Anderson twins.  We have just come from the Jerome Kern program they staged in the second week of this year’s Songbook Summit at Symphony Space on Broadway on the Upper West Side of Manhattan (August 14-19) and we found it to be as delightfully entertaining as was the Irving Berlin program we attended during the first week (August 7-12). (See our August 12 post: “Peter and Will Anderson Present SONGBOOK SUMMIT at Symphony Space”).

If Irving Berlin was the greatest American composer of the twentieth century, Jerome Kern was assuredly the composer who had the greatest influence on the Broadway musical.  Prior to 1927, Broadway musicals largely consisted of light comedies, revues, and operettas in the European tradition but Kern’s production of Showboat that year changed all that.  For the first time, a plot-driven musical play was staged on Broadway, one dealing with racism and other serious subjects, and Broadway has not been the same since.

In the course of his remarkable career, Kern collaborated with the leading lyricists of his time including P.G. Wodehouse, Oscar Hammerstein II, Dorothy Fields, Johnny Mercer and Ira Gershwin.  He wrote over 700 songs used in over 100 stage works including such classics as Ol’ Man River, Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man, The Song Is You, I Won’t Dance, Nobody Else But Me, and The Way You Look Tonight.

Peter and Will Anderson have taken all this material and used it to create a terrific jazz program based on Kern’s work (arrangements by Peter).  This, of course, is rather ironic given that Kern didn’t care for jazz and was vehemently opposed to altering, adapting or interfering with his work – which is absolutely essential to its jazz re-interpretation and improvisation.  But the Anderson twins have done such a great job that I’d like to think that Kern would be more than willing to forgive them.

The Anderson twins are exceptionally talented jazz musicians (Peter on the tenor sax, soprano sax, and clarinet, and Will on the alto sax, clarinet and flute).  Peter’s arrangements are also excellent and Will does a superb job of educating his audience with narratives, video presentations, and lessons, even while entertaining them musically.  And, in the performance I attended, the brothers were also very fortunate in being backed up by three other top flight musicians: Tardo Hammer on the piano, Clovis Nicolas on the acoustic bass, and Phil Stewart on the drums.

And we cannot forget Molly Ryan on vocals whose renditions of Ol’ Man River, Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man, A Fine Romance, and I Won’t Dance were all exceptional.

The third program in this year’s Songbook Summit will focus on Hoagy Carmichael and will run from August 21 through August 26.  I’m looking forward to it.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Peter and Will Anderson Present SONGBOOK SUMMIT at Symphony Space

Peter and Will Anderson, 31 year old identical twins, are exceptionally talented jazz musicians (Peter on the tenor sax, soprano sax, and clarinet, and Will on the alto sax, clarinet and flute).  Together they currently are presenting this year’s Songbook Summit, a homage to four of the greatest American songwriters of the last century: Irving Berlin, Jerome Kern, Hoagy Carmichael, and Jimmy Van Heusen.

In Songbook Summit, the twins are devoting a week of performances to each of the four composers at Symphony Space’s Leonard Nimoy Thalia Theater on Broadway on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.  Each show runs 90 minutes without intermission and consists not only of musical performances by the twins but also video presentations, Al Hirschfeld drawings, and informative narration by Will regarding the subject of that week’s performances.  In their musical performances, the twins are backed up by Tardo Hammer or Steve Ash on the piano, Clovis Nicolas on the acoustic bass, Phil Stewart on the drums, and Molly Ryan on vocals.

The first of the four programs (which ran from August 7 through August 12) was devoted to Irving Berlin, arguably the greatest American songwriter in history and it was really terrific.  It began with a wonderful rendition of Alexander’s Ragtime Band and concluded with a very creative arrangement of Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better, in which call and response were between Molly Ryan (vocally) and the Anderson twins (instrumentally).  Also included in the program were great performances of Puttin On the Ritz, There’s No Business Like Show Business, Blue Skies, Isn’t This a Lovely Day, White Christmas, Always, and I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm.

The Irving Berlin program has now drawn to a close so if you missed it, I’m afraid you’re out of luck.  But you still can get tickets to the Jerome Kern program which will be running from August 14-19; the Hoagy Carmichael program which will be running from August 21-26; and the Jimmy Van Heusen program which will be running from August 28-September 2.  And if those programs turn out to be anywhere near as good as the Irving Berlin program was, you won’t be disappointed.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Ellinor DiLorenzo Stars in BELOVED by Lisa Langseth at The Lion Theatre

Ellinor DiLorenzo as Katarina in BELOVED at The Lion Theatre.

Beloved by Lisa Langseth was originally produced in Sweden and subsequently adapted into the film Pure - which won the 2010 Guldbagge Award (Sweden’s equivalent of our Academy Award) for Best Screenplay.  The play, in an English translation by Charlotte Barslung and directed by Kathy Curtiss, has now arrived in New York where it is enjoying its US premiere in a fine production by Scandinavian American Theater Company at The Lion Theatre at Theatre Row on West 42nd Street in midtown Manhattan.

Katarina (Ellinor DiLorenzo) is a culturally and socially unsophisticated young woman, employed at the mall, and living with her boyfriend Mattias in a mundane and barely satisfactory relationship.  It is not that there is anything really wrong with Mattias: he is a “nice guy” with a regular job as a fork lift operator who treats Katarina decently and both of Katarina’s parents like him. It is just that he is pretty much of a couch potato and while sex with him is OK, that’s all it is, just OK.  And Katarina is convinced - or at least hopes – that there is more to life than that, that there can be more “truth,” more “freedom.” After all, one only lives once.

