Famous for hit musicals like Titanic, Grand Hotel and Nine, Maury Yeston is a Tony Award-winning composer whose stylistic gifts range from witty to uplifting to solemn. In Anything Can Happen in the Theater: The Musical World of Maury Yeston, Gerard Alessandrini, of Forbidden Broadway fame, has gathered a diverse cast of five singers to explore the wealth of material in Yeston’s library. Clearly enjoying the music and each other, the group has a rapport that is vital when performing in a small venue such as York Theatre Company.
I found the opening number, a satirical ode to how actors will do anything to get onstage, to be more forced than fabulous. The piano overture, backed by Jacob Zedek’s dramatic, color-drenched lighting set up a more glamorous opener than that. I mean, it’s not as if we have no standards at all. Then again, I did once play a singing tree…
Mamie Parris kicked off the evening with a delightful mash-up of two sassy uptunes from Death Takes a Holiday and Grand Hotel. A bright-eyed blonde, she clearly knows her way around the musical theater stage. Later on, purring her way through “Call From the Vatican” (Nine), she has a chance to sing in her shimmering soprano range. Parris is alternately sexy and comedic in her portrayal. I think it would work better if she could veer in one direction or the other more completely.
In her first solo of the evening, “Danglin’”as well as her 11 o’clock number “Strange,” winsome Alex Getlin held the audience in the palm of her hand. Her focus and vulnerability were palpable. Getlin occasionally belted a line or two, which I found a little jarring. Have faith in the small and simple! Similarly, Justin Keyes really knows how to tell a story in song. His solo “Halloween,” was possibly my favorite number, primarily because of his excellent singing. Relaxed vocally and physically, he didn’t get in the way of the lyric, even as he maintained a clear emotional presence. In addition, Alessandrini has blocked this song adorably, adding to its wistful effect.
In contrast to the experience level of the other singers, Jovan E’Sean, tall, dark and elegant, felt a little young. His presence is somewhat tentative. True, it is refreshing to cast a diverse range of ages, but perhaps Alessandrini should have allowed that to inform his song choices a little more precisely. E’Sean seemed more at home in the delightful trio (with Getlin and Keyes) “I Don’t Want to Rock ‘n’ Roll.”
Rounding out the cast, lanky tenor Benjamin Eakeley crooned with confidence. He could be a leading man or a character singer, moving easily from heartfelt to comical and back again. A few vowels sounded a bit nasal, but his voice is smooth and easy on the ear.
The penultimate song of the evening, the toe-tapping number “Feet” (In the Beginning) stopped the show. To follow a high energy crowd pleaser with a quiet, nostalgic song like “Home” (Phantom) kind of harshed my buzz, however. “Home” is a beautiful song that really pulls at the heartstrings, and I love that is was arranged for five voices, but it felt a little too internal as a show closer. It would, however, make a nice encore.
It is very worth a trip to the York to take this happy walk down memory lane. The music alone is worth it, but Alessandrini’s restrained yet witty staging and the deeply satisfying romantic lighting seal the deal.
(Photo by Carol Rosegg)