Review of “Class: A Tribute to Kander & Ebb”

Review of “Class: A Tribute to Kander & Ebb”

Posted Fri, Dec 11, 2015 in Reviews

By Harry Schroeder

The Waterfront Playhouse put on its fall musical anthology last weekend, entitled “Class: A Celebration of Kander and Ebb,” the composer and lyricist of Cabaret, Chicago, and the title song from New York, New York. Fourteen singers, including most of the best on the island, sang a program of thirty songs. The concert began with Danny Weathers, the Playhouse’s chief and the director of the show, making the introduction and revealing, with the opening of the curtain, the cabaret styled set, with the singers seated with drinks at tables. The color scheme of the assemblage’s costumes was brilliant: some serious thought had obviously gone into that. One suspects the hand of Michael Boyer. The opening number was a medley, appropriately from the Kander/Ebb cooperative’s two best known shows, sung by Danny and the cast.

The sequence of the program was designed with skill. Christopher Peterson’s wonderfully outrageous rip in drag through “Cabaret” and “New York, New York” was followed, in a brilliant change of mood, by Carmen Rodriguez doing Streisand’s “My Coloring Book.” Marjorie Paul-Shook sang “Roxie,” from Chicago, one of Kander’s best melodies, and she got the character down perfectly, full of energy, wriggly, self-absorbed. It was a high point, and followed by another: Gordon Ross in “And I In My Chair,” in which the singer watches his lover at a party being seduced by another man. The song expresses his fear and his pain, but always on the surface under control, and Gordon got that right in every detail of his performance.

Randy Roberts sang twice—first set in drag, second straight, as is his habit these days. Randy has a way of taking over a stage, as if his presence on it was the most natural thing in the world, never more completely than here. Laurie Breakwell, who can always be relied on to put a song across, did so on five numbers, two of them in duets with Vicki Roush. They sang together accurately and expressively. Vicki held back on the red hot mama treatment, which used to be her trademark, until her last solo, on “Everybody’s Girl.”

Denis Hyland sang two songs, both movingly and with authority. He also did a graceful dance turn in mid-song. Joy Hawkins’ two numbers offered a contrast: a poignant rendition of “You Could Never Shame Me,” and a hilarious celebration of the junk food queen, “Sara Lee.” Bobby Nesbitt took over the piano for “Married,” from Cabaret, where, as in a duet with Danny Weathers and a quartet, he sang affectingly. Stephanie Sander and J.B. McClendon were attractive in their appearances, and David Black was superb as Roxie’s invisible husband in Chicago, “Mr. Cellophane.”

The band—Jim Rice, piano, Joe Dallas, bass, and Skipper Kripitz, drums–offered a consistent background, solid in support and at the same time responsive to nuances in the singers’ presentations. They handled the variety of rhythms in the program, sometimes shifting effortlessly in mid-tune. Rice, who served also as musical director, had one inventive jazz solo on a song from Cabaret.

To my mind, the outstanding singer in that strong cast was Danny Weathers himself. After the opening, he sang a duet with Bobby Nesbitt, as a member of a quartet, and just before the final number, in one of the best performances in the show, “A Quiet Thing.” Like Joy Hawkins over at the Red Barn, he is much better known here as a director than as a performer; like her, he can get to the emotional center of a song and project it without any distracting vocal mannerisms. He also is a master of the art, rare in these noisy times, of singing softly, underplaying the song in a way which brings out its basic emotional intensity more than a forceful treatment would do.

The last number, “Show People,” had the entire company passing the lead around, four bars here, four bars over there, without once breaking the rhythm of the line. It was one more piece of brilliant directing and professional performing, like the concert itself as a whole.

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