And then Katarina discovers classical music and has a true musical epiphany. Which in turn leads to her entering into a relationship with Adam, an acclaimed conductor at an opera house - and the consequences of that relationship are more disastrous than epiphanous.  Unsurprisingly, Adam is a married man whose family invariably takes precedence over his relationship with Katarina.  (The child seat installed in the front of Adam’s car inevitably relegates Katarina to the back seat alone whenever Adam has occasion to drive them anywhere.)

Beloved is a one-woman show.  Neither Mattias nor Adam nor anyone else ever makes an appearance.  Rather, Katarina delivers an extraordinary monologue describing her social, cultural, intellectual and sexual growth while in thrall to Adam – and the price she pays for it.  Or as the playwright herself describes what she has written: The self-destructive person is interesting and terrible. Beloved is about a person who searches for her own destruction.

Elinor DiLorenzo’s performance as Katarina is spot on, capturing the passions, the frustrations, the aspirations, the resentments and the ambivalences of a young woman in today’s politically correct yet still largely patriarchal society.  It is a performance not to be missed.

Sunday, August 5, 2018


R-L: Molly Groome and Jake Robinson in THE PLOT, part of SUMMER SHORTS 2018 SERIES B.  Photo by Carol Rosegg.
Summer Shorts: A Festival of New American Short Plays, produced by Thoroughline Artists and hosted annually at 59E59 Theaters, consists of six one-act plays performed in repertory in two parts.  This year, the first part, Series A, consists of The Living Room by Robert O’Hara; Kenny’s Tavern by Abby Rosebrock; and Grounded by Chris Bohjalian.  The second, Series B is comprised of The Plot by Claire Zajdel, Ibis by Eric Lane, and Sparring Partner by Neil LaBute.

As we indicated in our last post, we were rather disappointed by the plays in Series A.  We have just seen the plays in Series B, however, and we found them to be far more entertaining.

In The Plot, a creative and artfully contrived take on the intra-familial dynamics attendant on their parents’ divorce, two adult siblings are forced to confront their mother’s attempt to control their lives even after she is gone - and their budding awareness of their own mortality.  Frankie (Molly Groome) is a 26 year-old no-nonsense associate at a law firm; her 28 year-old brother, Tyler (Jake Robinson), is a freer spirit. At their mother’s behest, they meet in a cemetery to view the final resting place she has arranged for herself – only to discover that she has arranged for theirs as well.

L-R: Lindsey Broad and Deandre Sevon in IBIS, part of SUMMER SHORTS 2018 SERIES B.  Photo by Carol Rosegg.
Ibis is far and away the most convoluted and intricate of the three works – perhaps even a bit too much so for a one-act play.  Victor (Harold Surratt) abandoned his family twenty years ago when his son, Tyrone (Deandre Savon), was only seven years old.   Over the years, there were a slew of rumors about Victor – that he had opened a jazz club in Paris, that he was electrocuted in a freak accident, that he hanged himself out of remorse.  Now in his late 20’s and with his mother just having died of cancer, Tyrone determines to discover the truth about his father.

To that end, he retains a female private detective, the aptly-named albeit pseudonymous “Sam Spade” (Lindsey Broad) – who he meets at The Blue Parrot but who, rather unexpectedly, alleges no awareness of who Humphrey Bogart or Peter Lorre or Sidney Greenstreet were nor what The Maltese Falcon nor Double Indemnity referred to – in order to solve the mystery and, if possible, track down his father.  Sam succeeds and Tyrone eventually does meet with his father, only to question Victor more about Victor’s own childhood and Victor’s own absent father than his own.

Tyrone, as it turns out, seeks answers to the world’s mysteries and the meaning of life in numbers, in alphanumeric codes, and in the quantification of the unquantifiable.  And, surprisingly, there may have been more to his apparent foolishness than one might have expected.  As for Sam, she seems to have been struggling with her own childhood demons.

One of the play’s main themes is the cyclical repetition of history as Victor reprised his own father’s effective abandonment of him in his own abandonment of Tyrone.  A second theme is Tyrone’s contrived mathematical exposition of coincidences.  And a third relates to Sam’s own mysterious background, about which we are left largely in the dark.  That’s a lot to deal with and the playwright’s surfeit of material might well have been utilized even more effectively in three different plays, rather than having been crammed into just one.

L-R: Joanna Christie and Keilyn Durrel Jones in SPARRING PARTNER, part of SUMMER SHORTS 2018 SERIES B.  Photo by Carol Rosegg.
Sparring Partner is quintessential Neil LaBute, a sharply written and insightful two-hander exposing some of the more tragicomic aspects of our human existence.  A woman (Joanna Christie) and a man (Keilyn Durrel Jones), her boss, meet frequently for lunch in the park.  He is married, she is divorced, and they both are movie aficionados, using the lunchtime opportunity to play Hollywood Names. Theirs has been a long time flirtation, but only of the mind.  Or almost only so.  There have been the occasional touches or hugs or even dances but nothing that might even remotely be considered sexually inappropriate.  And yet there is no doubt that their feelings for one another run deep, that he considers his marriage to be a failure, and that she’d hop into bed with him in a moment if he really were available.  But is it commitment to his marriage or just a lack of courage that prevents him from taking the next step?  And will she be willing to go on this way with him forever?

I found Sparring Partner to be the best of the three plays, not only because of LaBute’s writing but equally importantly because of Joanna Christie’s and Keilyn Durrel Jones’s sparkling performances.  They were both absolutely terrific.

If you’re planning on seeing only one series in this year’s production of Summer Shorts: A Festival of New American Short Plays, I recommend that you make it Series B.